Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 31

"Am I allowed to get up now?"

"Here, let me help you.

Look Sir. We're really sorry about pulling a stunt on you like that. It was stupid and uncalled for but you tried to set us up. You failed miserably, but that doesn't excuse what we did and I hold myself entirely responsible."

"Why am I not surprised, Stephen? That 'stunt' as you refer to it, had your hallmark all over it, and yes, given the situation, totally irresponsible…… but I wish I'd thought of it first!

Come on, let's get back to the madhouse. God knows, I could use a bloody good drink!"


We all of us took long and relaxing showers. We sorted a clean set of clothes for the poor unfortunate guy who'd peed himself, then went down to the common room and the inevitable inquest.

We ran Mr Collins together with the Territorial people though everything. What we'd seen, what we'd experienced together with our tactics, but leaving aside the reasons behind the exercise.

The Territorial's didn't need to know about that.

"We followed you, but then we completely lost you. Head for the high ground was never something I even considered. I know the fells, and that first day would've been tough going for anyone, let alone a bunch of schoolboys carrying thirty-odd pounds of equipment each.

We went to the first farm, - we got there at around seven this morning. At first, my initial thought was you'd not made it that far, but looking closer there were boot prints all over the place, but where and in what direction you went from there eluded us.

Where did you go?"

Cliff sat the map on the table.

"We went due south the doubled back along the hill. The ground was mostly scree and rocks, so we guessed we would be hard to track.

Going west wasn't so bad. There were lots of cover we could take advantage of, but then, safe in the knowledge that you weren't hot on our heels, we made for the rendezvous. We heard the vehicles and the rest you can guess."

"Taking these guys prisoner? Your idea Stephen?"

"We had two options.

We could let you know that we'd seen you then see how you reacted, or have some fun at your expense.

We chose the latter."

"Tactics?"

"I'm not taking credit for those. It was very much a joint operation.

I wanted to fuck with you, that I will admit, but then practicalities reared their ugly heads. Some of my thinking was hair-brained, but collectively we managed to come up with solutions to those problems. No one man can think of everything unless he's a genius, and genius I am not."

"Don't underestimate yourself."

"I had an idea. The detail, the methods, the way forward and its execution was not down to me. We pooled our ideas and worries. We considered the terrain, the degree of cover and our approach, - all discussed and agreed. Everything that happened, happened because all of us liked this plan. It was fun and no one was in danger."

"Only in danger of getting the shit scared out of them when you opened up with semi-automatic weapons!"

"There was that bit I suppose."

"You suppose?"

"Yeah. Suppose."

"I will never understand you."

"What do you want me to do...... apologise?"

"A little contrition?"

"Dream on!"

"One of these days I'll……"

I nodded in the direction of our Territorial friends.

"Listen!

I'm sorry I scared you guys…… Really. But apportioning blame?

I didn't ask you to follow us, did I?

Was it me who didn't tell you what to expect if it all went to ratshit?

I don't think so.

What happened, happened. So, live with it, okay?"

Thilo was furious with me and went to stand up.

Mr Collins stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Let it go Thilo. I was deliberately trying to get him to let off steam.

There's only so much pressure anyone can take.

I've had fist fights with some of my men in the Corps following an operation. They kept it in when it mattered most, that's what's important here, but there has to come a point where it has to be released.

He probably didn't feel it, but deep down in his soul, he knew he was in charge, - it would be Stephen Broadhurst who's arse would be hung out to dry if it all went wrong.

Cut him some slack."

"But his temper…… I keep telling him to moderate his tone!"

"Why?

That's the way he is, that's the man you see in front of you.

Yes, it'll get him into hot water. It has on many previous occasions and doubtless it will in the future, but we need people with a degree of attitude. Allow him to let rip if he needs to, and if you do, you will see a different person."

My turn to feel humbled. I knew as soon as I opened my mouth that things were about to get out of hand.

"Thilo's right, and I am genuinely sorry, not for my actions, because I believe they were entirely justified, but my attitude was wrong and I should learn how to control it."

Thilo cut me a look that told me he wasn't going to drop it. Not for the first time since we'd met, I knew I was going to cop it the neck from him. I needed some space. I needed time think, so I stood up and walked from the room, the only person not frowning was Mr Collins.

I went outside, sat on the bonnet of the half-track and allowed my head to go into freefall.


I don't know how long I was out there; ten minutes, an hour? I just sat there swinging my feet, thinking about everything and nothing, but then I sensed movement beside me and saw Thilo eying me with a degree of worry.

I instantly went on the defensive.

"So? What do you want?"

"Cut it out, Steve!"

"Cut what out!? I've spent today fucking everything up. Don't you think I saw the looks I was getting in there? I've just screwed up the most valuable friendships I've ever had, pissed you off to the point that I'm surprised that you even want to be seen talking to me, and you want me to cut it out?

Everything about today was wrong. Maybe we should've stuck to the rules, towed the party line and got ourselves caught.

Yes, I was the senior rank, but I'm not like the fucking Field Marshall leading the Seventh Cavalry into battle, - we're a bunch of school kids out playing at being soldiers for the day, - cadets, who under most normal circumstances would be wearing out shoe leather on a parade ground carrying wooden rifles, not touting fully loaded G36's?

I'm going to resign my rank and fuck off back to Malvern and hope my old man doesn't disinherit me. I'm done here Thilo. I've let everyone down, and to make matter's even worse, I've lost your love."

"You're wrong. So wrong, and on so many levels.

First off? You haven't lost my love, far from it. I'm very proud of you as it happens?

After you left, Mr Collins had a chat to us."

"I'm not sure I want to know what he had to say."

"Well, you're going to hear it no matter whether you want to or not.

No, you're not in command of the Seventh Cavalry. Yes, we are a bunch of school kids, but playing at being soldiers we were not.

We're armed for one very good reason. The threat to all of us as a group is very real and we have to be in a position, - trained sufficiently well to defend ourselves and those around us.

You don't do criticism very well, but neither can you take accolades. You want to be left alone so you can be ordinary, blend in to the background if you will.

The thing is…… and this isn't me talking, these are Mr Collins words. You have great leadership potential. Yesterday and today we pooled ideas, but it was you who took the initiative when it came to taking the Territorial lads prisoner, and then, as if that wasn't enough, you hatch this totally insane plan to take on a man who is a veteran of more covert and dodgy campaigns than you can shake a stick at plus he's ex SAS and has a vast amount of experience to back him up.

But, the thing is, you managed to pull it off in spectacular fashion. He told us that you're natural officer material and would go down very well in a Special Forces unit."

"He said that?"

"Yes, and plenty more besides."

"He better not go saying anything to me otherwise he'll think that what happened earlier was a cakewalk."

"Stephen!"

"I'm sorry."

"Forget it. Let's go back and have a drink. There's no school tomorrow so think about the lie-in come the morning!"

We walked the short distance to the kitchen entrance, paused briefly before sharing a kiss. We were still together, and I made a mental note to at least try and kerb my tongue in the future.

My outbursts, even as a young boy had landed me in trouble, but now, - now I really should try and deport myself as an adult.

I didn't expect for one moment that Thilo expected me to be all sweetness and light all the time, but that said, rounding on anyone who pissed me off had to stop, and stop now before I lost all credibility.

Going back in to the common room was hard. No matter what Thilo had told me, I was positive I'd be met with disapproval.

He ushered me through the door and I waited for the blank expressions and…… okay? Just being completely ignored, but it never happened.

I wasn't greeted with rounds of applause, but it was more like concern I got from my peers.

"Are you alright, Steve? Sometimes you have to fight, and God knows, you did a sterling job today!

What are you going to have?"

"Red wine please…… and thanks for your concern, but Thilo's right. I need to get myself sorted out."

"I wouldn't, not if I were you. I don't think it's something you can turn on or off, - it's part of who you are."

Mr Collins sat his glass on the table then took a wad of paper from his breast pocket.

"Not classified information, but still, I would appreciate it if you kept it to yourselves.

What I have here are my disciplinary records from the time I signed up, right up until I had to be pensioned out of the service through injury.

I'm not going to read all of it, - we'd be here all night, but it's a long list of bad behaviour verging on the criminal. Fights, drunkenness, whoring and much more to the point I almost found myself facing a Court Marshall.

One man, however, saw my potential.

I was a Corporal in the Welsh Guards and he was my RSM, the bastard. So, rather than more disciplinary action which probably would've driven me ever closer towards anarchy, I was reassigned to the Royal Marine Commando's where I could work off some of my attitude, - or rather…… have it channelled and used effectively and efficiently.

It wasn't a panacea, not by any stretch of the imagination. I was still rebellious, I still despised authority and bullshit, but…… and this is my point. I was in a position to work it off. I threw myself into training hard. I wasn't going to give anyone an opportunity to dress me down, make me eat shit or kowtow to the Sandhurst officer classes who couldn't even wipe their own arse without detailed instructions and a six-week training course.

I sometimes wonder if even they lost patience with me, because the next thing I knew I was in the back of a truck bound for Hereford, to join a unit that would change my life for ever.

I found myself training alongside people who were much the same as me. I fitted the mould, thrived in an environment that punished you physically, drained you mentally and drove you past limits you never knew existed. The word 'fail' wasn't in their lexicon. You either survived or you were out on your ear, and I was never going to let that happen.

After a while I made it to Sergeant, then Staff and onwards to RSM.

I was offered further promotion, but that would've made me an officer, so I refused it.

I teach now that I've been invalided out of the service, but this isn't a school like any other school in the country. They teach self-reliance and the type of discipline that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

I still have no time for authority. Some things never change because it makes you what you are, but, I have learned to tolerate it and work with it, and Stephen? That's what you must try to do.

To say I'm proud of all of you is wholly inadequate. You put me in my place today, - made me realise what a fine bunch of young men I'm working with.

So, no more inquisitions, no more attempts to justify your actions, just be satisfied that had there been any misgivings about your ability to handle yourselves under combat conditions before, the report I will be submitting to the Home Office tomorrow will serve to allay those concerns for ever.

Lads? It's getting late, so I'm going to get to my bed.

Thanks for the drinks, I owe you, but one last comment?

If I was still serving in the twenty-two, I'd happily have all of you alongside me."

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