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August 14 2012 16:14:07.
Today Wednesday 22 May 2013 00:50:43
Two of the lads
went down to the river's edge while Mark got a fix on the Magellan. "Exactly
lOKs from the border' he whispered.
All the chaos was over the other side of the road. Tracked vehicles
were maneuvering and firing, and the AAA guns were still pumping away. In
the middle and far distance there were bursts of small-arms fire. They must
have been shooting at dogs and anything else that moved--including each
other. We were almost past caring. There were six miles to go, and we would
have to fight for every mile.
We sat with our backs against the trees, watching the two lads filling
"Ten Ks," Dinger said. "Fucking hell, we could run that in thirty
"Pity about the full moon," Bob said.
"And the desert camouflage," Dinger said. "And the fact that every man
and his dog is out looking for us."
When Mark and Legs came back with our bottles we considered the
options. There seemed to be four. We could cross the river; move east to
avoid the border and attempt to cross on the following night; keep going
west; or split up and try any of the three as individuals.
The river was a fearsome sight. It must have been about 1,600 feet
across, and after the torrential rainfall it was in full flood, flowing fast
and furious. The water would be freezing. We were weakened by the long tab
and lack of sleep, food, and water. We couldn't see any boats, but if we
found one it would become an option. That left swimming, and I doubted we'd
last more than ten minutes. And who was to say there wouldn't be troops
waiting on the other side?
We ruled out moving east because there was too much habitation for us
to conceal ourselves in daylight. Moving west seemed the best option: they
knew we were in the area, so why not just keep going? But should we do it as
a patrol or as individuals? Going it alone would certainly create five lots
of chaos for our pursuers, but at the end of the day we were a patrol.
"We'll go west as a patrol and cross the border tonight," I said.
"There must be some follow-up in the morning."
It was about 2200 and bitterly cold. Everybody was shivering. We had
been sweating and the adrenaline had been flowing. In these conditions your
body starts to seize up as soon as you take a rest.
Looking west along the Euphrates, we saw headlights crossing a bridge a
mile or so down. There wasn't a lot we could do. We couldn't waste time
boxing around it. It was too late for anything fancy like that. We would
have to take our chances.
"Let's just take our time and patrol," Bob said. "We've got enough
The natural water courses ran into the Euphrates. Normally we would
have kept to the high ground. It's easier to travel along, which saves time
and makes less noise and movement. We were cross-graining them to stay
parallel to the river, but not so close to the water that we left sign in
The ground was frozen mud and slush. Barbed wire fences cordoned off
bits of land. We encountered small, rickety outbuildings, knolls of high
ground, trees, old bottles that we tripped over, bits of frozen plastic that
crushed noisily underfoot. It could have been wasteland in Northern Ireland.
The wind had stopped. The slightest sound traveled hundreds of feet. We
were patrolling into the moon, our breath forming clouds in the freezing
air. We took our time, stopping and starting every five minutes. Dogs
barked. When we came to a building, somebody would go up and check; then
we'd skirt around. When we came to a fence, the first man would test to see
if it was going to make a noise; then he'd put his weapon on it to force the
wire down and make it good and tense, and he'd keep it there while everybody
We had to go round a three-sided hut. The owner was snoring by the
embers of a fire but didn't stir as we tiptoed past. Forward of us was a
road. If we looked to the left there was the road that ran into the frontier
town of Krabilah. Lights were going on and off in buildings. Tracked
vehicles trundled backwards and forwards, but far enough away not to worry
us. There was still the odd shot or burst behind us. We'd been patrolling
for about 2 miles. Four to go. It wasn't even midnight yet. Hours of
darkness lay ahead. I was feeling quite good.
We followed the line of a hedgerow, then cut across left into a natural