MEN WITH GUNS AT BREAKFAST
While writing about Sandy Woodward yesterday, I forgot to mention that although I was back in my cottage for the fighting, I was actually in Devon, on the South coast of the UK, at the very beginning of the war. I was accompanied by a West Waterford man, Jimmy Crowley, and we were on on our way to Germany to see a fish smoker (don’t ask!).
We were in Devon, on the South Coast, because our car had broken down—and in an area which is highly defense oriented and where the convoy which was going to re-take the Falklands was being prepared. Military traffic clogged the roads. It was all quite dramatic and exciting in a grim sort of way—and I was reminded of the preparations for D-Day that had taken place in the same area some 40 years earlier. No, I had not witnessed them—I was born in May 1944—but I have certainly read enough, and seen enough news clips about them, since then. The D-Day preparations were humungous. The emphasis, in this case, was less on size, than on speed.
Now being Anglo-Irish and educated in the UK, I don’t have an Irish accent—but Jimmy’s is quite pronounced. That was to lead to trouble because we were overheard talking in a pub, and it was immediately assumed we were IRA. After all, if I didn’t have an Irish accent, I did have a beard. The police were informed.
On the third day, while we were having breakfast, a half dozen or so armed detectives appeared and peremptorily asked to see our rooms and to carry out a search. Under counter-terrorism regulations, they did not need a warrant.
My heart sank—with good reason. I had a red dot gun-sight in my baggage and it didn’t take them long to find it. In their eyes that made me a terrorist, for sure.
The detective in charge—a superintendent, as I recall—stared at me with an unfriendly gaze and said: “Well, Mr. O’Reilly, how can you explain this?”
“I like to have a physical item—a talisman if you will—to associate with each book,” I said. “Since I write thrillers, such items tend to reflect such a genre. Previously, I have bought a shotgun and a Sykes Fairbairn fighting knife. This time, I opted for the gun sight.”
The detective gave me an absolutely incredulous look. This was the worst story he had heard in years (though true). It seemed highly likely I was going to be locked up for a considerable time. They can do that under the anti-terrorism laws.
Fortunately, I had taken the precaution of making myself known to the police in Ireland—and the local garda (the Irish police are known as the Garda Siochana) sergeant where I lived was a friend. He was a rather amazing man called Vincent Bergin from Cappoqin, Co. Waterford.
After extensive enquiries, both of us were released, we made it to Germany, and returned in time for me to follow the fighting from the cottage.
Jimmy—he of the Irish accent—had actually served in the British Army—and had no doubt at all about the outcome. “We’ll go through the Argies like a knife through butter,” he said (and he wasn’t far wrong).
I don’t know how many times that I have been detained, or questioned, or roughed up by the police, or military, or private security (more times than I care to contemplate), but if you write the sort of stuff I do—and keep up to date with weaponry and matters military—it is an occupational hazard.
Such incidents also makes for a good story. At the time, they are not so funny.
FALKLANDS FACT: The British expeditionary force that was tasked to re-take the Falklands from the Argentinians set sail within three days of the invasion. It was a quite astounding logistical feat. Over 100 ships were involved.