FIRST-HAND:I could have been Private Clegg

Martin, an ex-para, recalls his own split-second decisions
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I joined the paras in 1977 to get out of trouble and to get some discipline. Serving in Northern Ireland I felt vulnerable: you never really knew who was the enemy because of the way they operated. The business of the "yellow card", giving you ins tructions as to when you can and can't shoot at the enemy, was a very double-edged weapon. If a man is armed you are supposed to say "Halt or I will shoot", but he can kill you during the couple of seconds it takes to warn him. The immediate reaction is to zaphim before he zaps you and ask questions later. So when a car bursts through a checkpoint, you just assume they are IRA and are armed.

The closest I got to Private Clegg's situation was when a car came screaming round a bend at a checkpoint, whizzed past the first patrol, but stopped when a weapon was pointed at it. It was a drunk driver, but we quite easily could have got into the samesituation as Clegg.

The difference between Northern Ireland and the Falklands was that although in both scenarios I was trained to have my finger on the trigger at all times, in Northern Ireland I was supposed to control it. In the Falklands it had to be pulled, questions were saved until afterwards.

Nothing I'd encountered during training was anywhere near the reality of the Falklands. What hit me most was blokes being blown up all around me, the cries of guys who were wounded, seeing their wounds - nothing can prepare you for that.

The first time I made an eye-kill [a point-blank kill] I just shot him, it was automatic. He was armed, in a bunker, about 10 feet away and I was quicker than him, simple as that. He looked at me and he knew he was dying and I knew that I had killed him,but I didn't have time to think about it. Firing at people with a machine gun was different, you just see people as targets.

I have suffered a bit from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because I did reflect on what I'd seen and what I'd done and whether it was right. But I've worried more about the friends of mine who were killed than who I've killed or what I'd killed.

I left the Army because I had had enough, the Army was changing. The Falklands was the ultimate experience in a soldier's life, but then I was sent to guard Greenham Common against a load of pacifist women. I just felt used and abused.

I'm 38 now and a builder. I don't miss the Army. The yellow card suits the bureaucrats: the soldier always has his hands tied behind his back and when he needs help from military sources it doesn't come. I think Private Clegg was sold out, he expected support.

Usually when people ask me what it's like to kill someone I refuse to talk to them. It's just not the done thing to ask a soldier that.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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