From: Private F. Cleary
UK Division, UNIT
November 1970

Dear Mum

Well, after long months of waiting I finally got to see some action and now I wish I hadn't. I thought it would be exciting and fun, like all those war comics I used to read. Instead I just feel ashamed and sick and guilty. I don't know how to say this to your face, so I'll write it down instead. I have killed a man.

I can't give you too many details because of the restrictions they put on us about telling anybody outside the squad what happened. It's enough for you to know there was a riot and people's lives were at risk and we had to go in and sort it out. The sergeant said if we didn't stop the riot, the whole country, maybe even the whole world could be at risk. There were terrorists involved and they make Uncle Seamus's friends in the you-know-what army look like a bunch of sweet little altar boys.

The rioters had taken over an old converted castle and we had to storm the building and stop the riot - 'at any cost.' When the NCO said those words I felt a chill in my heart like I haven't felt since Dad died. This wasn't about playing soldiers anymore, like Jimmy and I used to do on the waste ground. This was about the real thing - death and killing.

We were taken close to the riot by helicopter and then got into the back of a delivery van. The Brig drove the van up to the front gates of the grey stone castle. He had dressed up as a delivery man, overalls and all. He was even wearing a flat cap! I learnt a lot of admiration for him, it took a lot of nerve to do that, and most top brass would have sent someone else in to do their dirty work. But the Brig led from the front like a real soldier. You can tell he's seen a lot of action - he was cool as a cucumber.

He got out of the van and talked to the guard on the gate, said he had a big delivery of food and grog in the back. But the only thing in the van was me and the other guys in the squad, armed to the teeth and ready to come out shooting at the first sign of trouble. We could hear every word the Brig was saying and his voice didn't quake or quiver once - I would have been too terrified to speak! After what seemed like hours of waiting, the guard let us in. As the van drove through the gates, we began to slip out the back of it, silencing the guards one by one as we reached them.

We had only got a few hundred feet inside when the alarm was raised. Then everything went crazy. Shots started coming at us from all sides, the stone walls of the courtyard inside echoing and magnifying the noise so it seemed like a hundred people were firing at us from all angles. I clutched my rifle to my chest and took cover beside Tommy, one of the boys who volunteered for UNIT from the same outfit as me. He began returning fire, trying to pick off one of the rioters, who were sniping at us from the castle turrets above. I just lay there, wondering what to do.

Suddenly Tommy yelled at me to give him covering fire, leapt up, and began running towards an open door into the main building. Without thinking I pulled my rifle up to my shoulder and began blasting away over Tommy's head. 'Shoot at them, not me!' he shouted and disappeared inside the main part of the castle. Reappearing a second later, he began firing up at the turrets while yelling for me to follow him. I made the sign of the cross and started running.

Mum, I've never been so scared in all my life. This wasn't fun, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't daring or any of those other things it seems to be during war movies down at the Odeon. I was bloody terrified and the only thing that kept my legs going was the sound of Tommy's yelling and the bullets whizzing past my head. I dived through the open doorway and rolled hard against a stone wall, knocking the wind out of me.

I lay there gasping while Tommy stood over me smiling. 'Ain't you ever been in a real battle before?' he asked. I just shook my head. He reached out a hand to pull me to my feet but then clutched at his throat. Blood started to bubble out between his fingers and the look of surprise on his face was almost funny. Tommy fell to the ground, choking to death on his own blood.

I looked up to see one of the rioters standing over me, a revolver pointed at my head. The next few seconds seemed to take forever. I remember he was smiling, and his teeth were all yellow with lots of metal fillings. He hadn't shaved for several days and there was a big red scar down his right cheek. He was dressed in dark blue overalls and they were splashed red - somebody's blood, I suppose. My rifle was on the ground, I was at his mercy.

He swore at me and pulled the trigger. I closed my eyes, willing it to be over, thinking about you and the rest of the family and how I'd never see you again, and how I was going to die fighting for something I didn't know or understand, and how they'd probably tell you it was an accident or something, and how it would all be for nothing.

Click. That was the noise the rioter's gun made. Click. He was out of bullets. I grabbed my rifle and shot him once, twice, three times, over and over until I was out of ammo myself. When I opened my eyes again, he was on his back, blood running from his mouth. He made a rattling sound and then stopped moving at all. I had killed him. I had ended his life.

I spent a long time just sitting there, staring at the man I had murdered. We won the battle apparently, and the medics came and took Tommy away. He had been shot through the throat and would never talk again but they say he'll live - if only on an invalid's pension. Tommy's only 24, Mum. What kind of future is that?

It's been several hours now since we returned to barracks and all I can think about is questions. The sergeant came round to talk to me. He said I had done my duty and I should be proud. He said the man I killed was a multiple murderer and a rapist and he had only ever caused the world pain and misery. He said I would be dead now if I hadn't shot the rioter, and what good would that have done?

I said I didn't know, but that didn't make me feel any better, knowing I had ended a life. He told me to go see the chaplain and talk it through with him. The sergeant said that what UNIT did was just like a war, but it was a war that nobody heard about. Without UNIT, the world would be a much more dangerous place.

I wanted to believe him but all I have now are doubts and questions. What right did I have to end that man's life? Sure, he was going to kill me, but does that make what I did any better? The Bible says that murder is a sin. Was what I did murder? Have I committed a mortal sin, by ending another life?

I'm not sure what I believe in anymore. All I know is I will never be the same again. There is darkness inside me tonight.

All my love

[ Intro Preface | 1 2 3 4 5 | 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 | 22 23 24 | Epilogue April 1996 Postscript 25 August 1971 Afterword ]

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