Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 30

A Climb?

These were more like small mountains!

We helped each other to the top then rested for fifteen minutes.

Cliff was busy studying his map.

"Down the bottom of this valley we'll come to a Berne. Depending on how high it's running, depends on how we get across. It might mean we have to split up so we can find the best crossing point, either that or risk going for a swim."

"No. There'll be no splitting up. We either move up or down together or head back if there's nowhere suitable.

That is my first instruction as a senior rank. We stick together, okay?"

Scree made for slow progress, but anyway, it was better than climbing mountains with thirty pounds of kit weighing you down.

The stream was running well, but by some stroke of good fortune, we easily managed to ford it without getting soaked to the skin.

An hour on and we caught sight of our nights stopover. This was a very derelict croft or small farm. One of the outbuildings had even manage to hang onto its roof despite all the nasty weather Cumbria had thrown at it over the years.

Inside was a fireplace, a shelf nailed to a wall, on it we found a rusted-up sheep shearer and a candle, otherwise there wasn't anything interesting.

We took a look at the map noticing that this croft was miles from any other habitation and the nearest road was six miles east across the hill we'd come over.

My first thought was that we were unlikely to be disturbed given this remote position. Mr Collins was ex Special Services and no doubt still very fit, but would he bother yomping across miles of rough terrain just to catch us with our pants down?

But then another thought crossed my mind.

We had been told to expect a few surprises, yet one full day out and we'd seen nothing, so what if he'd enlisted the services of the Territorial's to sniff us out? He knew where we were aiming to spend the night although not the route we'd chosen, and that detour had got us here a couple of hours earlier than anticipated.

I called everyone together.

"I think we should keep our eyes well and truly peeled. So far all we've seen are a few sheep, but we were told to expect the unexpected, so here's what I propose.

We've still got about three hours of daylight left, and given the visibility is pretty good, we should spot any activity before it becomes a threat, so let's eat some of this shit food while we've got the light.

Who's got the night vision binoculars?"

Mark put his hand up.

"In my backpack, Steve. Do you want them?"

"No Ta, not right now.

Come dusk, might I suggest that we get some sleep? We will post a watch changing over every thirty minutes so everyone will feel rested come daybreak. Eighteen of us and around nine hours of darkness should see us off at first light. Whatever they have planned for us, if we make a prompt getaway, perhaps we can stay ahead of the game.

Any thoughts guys?"

"Just one, Steve.

Like today, my belief is that Mr Collins or whoever might be looking for us, will have expected us to follow the less painful route. We decided to cut through the hills, so maybe we've put him off our scent. What we're looking at tomorrow is marginally easier, but there are still deviations to be had. He knows where we'll end up at night because that's where he told us to end up, but not the route taken during the day, so why not make his life difficult by really fucking with him?"

"Love it Cliff!"


At two-thirty Henry roused me from my slumber.

"All quiet out there, Steve. A fox thought he might try and get friendly, but otherwise nothing. There's coffee in the flask. It tastes disgusting, but it will give you a kick start."

"Right now, anything to wash away last night's supper will do."

"Okay. If there's nothing else, I'll hit the sack."

Henry was absolutely right. Whatever the ration people must have been thinking of when they called that muck coffee is beyond all comprehension. I think it was pure caffeine made to look like watered down dysentery but without the smell. Fair play though, it definitely woke me up!

My half-hour on watch played out in much the same way. I didn't even find a fox to play with, so at five minutes past three I gave Julian a nudge with much the same message that Henry had given me.

I knew nothing more until Thilo woke all of us at five-thirty.

"Sun's coming up if you want us to get away early."

"Nothing untoward then?"

"Nope. Nothing at all."

Once everyone was packed and ready to go, we did a tour of the site to make sure we hadn't left any clues that we'd even been there. The thinking was that if Mr Collins together with his band of merry men came looking for us, maybe they would assume we hadn't made it that far, - disappear in the opposite direction to try and find us.

Realistically, that wouldn't happen. He's very experienced and would see our boot prints, but it was worth a shot.

To prove that we had been there, James took a photo of the croft with all of us standing in front of it.

Clifford lead the way and took us up the side of a hill before following its apex. This route had us scrambling over rocks and yet more scree, but the upside was that we didn't leave any tracks to pick up on that might be easily followed.

We skirted round the base of yet another hill before taking to the high ground again, and after four hours, we took a fifteen-minute rest and a chance to look at the map.

"We are right here. See that patch of woodland? That's here on the map as is that deep valley to our left about a mile distant. Take a compass bearing of those two, and it's just a simple matter to read off the degrees and triangulate our position to within an error of maybe one-hundred meters."

"How far of our recommended route are we. Cliff?"

"There wasn't a recommendation as such, just the hint that it would be easier if we followed marked tracks. These are all away down there in the bottom of the valley, so, that would put us ahead of time by at least an hour already and around three miles distant from our destination which is here on the map."

"That might mean we get there by lunchtime."

"And that brings with it its own set of problems.

That's one hell of a long time to stay in one place, and especially one where we'll be expected to head for."

"Yeah, you're right there.

Any bright ideas, chaps?"

Mark came over and studied the map.

"What's the terrain like if we were to pick a vantage point above our destination?

I ask because as we're going to be well early, we could keep an eye on the place then head down once the light starts to fail. If we see something to suggest that there's a surprise down there waiting for us, we stay put for the night, then investigate it in the morning"

Thilo wasn't keen, and said as much.

"But we were told where to set up camp each night, so isn't that like disobeying orders?"

"Think back to Scotland. There was no way we could've got across that village without your idea of taking out those snipers? I fail to see the difference between that and our orders to look out for obstacles, expect the odd surprise and get back to school in one piece.

So, we're taking the difficult and punishing route rather than just taking a pleasant stroll. We have the advantage now, not Mr Collins, so let's keep it that way.

But coming back to Mark's question, Cliff?"

"No scree and no shear rock faces to worry about, so my guess is it'll be more of the same, grass and the occasional thicket."

"I prefer Mark's idea.

Shall we vote on it?"


It took longer than we thought to make it to above our destination. The further we went, the larger the rock formation became. This made for plenty of challenging work for us to get past it, but as we entered a thicket of rather sorry-looking trees, we heard the sound of a vehicle down in the valley, albeit some distance away.

Not that there was much chance of being seen, we continued on very cautiously before coming to a clearing that overlooked yet another disused croft and the source of the vehicle noise.

James crept forward and taking out his binoculars, reported back over his shoulder.

"Two vehicles, and from what I can see there are six men down there all wearing combat fatigues, one of the men being Mr Collins."

"What are they up to?"

"Looks like they're digging foxholes."

"Are they armed?"

"Don't appear to be, but then they're not out to kill us, Steve?"

"No, sorry. Out to capture us probably. Sit in their hidey-holes until we arrive, then spring their trap."

"Looks that way. Two of them have settled in nicely already. Camouflage covering the holes and if we didn't know they were there, we'd get our surprise all right!"

Thilo turned to me.

"How do you propose playing this, Steve?"

The way I see it, we have two options. We wait until they're comfy then let them know we've seen them."

"How? Too far to shout them up except by radio."

"What else is down there, Jim?"

"Tut-tut. Very careless! They have to be Territorial boys because one of them has left his canteen by the shed door, otherwise there's nothing except the two vehicles."

"What are they?"

"An army Landrover and our beaten-up half-track from school, but it looks as if Mr Collins is leaving the party and taking the Landy with him."

"Wonderful! Going back to Keswick so he can gloat when we're brought in in chains no doubt!

Can you give Cliff your binoculars? He can plot his route to see if it'll take him to some sort of road or navigable track."


"Map would indicate a bridleway that should take him the three miles where it meets with the B4009 to Oldsbrooke. From there it's only five back to school."

"Nowhere else?"

"If he was thinking about looking for us, wouldn't he have been better served by taking the half-track?"

"I guess so."

Thilo was looking nervous.

"So, what now? Are you going to alert them like you said?"

"No.

They'll be expecting us to come waltzing down the path whistling Yankee-fucking doodle, at which point they'll jump us, but that's not going to happen, ever.

We know exactly where they are, but they have no idea we know, so we're going in through the back door and capture them."

"You're fucking certifiable!"

"Yep. Happy in my craziness!

So, are we going in?"

Everyone were grinning like complete idiots. We had a plan. We were going to make damn sure Mr Collins dined on shit that night!


We were in no panic to set off. We were so far ahead of time, we could afford the wait while we sat down to formulate a more detailed way forward.

This was in every way a joint operation. No hierarchy, no bullshit, just ideas about the best way to succeed.

Eventually we agreed strategy.

We would take the longer of the three ways to get to the rear of the buildings. We had cover pretty much all the way, and where this thinned out, there was a small stream to hide in. We'd get a thorough soaking, but what the fuck.

Alun had taken note of all the fox holes and sketched them out onto a piece of paper. Three of us for every hole leaving our two medics and Alun to stand watch just in the event that we had mistaken Mr Collins movements.

Our biggest headache wasn't capturing them, but how we held them. One climbing rope simply wasn't adequate, but then Clifford came to the rescue.

"I always carry plastic tie wraps. They're great for making a light belay if you're light on pins. Tie wrap their wrists behind their back should do the job well enough."

The next concern was how we attracted their attention. We were confident we could get close to these foxholes, but to merely say "Hello boys. Please get out" didn't sound very threatening.

We decided to approach the holes as planned, then once we were close enough, one of each group would let off with a two second burst of automatic weapon fire.

That should get their attention!

We were off.


It took about forty-five minutes to get to the back of the buildings. We waited in silence, and breathing through our mouths to eliminate any head noise, listened for unexpected signs of movement.

Ben nudged me and pointed to the shed directly in front of us. He didn't say a word, but then I heard it; the voice of someone talking on his mobile phone.

I motioned Cliff to follow me and the rest of the guys to stay put.

We found a way in that wouldn't make too much noise, but this bloke was so engrossed in the conversation, we got within six feet of him before he figured out something was amiss.

I spoke very softly.

"Turn around and put the phone down on the floor, then hands on top of your head facing the wall and with your legs apart. Stay silent or you're a disability pension on legs, understood?"

He did as asked, then Cliff patted him down before quietly announcing that our man was unarmed.

"Hands behind your back please."

Cliff tie wrapped his wrists.

He wasn't going anywhere in a hurry.

"Stay with him mate.

I'll start the main event."

I beckoned the other lads to follow on, and surveying the area, identified the individual foxholes.

We'd been right in assuming they were expecting us to come down the track as we noticed something akin to periscopes poking out from under the camouflage netting, so we walked cautiously forward until we were about eight feet away.

Mr Collins had drummed into us that at no time should we get close to the target. If you did, then one swift movement might see you injured or killed, but stay well back and you see it coming giving you sufficient time to react.

Fireworks time.

Five of our lads, one from each group as discussed, raised their weapons, released the safety and fired into the air.

What happened next was almost laughable.

Two guys screamed like schoolgirls, one guy pissed himself and two feinted and had to be dragged out.

The same scenario was gone over with them being searched and their wrists tied behind their backs.

We looked for a radio. We found one but it was switched off.

None of them were carrying, not that we were surprised. Territorial Army blokes out helping a school project was what we were told later.

The half-track looked big enough to accommodate most of us. Our 'prisoners', their wrists now free of cable ties, sat in the back with six lads accompanying them, four up front with Alun, the nominated driver, with the rest of us sitting on the roof.

Fortunately, there were grab handles to hang on to, otherwise we might've been thrown clear off the top.

Al took it easy until we hit the road, and in thirty minutes, Keswick Priory was in sight.

We pulled over here to have a chat.

"Did Mr Collins say where he would be until you caught us?"

The chap that had the unfortunate and personal accident answered.

"He told us he would be in the Brigade room. He didn't think it would take too long before we got to you."

"Were you to radio in once you had us?"

"Yes. Then he'd come and bring you back."

"Right.

A Landrover wouldn't handle the rough terrain at the back of the school, and anyway, why bother?

No. He'd go by road.

Al? Can you get us as far as the top of the driveway?"

"Sure thing.

Then what?"

"We are going to collect us another prisoner, that's what!"

"Mr Collins?? You have to be shitting me, right?"

"No shit.

Get us to the top of the drive then shift over and let Thilo take the wheel. Meantime you get that beast of yours mounted up, - no ammunition, just the laser pointer will do."

We parked up and Thilo took the wheel. Alun assembled his rifle, and there we waited.

Another thirty minutes should be enough before we took to the radio.

I handed it to Thilo.

"Me? I'm to call him?"

"Yep. Best Afrikaans accent please. --- no-no, wait on! Give it to one of our mates back there."

He passed it back, all the time looking at me suspiciously.

"Right then. When you call him, tell him you have all of us, okay? Then I need you to tell him to bring his radio with him as you have a minor problem. Can you do that for me please?"

"I guess so. What's this all about?"

"Tell you later over a VERY stiff drink."


"Squad to RSM Collins, over."

"Collins here. Mission completed?"

"All that you asked for is with us."

"Give me half an hour. Call me if you hit problems, - those kids can be something of a handful. Out."

We waited until we saw headlights approaching from the direction of the school.

"Start the engine, Thilo, and once he's about one-hundred yards away, hit the lights, - give it everything on board."

"I'm fairly positive I'm not going to like this, Steve."

"You'll love it, honestly.

Once you've blinded him with the lights he's going to have to pull over, so then take the radio and in your thickest Afrikaans accent, tell him to exit his vehicle and lay face down on the floor with his arms stretched above his head.

He'll be well aware of Al's laser pointing between his eyes, so I doubt he'll try anything."

"I said you were certifiable, but now? You ought to be sectioned!"

"He was setting us up what with these guys hiding in holes. This is payback, pure and simple.

Does anyone want me to stop this?"

I think, - I know everyone was grinning.


"Hit the lamps Thilo!"

The Landy skidded to a halt directly in front of us, then Thilo took the radio.

"You will step from your vehicle and lay face down on the floor with your arms in full view above your head.

As you are no doubt aware, we have weapons trained on you, so no sudden moves or the driveway will have to be resurfaced."

Even Thilo was laughing now!

We watched as Mr Collins did as instructed, so with Alun's laser sight still pointing at the back of his head, we climbed out and walked over to where he was prone-down on the tarmac.

"Evening Sir. Nice weather for taking a nap in the middle of the road, don't you think?"

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