CLIVE FAIRWEATHER – AN APPRECIATION
THE turncoat Arab guerrilla fighters Clive Bruce Fairweather commanded in a savage, secret little war in the remotest part of the Persian Gulf in the 1970s called him Shams – the Shining One – because of his unruly mop of fair hair.
To Clive, his firqat warriors, former members of a Communist-backed insurgency in the mountains of Dhofar, were a source of constant amusement and wonder. Most had changed sides to fight their old comrades-in-arms because the British and Omanis paid better wages than the Russians or the Chinese.
He and his small SAS "training team" lived and fought alongside these mercurial tribal auxiliaries, always keeping one eye on the enemy and the other on their own troops, whose loyalty was for sale and who could fight like the Brigade of Guards one day and refuse to take orders on the next.
After one harrowing patrol, Clive and his command returned to their base to discover that reels of 35mm film had been delivered by helicopter to provide light relief. He had his men spread a white sheet across a wall to act as a makeshift cinema screen and proceeded to show Zulu.
The firqat, usually known as Freds to the SAS troopers, loved the movie. They whooped and cheered and fired their rifles into the air as Michael Caine and company defended Rorke's Drift in glorious Technicolor.
When the last reel ended, Clive noticed that his own little command had gone into a huddle and were debating furiously. Eventually, they elected a spokesman and sent him to say his piece.
"Shams," he announced, "the men see white officer in charge in film wore smart red tunic and white sun helmet. They want to know how you can be proper British officer when you no' have red tunic and white helmet."
It was a query to which Shams had no real answer, but it appealed to his irrepressible sense of humour.
Years later, when he commanded the small SAS detachment, better known to their regular army brethren as The Hereford Hooligans, at Bessbrook Mill in South Armagh, Clive's individuality came to the fore once again.
He detested the cramped, dusty conditions of the makeshift barracks in the old linen mill and decided to rent a cottage for himself in the surrounding countryside. It was a move which caused consternation at army headquarters in Lisburn on the outskirts of Belfast.
As senior special forces' officer in Ulster, Clive was very high on the Provisional IRA's target list. His answer to personal security in the heartland of Republican dissidents was to buy a flock of geese and install them in the garden of the isolated cottage.
When senior officers demanded an explanation, Clive's response was: "If geese were a good enough alarm system for the Romans, they're good enough for me." The birds were subsequently placed on the ration-strength of the SAS and fed from regimental resources.
It was Bessbrook where we first met, and I have been proud to call him friend since then, and to enjoy his fund of stories over many laughter-filled lunches at The Doric in Edinburgh and at the Press Bar in Glasgow.
Old habits died hard with him and every time we entered the bar, he would automatically and unconsciously occupy the "gunfighter's seat", the chair in the far corner facing the door so he could see everyone entering and keep those already there in plain sight.
Now he's gone and the world is a poorer and less ribald place for his passing. Saalam alaikum, Shams.
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