The smell of war

Northern Ireland was not just about funny incidents involving post boxes. The Troubles also saw in 1972 Operation Motorman, the British Army’s biggest operation since the Suez campaign in the 1950’s.

Soldiers often describe warfare as “90% boredom.”  This is due to the “hurry up and wait” demanded before going over the wire (hang on, that was WWI), bursting through the barricades of Free Derry, etc.

While the troops waited for hours in their armoured personnel carriers for the voice over the radio net to call out tersely:

Operation Motorman… start!

some men:

  • Started at photos of their loved ones: the wife, the girlfriend, the kids… the dog
  • Chatted to the padre, the man who was sometimes considered a bit of a nuisance
  • chain-smoked

The American officer in Apocalypse Now loved the smell of napalm in the morning.  It smells of victory.  Some say the smell of war is the smell of cordite.  But after talking to troops who’ve served in Northern Ireland and other conflicts, I say the smell of war is flatulence.  When eight men are seated for hours in the back of Saracen (driven through your garden last night), all pretending not to be nervous, the silent flatulence gives the fear away.

Have a pungent day, won’t you!


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