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Pieces of the Past by Spike Pike

I was born 54 years ago in Douglaston Stables, Milngavie, which is a place just outside Glasgow. I have two older sisters, Evelyn and Denise and a younger sister, Christine, she’s only 18 months younger than me. And my younger brother Derek who came six years after I was born. So there were five of us. My mum was originally from Glasgow. She was from Yoker. My mum is an incredibly strong woman. She was a grafter, a feminist and she cleaned bars and was a chamber maid and when she got to the age of forty she was ‘ah I’m fed up cleaning out men’s toilets. I’m better than this.’ So she became a nurse at the age of forty. My father is English and he comes from a large family in Quorn in Leicestershire. My dad was from mining stock. His father died when he was six years old of coal dust on the lungs. He was in the navy when he met my mother; he was based up in Rosyth. And he met my mum and they quickly got married and he stayed in Scotland since. So he put up with a fair bit of racial abuse being English, when being English in Glasgow was not the best thing to be in the 50’s and 60’s.

I joined the Scots Guards and I finished my basic training in February, March 1981. The Scots Guards were based in Alexander Barracks near Aldergrove airport. And they would go and do two week stints in Belfast. The Markets, Ardoyne, Newlodge, Falls, Divis, Unity all the republican areas. And of course the hunger strike kicked off at that time. So that meant we were in the city a lot more because they swamped Ireland, Northern Ireland, with British soldiers. The clock was ticking. Bobby Sands was on hunger strike for sixty-six days. We went on leave before he died and the tension was building. So I went on leave and I was doing the dishes at home and my dad came in and said ‘are you alright son?’ And I said ‘The shits going to hit the fan Dad, I can’t go back.’. He said ‘Son you’ve got to go back. You cannot run away you know.’ And of course I went back but that journey from Glasgow to Belfast was so depressing. It’s a half hour drive from Milngavie to the airport. My brother was in the back of the car, my dad was driving. I couldn’t even look at them. I’d look out the window. Black clouds. It was awful. But when you got to the airport and you saw a couple of the boys you began to loosen up a wee bit. Because we were all the same. You could see the big black clouds over everybody’s heads as we were coming back from two weeks of madness, of spending loads of money and getting drunk. Back to reality but this time the reality was different. Bobby Sands was dead.

Coming to Belfast I was in no way prepared for the level of hatred towards me. And I took that very personally. After my initial Northern Ireland training which is separate from your basic training I was sent out with a bunch of Fusiliers just to break me in gently. Well it wasn’t gently at all. We were walking the streets. They pulled a car over. ‘Right search the car.’ So I’m like looking around and things and he said ‘no search it.’ And this family, kids in the back, wife in the passenger seat and the guy and they were glaring at me. And they were pulling panels off doors, and into the boot and pulling up everything. And I’ve never done this before. And the looks I was getting from this women and these kids and this man. I just did not enjoy that at all.

Very, very quickly you put your barriers up and you became as hate filled as they were towards us. They stopped being people to me. They were the enemy. They hated us. Kids, grannies, even dogs. You’re not talking one or two. Massive communities, thousands of people despised us. That was hard to take. I was expecting a few individuals. A few hundred. But half a million?

Spike Pike served with the Scots Guards in Northern Ireland, he is a member of Veterans For Peace UK