The Provenance of the Gun by Willy Bach


The West Side Boys – “known for wearing bizarre clothing – women’s wigs and flip-flops are favourites – and being almost perpetually drunk – Not hesitant about opening fire” BBC.

Finding our way through a complicated story

This poem below was written following an interview on ABC TV (Australia) with Retired Colonel Tim Collins, who left the Royal Irish Regiment and the British Army very critical of the war in Iraq, the occupation and the ‘war on terror’.  Col Tim Collins, a friend of Tim Spicer, seeks employment in what he knows best.  The connections with the war in Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ are intriguing. At the same time, I was a student of Peace and Conflict at University of Queensland. I was learning UN Peacekeeping from Alex Bellamy, who was the first to explain the official version of Operation Barras. Students were told that Operation Barras was the textbook example of Peace Enforcement Operations, the British military at its best. Then I did some of my own research and modified his story.

I heard that, “The Westside Boys were not a pushover, they fought very hard”. That phrase stuck in my head. Why were they not a pushover? How did they know? This explained the significant force deployed. The British were taking no chances. So determined to erase all trace of the group, “… it became clear that Barras involved a second, more controversial component: the complete destruction of the West Side Boys as a fighting force.” (Daily Mail)

  1. The story of British Colonel Tim Collins includes his role in the war in Iraq, the occupation and the ‘war on terror’ and leads to questions about his friendship with Lt Col Tim Spicer, who was the head of mercenary company, Aegis Defense Services and lucrative government contracts. Spicer also had connections with Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and the Pentagon.
  2. Collins was given a British SLR in Sierra Leone which turned out to be one of those used in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, 1972. The rifle was found in the possession of Sierra Leone’s murderous West Side Boys. So, how did this African criminal/terrorist group get possession of it?
  3. The story then goes back to Bloody Sunday, 1972. It was a day of shame for the British government, as 14 Bogside residents were shot dead in Londonderry by a specially inserted force 1 Para with lethal orders to kill civilians. Amidst the deceit and lies of the Inquiry by Lord Widgery into the incident, and later Lord Saville’s Inquiry. Many years passed before the British government of David Cameron officially admitted fault and apologised to the people of Ulster. Official claims were made that the SLRs could not be presented as evidence, since they had been destroyed.
  4. The SLRs were not destroyed. They were secretly shipped off to Sierra Leone and supplied to the West Side Boys.
  5. Furthermore, not for the first or last time, the British SAS was used to train the West Side Boys in guerilla warfare without the perverse purpose of this mission being exposed to the British public or media.
  6. These events led to Operation Barras, on 11 September 2000. A total of 272 Service personnel were involved, including 100 men of D Squadron 22 SAS, a unit from the Royal Marines’ Special Boat Service and 110 soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment. There were several Royal Navy ships, helicopters and jets. Why all this force to see off a few drunken criminals/terrorists? The British Army was not taking chances because they knew the West Side Boys were a force to be reckoned with.
  7. The SAS took 4-5 hours mopping up, killing every last one of the armed group and disposing of some of the bodies off-site. It was a cover-up of the previous operation.
  8. This story has everyone from Colonel Cambodia to Tony Blair. The lessons of this story point to rigorous rules about arms trading and secret sponsorship of armed non-state actors. It is not the kind of development aid that Africa needs. Nor is it appropriate to treat part of the UK in the same way as Britain once ruled Kenya and Malaya under counterinsurgency warfare.

The Provenance of the Gun by Willy Bach

Most times no one can tell
The money trail
The secret deals
The strange alliances
Counter intuitive patronage
Of powerful states
Resource extraction
Arms insertion
Private armies
Militia mayhem

How covert leads
To cover-up
And how
A crisp clear
January afternoon
In 1972
Took out
Michael Kelly
And a dozen more

Kept from forensic scrutiny
1 Para’s shameful 29 SLRs
With too much history
There was nothing to be
Proud of on that day*
And grieving Bogside families
Tasted the lethality
Objective contempt
Their disappearance
Supposed destruction
Conveyor belt to new tasks
In tropical forestry

The West Side Boys
Wearing bizarre clothing
Women’s wigs and flip-flops
Being almost perpetually drunk
Not a pushover
As they say
In military circles
Those who know
Through close familiarity
And training
‘Colonel Cambodia’
A murderous joke
Brigadier ‘Papa’ Bomb Blast
Firm in Masiaka
Occra Hills
Specialists in rape and pillage
Well equipped from the outside

The people who brought us
Pol Pot Osama Saddam
Augusto Pinochet
Lovingly bestowed
The kind of development aid
For Africa awash
Swimming in Kalashnikovs
Burnt villages
A handful of diamonds
Without hands

And so it came to pass
As the saying goes
Operation Barras
11 September 2000
The provenance of the gun
Brought an ‘unexpected’ trophy
SLR with Londonderry
Bogside serial number
A guilty secret
Inadvertently boasted
Its experience in slaughter
For Michael Kelly
Here’s a toast to
‘Colonel Cambodia’
Electric purple wigs
Bloody hands
Delirious laughter
Conflict entrepreneurs
And bragging Irishmen

Dedicated to my friend and fellow poet Tim Collins (not the Colonel)

Willy Bach served with the British Army in Thailand in support of the war in Vietnam. He is now a member of Veterans For Peace UK



  1. Willy Bach says:

    Dear Grey E

    You make some very useful points that underline my argument. Yes, it was very deceitful and unconscionable to train and equip the West Side Boys, as indeed was a similar SAS mission to train Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. That is documented in Hansard and mentioned by John Pilger. I would assume that MoD had shitloads of ammunition for the SLR and were supplying this to the WSBs in Sierra Leone along with other requirements, like spares for the rifles.
    Yes, Operation Barras was far from being an iconic “textbook example of Peace Enforcement Operations” to cover up the earlier dirty business. It is rather like what is going on in Syria and Iraq right now (and Libya too). One ironic point I did not mention is that in 1969 I was in an RE unit in Tidworth and a young Lt picked me for a secret mission to Sierra Leone as a Surveyor. I argued that I was not a Surveyor for air field construction, but a Topographic Surveyor who had been stripped of my trade and the AIII pay rate several years ago. I was not the man they needed there. Had I gone, I would have been facilitating the resupply of weapons, ammunition and trainers. I would also have been leaving behind a wife about to have a baby in difficult circumstances.

    Soldiers are sent on hazardous missions, allegedly in defence of the British homeland, when they are really there to sponsor terrorism and to be forgotten by history. I join you in saying: Not in my name. I remember the victims of corporate aggression.

  2. Gray E says:

    Reply to The Provenance of the Gun by Willy Bach

    Excellent piece and great poem. Thank you guys.

    Okay, lets tear this one apart.

    In the USA right now, the SLR and FN FAL are prized weapons on the civilian market, with the originals and remanufactured versions by local gun companies commanding high prices. Fact.

    The (7.62 long) [*1] ammunition is in short supply, with only a few manufacturers still making it, meaning it is amongst the highest priced ammunition on the civilian market. Fact.

    The events of Bloody Sunday live on in infamy. There had to be a concerted effort on the part of the MoD to suppress all evidence of that black day (of too many black days) in British military history.

    We have to conclude that the weapons issued to the units deployed on Bloody Sunday would have been known, if the actual ones used in the fatal shootings were not actually individually identified. I’m allowing some commanders, armorers and faceless officials a great deal of latitude here.

    The market in these weapons is very lucrative, as my first paragraph indicates. Just Google: ‘SLR’ or ‘FN FAL’ and check the prices. So when it comes to the disposal of these weapons, the common sense thing to do would be to sell them into the market when the price is at a high. But that’s not what government departments do is it? See Gordon Brown’s gold sale of 1999 when it was at a 20 year low.

    So these weapons are surplus and essentially unaccountable. They were supplied to the MoD by Fabrique Nationale in the 1960s! The paper records are long lost in a bureaucratic fug of bullshit.

    The West Side Boys were useful to the process of African regional destabilization at one point, so like many rebel forces before them, they were trained by Western ‘advisers’, in this case the SAS.

    Now we get to the assessment of why the SLRs were perfect for the Sierra Leone op.

    Why were the West Side boys not supplied with AKs, weapons so ubiquitous they are iconic, and so reliable a child can maintain it in the worst of conditions and still be lethal? They would be capable of sourcing 7.62 short [*2] ammunition and spares from anywhere in the world.

    This answer is my personal conclusion:

    First of all, the SLRs were available an unaccountable.

    The ammunition: 7.62 long [*1] is expensive and not very easy to obtain (though the MoD still has shitloads of it). So when it came time to shut down the West Side Boys (who have been trained by the SAS, but set up for ridicule by SIS via BBC & MSM), all they had to do was cut off their ammo supply, give them a bit of work to do to deplete their reserves, thus adding further to their notoriety, and providing the official reason for some politicians to wring their hands and demand: “Something must be done”!

    All that remained was to mount an iconic “textbook example of Peace Enforcement Operations” to cover up the earlier dirty business.

    Add to this the obvious desire (and probable official intention) to lose the evidence of that awful day on Bogside in 1972, and they even keep the politicians, accountants AND lawyers happy in the process, thus also covering up ALL the earlier dirty business!!

    As always though, we, the taxpayers who paid for those weapons in the first place, as well as their upkeep and operation, and those who deployed them, plus the victims of three despicable acts in our name, are all left betrayed and out of pocket.

    Not in my name. I remember the victims of corporate aggression.

  3. Willy Bach says:

    Thanks Gary

    I spent two years in Uganda researching the war against Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army and the war in the DRC for minerals. Guns were everywhere, mostly AK47s which were cheap. But the overwhelming impression is that the outside world is pouring arms into Africa. If governments are those that manage violence, it is they who give the nod to arms dealers. It is they who allow the trade to continue without the irritation of End-User Certificates. Britain is well up there in terms of irresponsibility.

    Worse still is the role of special forces and mercenaries that help to ensure the Western world access to resources at the lowest possible price, yet at a horrific price for those being enslaved or massacred.

    Check out the 2005 film, ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’

    Also ‘Blood Diamonds’

    1. Garry says:

      Hello, Willy

      Many thanks for the article and your reply. Yes, its a terrible legacy of empire what we and our European accomplices have done to Africa over the years. Its the equivalent of massive rape and pillage of all the resources that could be taken and the damage we further inflict with governmental melding (more so if the old Communist card is played). Further, Africa should be the most prosperous continent on Earth.

      Africa Command is, I think, one of the newest Commands in the US military and im sure will become as important as Cent Comm is (Pensacola, Fa) and the role it plays in securing Mid East oil fields (and Central Asian fields now too in the Caspian). If theres oil there (as in the newly created Southern Sudan), well be there too. We have Libya under our control now that its leader was murdered (how dare he ask for gold Dinar for oil or to offer oil to China and wanting to economically unify the African economy) and im sure well find an overt justification to be in areas of interest if the arms dealers can`t do that for us with the much loved desalinization that those arms create for us.

      I know this is nothing new, other nations being overtly and/or covertly economically,. politically and literally controlled by powerful nations for their resources (be it oil, gas, minerals or other items) and I know we are all culpable too in our demand and consumer habitats and our energy requirements, but we should all be aware of the price!


  4. An interesting story indeed, as is the story of Operation Barras. I trained with the SLR myself when I joined the military in 1987, the SA80 was in use by the Army and it took the RAF until the early 90s to convert to new weapon as NATO also aligned to 5.56 ammunition.

    This article makes the Barras story more intriguing. Further, I have lost count of the times |I have seen former UK and other NATO outdated weaponry in the hands of paramilitary organisations on TV in regional disputes around the world and predominately in Africa.

    Arms dealers, in their role of suppliers of arms to regions of western interest that serve national policy with the aim of destabilization, are as culpable here as the perpetrators of the violence we see on out TV screens as we see paramilitary organisations parading around the world famous AK, but also the well known Belgium and British 7.62 SLR. From oil rich nations like the new Southern Sudan, Libya and beyond, Im sure well soon see the SA80 on our TV screens too!

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