Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 29

We changed then knocked Alun's door so we could go down together.

He was ready to leave but asked if we knew where the draught in his room came from. Right now, the weather was reasonably mild, but come the winter it would take more than the antique central heating system to keep it up to temperature.

"Easily fixed. I had the same problem when I had the place to myself, but I'll have to show you when I'm dressed in something that doesn't matter if it gets muddied up.

I suppose we better get this over with, but carrying arms for a promotion ceremony doesn't seem right somehow."

"Orders are orders, Steve. There's still a danger, even if the powers that be think it's minimal."


Unlike most brigade meetings, this was much less formal. Chairs had been provided for us to sit on; there was a lectern on the stage with three other chairs surrounding them.

Mr Collins told us to take a seat and only once the officer stepped through the door should we stand to attention.

Mr Collins sat down and chatted to us.

"We have Brigadier Sir Walter Redman with us. He's ex Special Forces now attached to the security arm of the Home Office. He'll be fully aware of all the events that have happened, that way there's no need for him to ask difficult questions that on answering him, you might find yourselves in breach of the Official Secrets Act.

The reason for wearing only battle fatigues and carrying weapons is because we're the only line of defence. There's no intelligence to suggest there might be problems, but we have to maintain a state of readiness, which reminds me. We'll have to get you kitted out with something in addition to those Berettas."

There was a noise coming from behind the door that lead though to the main school building, so Mr Collins stopped with his talk just as Mr King walked through in the company of who we assumed was the Brigadier.

We stood to attention until reaching the lectern, told us to stand easy then sit down.

"Gentlemen. The purpose of my visit today is threefold. The first of which is to congratulate you on the way you managed to thwart the efforts of those who went gunning for Viscount Broadhurst and Thilo Roker, and then there's the matter of being taken hostage along with all members of staff at Malvern Park. The way in which you deported yourselves was exemplary, all of you showed courage in the most difficult of circumstances, and made more remarkable given your ages.

My first priority is to notify you of promotions, so beginning at the top I would like to congratulate Viscount Stephen Leon Broadhurst in his promotion, not to Warrant Officer Class one as he was told, but to Class Two. This is because that extra step would put him at the same rank as RSM Collins, and much though it is thoroughly deserved, we have to avoid conflict within the Brigade.

Please set forward Viscount."

I stood up and walked to the lectern where he handed me my rank badges and certificates before shaking my hand.

Next up was Thilo.

"Mr Thilo Roker. Now, I am very happy to announce your promotion to Staff Sergeant. You have not long been a UK citizen, but even before that, you conducted yourself in a manner befitting this rank. Please step forward Mr Roker."

Thilo was presented with his three stripes together with an embroidered crown which would sit above them, - two sets, one for each arm.

They shook hands before Alun was called.

"Mr Alun Rhys-Jones is hereby promoted to the rank of Sergeant. As the sniper amongst you, Mr Rhys-Jones has to act independently of the Brigade if called upon. He would normally be away from the main body, and as such would have to make his own decisions with regard to his best course of action without being able to contact a senior rank.

Mr Rhys-Jones, please step forward."

And so it went on.

Everyone else who had been with us at Malvern received promotion to Corporal First Class with Bar, - a rank only just below that of Sergeant, and once our medic lads arrived, they would be awarded the rank of Corporal Field Medics.

Medals.

Thilo and I received the Army Cross for Bravery with the rest of the lads receiving the Army Medal for Bravery.

Despite my hatred of bullshit, I felt enormously proud, - not only for me, but for all the guys. Obviously, I would rather that events hadn't warranted any of this, but as things stood, yes, I was chuffed to bits!


The reception that followed was very interesting.

Mr Amos together with Mr King had organised not just coffee and sandwiches, but a selection of alcoholic drinks such as wines, whiskey, gin and beer.

Needless to say, Alun's range practice was called off before it even started.

The Brigadier was very chatty and had obviously been briefed about everything. The afternoon was good and we all learned a lot about covert combat before it was time for him to leave.

We did a tidy up then went to our respective rooms for a rest.


I'm guessing that we slept for around two hours, but then I heard a light tap on the door.

I reached under my pillow for the gun and noticed Thilo who was over on the other side of the room doing much the same thing.

"Who is it?"

"Me. Alun. Sorry to wake you but I need to know how to fix this draft in my room."

"Come on in. We've been asleep for long enough."

Alun walked in and closed the door behind him then noticed the guns.

"I'm pleased I knocked first!"

"Sorry mate. We're still very touchy after what happened over the holiday. Take a seat and I'll get changed out of these combats so we can investigate this draft problem."

While I got changed, Thilo brewed some coffee and as we drank it, we talked about the day's events.

"I need to get out there with this new gun. For all the world, it looks like an identical copy of the McManus but lighter, and according to the manual, it's punchier."

"Meaning?"

"Recoil. The McManus was heavy and with no recoil worth a wank."

"Will that affect you?"

"Wouldn't have thought so. Unlike any other gun I've fired, this doesn't allow for automatic use. Pull the trigger and you fire one shot. Release the trigger and the spent shell case is ejected and the breach reloaded. That way, recoil or otherwise, I have time to re-aim."

"What's the magazine carry?"

"Five. Any more, and the balance is wrong due to the weight loss of spent shells."

"Would the loss of a few cartridges make that much difference?"

"It's featherweight Steve. The heaviest thing about it is the clip. Mr Collins told me that most of the weapon is constructed from some sort of composite material akin to carbon-fibre. I think I'll like it once I'm used to it. The McManus was a weighty beast."

"I'd like to take a look at it sometime. I don't mean I want to fire it, just see how it feels to hold it."

"You'll have to come down to the range with me tomorrow then."

"We'll be there. But we ought to be looking at your draft problem for now."


As I'd guessed, the draft was coming from the vent that was connected to the priest hole where I'd hidden Thilo's tablet. Thing was, the draft was ten times worse than it had ever been so no wonder Alun was freezing his bits off.

"If you take a look up the chimney, on the left about eight foot up is a metal door. Behind that door is what I'm guessing is a priest hole and the air vent would stop what poor soul hiding in there from suffocating."

"Fine. But why the draft?"

"The stonework is starting to feel its age and there are gaps where mortar should be. Something to jam in between those joints should help."

"Tomorrow I'll go looking for a step ladder so I can sort it out, but of course, if you want to help?"

"No worries. Happy to help anytime, and on that subject, - what is it?"

"Six-thirty and time for a pre-supper drink."


Down in our new common room, Ben was busy opening the bar for business just as someone tapped the door. Thilo went to open it, gun in hand and with all the others reaching for theirs as they moved back against the wall. Thilo placed himself next to the opening side of the door before asking who it was.

"Mr Amos together with your medical team. You can put those guns down please."

I indicated for Pete to stand behind the bar, holding his weapon but not in full view. I slipped to the hinge side of the door before having the others put their guns down before I nodded to Thilo to open it slowly.

One thing we had been taught was, to open a door just by releasing the catch. If whoever is behind it was intent on trouble, then they'd kick it wide open, but Pete was there with a fully loaded G36 and most likely would mow them down leaving Thilo and I to mop things up.

Mr Amos actually looked nervous.

"We should maybe think about a codeword should any member of staff need to talk to you, but as I'm still alive and well I think I should introduce you all to, on my left, Julian Lloyd, next to him is Charlie Spencer-Patterson and last but not least is Henry Mason."

There was a round of handshakes before Mr Amos continued.

"These lads have been made aware of this situation, and providing this get-together is enough to allay any misgivings they might have, you have yourselves a potential field hospital."

Ben turned to him and asked if he would like something to drink.

"Thank you, Ben. Scotch on the rocks would go down nicely." Then turning his attention to the boys, "You guys? I'm not sure what your church's attitude towards alcohol is?"

Henry answered him, the other two lads looked slightly unsure of themselves.

"Nothing too potent is fine thanks, so maybe wine or a beer?

Ben reeled of a menu of what we had.

"You're welcome to either. We have cans of Wadworth's 6X, Flower's I.P.A. or Charles Well's Bombardier, lager, - Kronenberg or Carling, red wines such as Merlot or Shiraz and white wine, - Muscadet, - very dry so I'm told."

"White please."

"And you blokes?"

They settled for beer, and so a conversation began with Thilo taking the position of spokesman.

He began by outlining the events that had happened since Easter and the reasons why he and I were being targeted then finished with the following.

"It might appear to you that we like towing all this weaponry around, but had we not been armed, we wouldn't be here to tell the tale. Easter was saved by pure coincidence, but since then the powers that be have seen fit to arm us until this situation is at least under control, if not put to rest.

So, that said, we hope you stick around as it would be very comforting to know you're with us."

Julian looked at the other two lads before answering.

"Just so long as we're not expected to get involved in anything other than our duties as medics, then fine, we'll stay.

I know it must appear strange to you, but our religion strictly forbids violence of any kind, - most of all the carrying of guns. We're not afraid of dying or even getting into the thick of things should it be necessary, but being armed is a step too far."

"We all of us understand that. We don't like carrying them either, but as I said, Steve and I would be long dead by now had we not been."


Later that evening, our three medics walked us through what training they'd received.

Emergency splinting of broken bones, bleeding control and the effective use of arterial pressure points, wound dressing, the administration and control of anaesthetics, shock and trauma treatment and basic surgery. They even carried defibrillators and heart monitors in their backpacks.

Impressive stuff!

We adjourned to our rooms at ten-thirty but not before borrowing a stepladder so we could get Alun's draft problem looked at in the morning.

It was an odd sensation knowing that there was only a handful of us in such a large building. Normally there was a degree of background noise, but tonight the place was silent save from the occasional hoot of an owl. It was all good, and we woke feeling rested, refreshed and ready for breakfast.


Down stairs in the dining hall, Mr Amos ran us through the events of the day.

Mr King had already left for Shap Abbey leaving only himself and Mr Collins on the premises. We were to get breakfast out of the way then muster in the Great Hall for lessons in ration management, personal hygiene in the field when bathing wasn't an option and camouflage techniques, then following lunch it was down to the shooting ground for more target practice.

This was especially important for Alun. A new weapon and he needed to get a handle on how it reacted.

We witnessed some of this, and the trick was that you should never rattle a sniper. He has to remain cool, calm and collected no matter what the circumstances, so Mr Collins just gently talked him through procedures as he adjusted the sights.

"How does it feel now?"

"I still have a problem with its weight Sir. The McManus was balanced and much heavier but it did put a strain on my arms after a while."

"One of the reasons it was deemed necessary for you to change to this.

Just take your time, Alun. There's no rush and we've plenty of ammunition."

By early afternoon we were back in the Brigade office talking about our progress.

Alun had managed to hit targets that were over two miles distant from him and he seemed happy with the results.

We, - as in Thilo and I, had chosen to follow the rest of the guys by selecting G36's as our standard issue weapons. This was the most sensible option; we were also carrying side arms, and with that extra payload of ammunition meant that we could share resources with the other boys if we found ourselves running short.

Tomorrow would see us out learning about map reading and short range radio communication, then joy of joys, - we were to be kicked out onto the Cumbrian fells for three days with only basic rations to sustain us and with some very specific objectives to meet. All assuming we got back in one piece, it would be business as usual and we could return to our studies.


Shortly before supper, Mr Collins had us gather in the quadrangle and pointed towards the tower, at the top of which was our room, but more importantly, Alun's.

"Certain modifications were made over the holiday period, one of these being that access was made between Alun's room and the roof of the tower. The builders were busy separating Stephen and Thilo's room with the intention of making space for another single room so all of you could be housed in the same part of the building.

At the time, no thought had been given as to which of you would occupy this new room, but on noticing a draft, the builders investigated and found what we believe is a priest hole, so with a bit of effort we managed to persuade them to open it up to the roof via a ladder bolted to the wall. I suggest that we all take a look in a moment, but from up there you have an uninterrupted view of the entire area in a 360 degree arc.

It was a no-brainer. The obvious person to occupy that room had to be Alun. At the first hint of trouble, he can get himself up there and take up position as a sniper but with plenty of cover to protect him."

One by one we took a look.

A rope hung from the metal door in the chimney, which, when pulled, released a ladder to enable access. The ceiling of the priest hole had been removed, and with a ladder bolted to the space above, we were able to get up onto the roof.

That explained the draft as the builders had left the trap door partially open, but once Al was up there, he could pull the rope and bottom ladder up behind him, - close and bolt the door the metal door from the inside and no one would know he was there.

There was, however, a word of caution.

"As you are no doubt aware, this building is Grade Two listed and no structural modifications can be carried out without specific planning approval. We didn't have time to seek such permission, so keep it under your hat. Understood? Once this situation is resolved, we will make good these alterations so no one will be any the wiser."

We adjourned to the hall to prepare supper which actually, was surprisingly edible.


Sleep came easily, and before we knew it, dawn was breaking heralding another day of training and fatigue.

Radio procedure came first on the list. These had at best, a coverage of four miles.

We were issued with code names and phrases which would identify us. Then we were taught a method by which we could safely transmit our location without being compromised.

There were codes that indicated threats, - going up from little threat, to medium to 'I'm shitting myself here' threat.

All of this we had to remember verbatim. No room for error as all references to this would be destroyed the following morning.

Camouflage was a piece of piss. Really, all we had to do was plaster ourselves in mud and we were good to go.

Tomorrow was going to test us. Three days living on rations, a limited supply of drinking water and living under the stars…… that's if our luck held and it didn't throw it down with rain.

Radio transmissions were to be kept to a minimum. There would be targets to meet, places we had to visit, obstacles to overcome and an unknown enemy to look out for.

Coupled with that, we were weighed down by the weapons we had to carry, but the boys who caught the short straw were our medics. They were tooled up to the eyeballs with kit and I couldn't help but feel sorry for them.

At six the following morning, we were taken by a military truck to a remote and barren location out on the fells. The squaddie who took us there showed us our GPS co-oridates before fucking off and leaving us to it.

We managed to find our position on our maps, then opened the envelope given to us that contained our instructions for the day.

Simple enough at first glance. A map reference of our destination with a caution to study our maps before deciding on the best route.

We were to avoid villages, farms and metal roads. Stick to little used paths and trails and where possible, we should keep to the rough terrain rather than taking the easy option.

One final thing.

We were given another codeword, - that of Bourbon.

If we heard that over the radio, it meant real trouble and we should try and make our way directly back to school, all the time being conscious that the place might be under siege.

We turned all but one radio off to conserve battery power and headed off.

Clifford, our nominated map-reader, walked ahead of the group. Cliff was an experienced orienteer, fit, agile and used to walking the fells. It was good to have him with us.

We paused for a bite of food at one in the afternoon.

"We have two options guys. We can take the less strenuous route and sick to the low ground, or take the shorter route but this would mean a bit of a climb across those hills.

Steve? You're the senior rank, - what do you reckon?"

"What are the odds, Cliff? We take the shorter of the two and our medics will be shagged out, then if we take the easier of two, they're still going to end up fucked.

What route would you take if you were on your own?"

"Take to the hills. We can always help them with their packs if it comes to it, but then there's the bonus of getting to our destination way before we would've done by going the pretty route."

"Gets my vote. Everyone in agreement?"

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