January 1997 – Salisbury Plain
It could have been anywhere, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, but this time it was Wiltshire. The C130 rattled the window frames as it passed 200 feet above the houses below, leaving in its wake the paraffin aroma of AVTUR and the screeching of car alarms. It was a fairly routine training flight for the aircraft’s crew, the flight deck crew staring out into the greenish hue of their night vision goggles as they swept above the M4 heading south. In the dimmed lighting of the cavernous rear cargo compartment, the air dispatcher opened the rear port para door by pulling it in and sliding it upwards. The light above the door was red. The loadmaster indicated that the four parachutists burdened by bundles of equipment should stand up. Their static line parachutes were already clipped to the long wire running along the deck’s ceiling.
To the left of the C130s nose were the bright street lights of Chippenham. Ahead in the green light was Fox Covert DZ, just beyond the dark, clumped plantations of trees.
“Two minutes to DZ.”
The loadmaster shouted at the four paras, “IN THE DOOR.”
They shuffled towards the open door and the howling gale. Jarvis was number three of the stick and he felt the aircraft deck lift slightly under has feet, as it climbed to drop height. None of them were wearing reserve parachutes. They would have been useless at the altitude they were jumping from.
His bergen and its delicate electronic equipment was strapped in front of his lower legs. His M16 rifle was strapped to his right-hand-side, muzzle downwards. He was wearing goggles but no oxygen. The wind chill from the door was numbing.
The stick leader grasped both sides of the doorway, his trousers flapping in the slipstream.
“GREEN LIGHT, GO!”
They were all out in around four seconds. Jarvis’ arms were tucked in and crossed over his chest as he stepped into the void. He fell through the buffeting roar of the C130s slipstream and the oily smell of the fuel. His legs came up as the static line dragged at him, the parachute package being torn open behind him and then he was free of the umbilicus and alone in the darkness.
Jarvis quickly checked the canopy and released the bergen to drop away of its strop below him. He had barely had time to orientate his position, when the ground reared up out of the darkness below. He went in hard because he was carrying so much heavy kit, his legs folding and he was rolling onto his back. He tasted earth and grass as his face went into the Wiltshire dirt, then he was on his feet, killing the parachute and dragging in the folds, mainly unseen in the darkness. He knelt on the slippery material, while dragging off the parachute harness retrieving his weapon and heaving on the heavy bergen. Jarvis, eyes became used to the dark and spotted a copse of trees around a hundred metres away. With difficulty he headed towards the trees, encumbered by the parachute and tucked it in under a tree root along with his helmet. Jarvis pulled on a black thermal fleece skiing hat and waited at the corner of the copse, hoping it was the correct corner, as agreed in the briefing.
He spotted two other figures moving around in the darkness, heading towards his location, they moved in silently, hunkered down and waited. Nobody spoke. The three were joined by a fourth man who moved in along the tree line, their patrol leader. He went to ground with the others.
“OK fellers,” he said in a low murmur, “We’re all here. Any injuries?”
Three heads shook in the darkness.
“Good. Now assuming that the Crabs have dropped us in the right place, it should be around sixteen miles to Keevil airfield. Williams and Jarvis,as briefed you go down the road past Corsham and pick up the A350 at Melksham. Me and Peters will take the direct route down the main road as we agreed. All being well, we should be in position at around 04:00, which will give us around an hour to set up the Eureka. You other two may take slightly longer as it’s a less direct route, but it depends on how much traffic is on the main roads. Watch out around Corsham. The area is heavily patrolled by Mod Plod. Good luck and see you at Keevil.”
Peters and the team leader headed out due east and Jarvis said to his companion, “I think this is the right place, probably a few hundred metres south-west of the intended DZ. The lights over to the west should be Biddestone. If we head south cross country we can shorten the route by at least a click-and-a-half, then pick up the road.”
They both had GPS but Jarvis preferred to navigate with a good old-fashioned map and compass. He had cut the map down to the basic area they would need, covered it with Fablon. Jarvis unslung his rifle, they set off at a fast pace heading due south. It was a cold night with hoar frost on the spiny branched of the blackthorn lining the hedges, but soon they were sweating and steam rose from their clothing.
They were following a hedge to the right and at the corner of the field it became boggy where sheep had trampled, their boots breaking through the ice. Ahead was a strip of uneven grassland and a low belt of trees. The two figures slipped through the hedge and tracked left towards a road where a vehicle passed.
“That should be our road,” Jarvis panted.
It was a fairly empty B road and they clambered through the ditch and up onto the tarmac. They would run for a couple of hundred meters and then recover at a fast walk. Their equipment was heavy, particularly Jarvis’ who was carrying the ground beacon transmitter in his bergen. The odd car forced them to go into cover, but relatively few vehicles passed them on that cold, winter night. Up ahead were the lights of Corsham and they entered the town at a reasonable walk, tucking their rifles against their bodies to avoid suspicion. They didn’t see another person on foot, although a couple of cars passed, fortunately none of them police cars. They went past the gates of a country house and headed south on the B3353. Clear of the town the pace was picked up again and they fell into a mechanical routine, each man alone with his thoughts and discomfort.
Jarvis used moments like this to take stock of his life. He was in his late twenties and was regarded by his superiors and peers as a successful career soldier. He was a corporal now and had nearly completed his Pathfinder training. Jarvis was an elite within an elite and if he passed this phase and successfully completed his HAHO/HALO course, he could be destined for greater things.
And he was popular with women, incredibly popular and he was grateful for that, although he didn’t know why it should be. It was because he didn’t try too hard and despite his chosen profession, Jarvis was a kind, thoughtful individual. But to him relationships always seemed to come with a bitter taint of sadness. There had been Deja, whom Jarvis thought he had treated rather shabbily by running off home. There was Bluma, and his remembering her caused him acute anguish. The CMT, Ellie and how they had clung together after the enormity of what they had seen on a jungle road and Carine, Bluma’s sister. A day and night of passion, but again simple mutual comfort against the cruelty of life. Jarvis often wondered why the hell he had chosen this profession. He was such a sensitive soul, there was little wonder as to why his life was one, bloody big act
They went through the centre of Melksham, avoiding the ring road, same routine as Corsham, then headed east towards Seend. At Bulkington the ground sloped gently upwards under their feet, towards the slight plateau of Keevil Airfield. They decided to cut across country again, across a farm road and a number of hedge lines, climbing the non-security fencing into the airfield at the threshold of runway 06/24. They ran down the runway to the western end and took cover in a clump of vegetation near a ring dispersal. All of the buildings including the watch tower had gone, although the runways and perry track could still take aircraft movements. During the day and when used for exercises, Keevil was a busy airfield, but this night it was as lonely as the grave.
“Where the hell are the other two?” Jarvis asked and Williams shrugged in the darkness. They had no way of knowing that until the de-brief, they were on their own. Peters and the team leader had been intercepted near Steeple Ashton, in a carefully arranged trap. It had been so quick that there was no time for any firing and the first two were in the bag, done up like a couple of kippers. Because they had elected to approach the objective from across country, Jarvis and Williams had missed the ambush intended for them.
“OK, then I guess that it’s ShowTime.”
Jarvis unslung his bergen and pulled out the bundle of carefully-wrapped electronics equipment. Williams helped him set up the antenna and Jarvis looked at his watch, his father’s old aircrew watch that had been refurbished at considerable expense as a present for his son. The luminous dial and bezel were much brighter than those on commercial watches, which was why he didn’t wear it all the time, due to the radiation. It was 04:35 and the aircraft was due in twenty-five minutes. He switched on the set to test it and everything seemed normal, despite the jolting it had received when his bergen hit the ground.
The electronic equipment was an updated version of the Eureka homing beacon, used by British pathfinder paratroops in Normandy, Market Garden and the Rhine crossing in 1945. The electronics were updated and miniaturised, but it was still the basic equipment used during the Second World War. The Eureka beacon sent out a homing pulse, that a transport aircraft fitted with a Rebecca set could home onto. A display in the aircraft gave the range and direction of the Eureka and would know when to drop the main body of paratroops or equipment. It was much used by SOE for dropping weapons and supplies to resistance groups and all being well, it was an effective piece of equipment.
While they waited they heard vehicle engines out to their west but there were no sign of lights. They lay on the cold ground, listening and waiting and at 04:50, Jarvis switched on the Eureka set again. At the same time, a C130 made a turn to the right between Avebury and the pudding basin of Silbury hill. The compass reading in the “Glass” cockpit put the aircraft on a heading of 240 degrees, in line with Keevil’s main runway. The Rebecca set was on, but there were no returns from the Eureka device just yet. The crew didn’t need the electronic equipment. The early morning visibility was good, apart from the mist from the waterways and the ground was clear in their NVGs. In the C130’s cargo hold, the air dispatchers made sure that the stressed steel platform and its cargo of a Land Rover WMIK was clear of strops and other obstructions, which could drag a crew member out with it. At 04:55 the first returns were visible on the Rebecca’s screen and the aircraft’s rear doors opened with a whine of hydraulics.
In the darkness below, Jarvis was worried about the non-appearance of the patrol leader and how just the two of them could free the vehicle from the steel platform once it landed. The Land Rover was vital to the final part of their mission, the transition from Keevil to Imber training area. Then they heard the aircraft approaching from the east. They couldn’t see it but knew that it was approaching the airfield. The pilot lined up the grassed area to the left of the main runway.
The air dispatchers behind and below were tense with expectation. The Land Rover on its platform seemed to fill the aircraft’s interior.
“Go, go go!”
The drogue chute went out of the rear of the C130 first and the platform started to slide backwards of the cargo floor runners. The platform dropped free of the aircraft and three parachutes opened above the swinging vehicle. From the ground the sound of the parachutes opening was a rumble followed by a crack as the canopies opened and the aircraft swept over their heads in a screeching roar, banked gently and headed north back to RAF Lyneham.
The steel platform crashed down about four hundred metres from them and Jarvis and Williams were on their feet, sprinting towards the platform and the collapsing parachutes. Almost immediately after they left cover the firing started from their left arc. They went down and returned fire, directed at the flashes in the darkness.
“OK, forget the Land Rover. We’ll exfiltrate on foot, head south west,” Jarvis yelled and they attempted to withdraw giving mutual covering fire. He knew that the game was up when more firing came from behind them and Jarvis was furious with himself. They had moved into position while the two Pathfinders had been concentrating on the aircraft coming in and there was no escape. They were surrounded. There was nothing else for it but to lay down their arms and stand up. The hunters moved in.
“Ooooh look. A nice piece of kit. You’ll tell us how it works, won’t you?”
Jarvis felt the bitter taste of failure, but this was just another part of the training exercise. As a hood was dragged over his head, one of their captors said in an appalling German accent: “For you, Tommy, ze var is over.”
* * *
Several hours later, while Jarvis was being doused with icy water, shouted at and generally brutalised, a little Muslim girl in Derby was packing her school books into her bag, as the final bell had gone. She suddenly realised she was alone in the classroom, mainly because she had no friends and even the teachers generally disliked her. Perhaps disliked was too strong a way of putting it. Because she was a Muslim girl, little was expected of her because of her “culture” and some of the teachers were amazed she was still in school anyway. The teachers, the product of right-on universities and teacher training colleges, were so frightened at the prospect of offending a protected minority, they distanced themselves from her. She was too westernised for her Muslim peers, too Afghan and too much of a Paki for her English classmates. She wore her loneliness like a suit of armour, almost revelling in the dislike of everyone else. Afarin Khan had an enormous chip on her shoulder, with an attitude to match it.
This was all a pity, because the girl was intelligent with a questioning mind. Her English literature and language was good and she had elected to do physics rather than biology, despite her rather tenuous grasp of pure mathematics. Trigonometry she understood because she could see the point of it, but algebra was like a language from a different planet. Much against the advice of her teachers, she was in the resistant materials class rather than fabric and cooking. In fact she was the only girl who studied woodwork and metalwork and had to put up with a great deal of banter, some not too friendly, from the boys. She was robust and enjoyed the physical aspects of PE, encouraged by a good, female teacher who could tell that this Muslim girl was a tough little cookie.
She trudged home to her nice, detached house, the product of her father’s business acumen, as one of the main importers of rugs and carpets from southern Asia. It was a big house for her sister, mother and father to live in and this was another cause of resentment from her English classmates.
“Have you seen where the Paki with tits lives? A huge great big house. Her family’s doing OK dealing out shit food that gives you the shits.”
“Yeah, our cat went missing last week. Probably ended up in one of the Khan’s Dad’s takeaways.”
“I’ve told you morons before, my Father deals in carpets, not curries.”
“Oh for fucksake!”
“Did you hear that? The Paki just swore at me.”
And in many ways it was no better at home. Her sister had married, an arranged marriage naturally and Afarin knew that she would be next in her family’s sights as a list of suiters was drawn up for her. Despite the fact she was married, her elder sister seemed to spend a great deal of time around at her mother’s house, Afarin suspected because of the beatings and her husband’s rather strange sexual preferences. She was a malevolent influence on her mother, as were her aunts. It was as though because she was unhappy, her sibling should be as well. A “holiday” to the tribal areas on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, her homeland was mooted the week before.
“I am not marrying your cousin,” Afarin had told her mother firmly. It was a permanent source of annoyance that despite having lived in the country for over fifteen years, her mother still couldn’t speak English. She even had to take time off school and go to the doctor’s to translate.
“You will do as you’re told!” her sister chipped in, “Your cousin Shabir is well-respected and has considerable wealth.”
“Yes and he’s nearly forty and I’m not having an old man slobbering over me!”
“We will take you there to your homeland. It is the family wish.”
“Well it isn’t my wish and if you force me I will put a spoon in my underwear to set off the airport medical detectors and tell them I am being forced to travel and marry against my will.”
“You would not dare!”
“Try me. I will marry when I am ready and who I marry will be my choice. Certainly not some inbred from Lashkar Gah.”
At that point her mother had started to cry. It was yet another weapon in her arsenal and her sister was furious, “Now can you see what you’ve done, upsetting our mother?”
“If being married to someone from the old country is so good, why are you always round here? Is it because of your husband’s violence?”
Afarin’s sister had struck her and the young girl stormed out. How she hated them, but as she sat miserably on her bed, she was not oblivious to the danger she was in. Girls across the UK are raised to believe that their purpose in life is to uphold the ‘honour’ of the family. If they bring dishonour, they will pay the price with their lives. Women have come to the UK in order to escape violent cultural practises abroad -from female genital mutilation to the threat of ‘honour’ killings -yet have been met with the same brutality and dangers here. According to the Police “Service,” around twelve girls a year are murdered by their families. The Henry Jackson Society in its document Honour Killings in the UK, puts the figure at closer to fifty. Fifty young women a year murdered by their families and not a peep from the mainstream media.
Young people are those at most risk. In 2010 the majority of reported killings had been carried out by close family members. In a little over half (15) of all cases of UK ‘honour’ killings reported in the media over the past five years, the perpetrators were current or former partners and/or that partner’s family. In another nine cases, the victims’ parents were involved (of which two cases also included the victims’ male siblings) in the killing.
Afarin Khan was under no illusion and knew that her sister would actually enjoy killing her. Her father was too weak to stop them and she had no one to turn to because of “cultural sensitivity.” She closed her eyes and wondered how the hell she was going to get out of this mess. She had no way of knowing that the man in Wiltshire who was being interrogated as part of a brutal, military course, would provide her salvation. But there were many tears, fears, years and water under the bridge before that would happen. In the meantime, Afarin made sure the knife in her bag went under her pillow and she was quite prepared to kill her elder sister first.
© text & images Blown Periphery 2021
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