Tag Archives: society

A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics

I am a racist and, to be honest, there seems to be not a lot I can do about it

The two groups of people I have problems with are Jews and South Africans.

I went to secondary school – well, OK, grammar school – in East London, near Gants Hill which, at that time, was a very Jewish area. So there were a lot of Jews in my school.

We all had to (allegedly) learn French and one other foreign language. We could choose either Latin or German. Almost all (perhaps actually all) the Jews took Latin. Well, think about it: anything ‘German’ was often associated with family problems… ie relatives and/or friends’ relatives slaughtered in the Holocaust.

Normally, we had three rows of people in Latin lessons. When there was a Jewish holiday, we had half a row. This was not uncommon in other lessons. When there was a Jewish holiday, teachers sometimes gave up any attempt to teach their subject to drastically depleted classes and we had general knowledge quizzes.

We had big classes and four graded streams – A, B, C and D. The Jews were almost entirely in the A stream, with a few stragglers in the B stream.

I have had a prejudice against the Jews ever since.

If I am going to meet someone called John Smith, I have no preconceptions about what he will be like.

If I am going to meet someone called David Goldstein, I automatically assume he will be highly intelligent, well-educated, sophisticated, civilised and interesting to talk to.

There’s very little I can do to shake this pre-judging of someone on purely ethnic, totally baseless grounds.

That may not seem too bad, although it is. It is pure ethnic racism.

But what is worse is that I really do have a blind prejudice against white South Africans. I have met quite a lot and, to quote the 1986 chart-topping Spitting Image song, I’ve never met a nice South African. Not one. Never have. In my experience, the song is entirely true in saying “They’re all a bunch of arrogant bastards.”

I suspect it must be something to do with the past education system or something… They were taught to be self-confident in a world that mostly disliked them and in a society where they used to live a life of self-confident superiority over the majority of their fellow South Africans. The Afrikaans white South Africans are a bit worse than the British-origined ones, but only slightly.

I once interviewed Donald Woods, the liberal, highly-respected and lauded ex-editor of South Africa’s Daily Dispatch newspaper who bravely stood up against the Apartheid regime. He was played in the movie Cry Freedom by Kevin Kline.

The real Donald Woods came across to me as a man with a very strong superiority complex. To me – rightly or wrongly – he too seemed to be an arrogant bastard.

Assuming all white South Africans will be arrogant bastards is pure ethnic racism on my part. It is indefensible; it is a knee-jerk reaction because, in my limited experience, I have met a fair number and they have all been appalling without exception.

On the other hand, almost all the black Nigerians I have met have impressed me by being very highly educated and very sophisticated. We are talking about almost Jewish levels of prejudice within me here.

But on yet another hand, I have a friend – a very caring, middle class, liberal white Englishwoman. She genuinely has several good black friends but she has had major problems with black Nigerian neighbours and, as a result, she has a tendency to be wary of and/or initially dislike black Nigerians. She is aware of the problem, but finds herself unable to do anything about it.

And I have yet another friend – again a very caring, middle class, liberal white Englishwoman – who had a holiday in Israel and came back disliking Israelis (Israelis differentiated from Jews). Her opinion of them is much like my opinion of white South Africans, not helped by the fact they insisted on an internal body search before she boarded the plane on the way OUT of Israel.

Where this gets us all, I have no idea.

Except that anyone who tries to justify their own prejudice is clearly a mental retard.

It seems I am a racist and, to be honest, there seems to be not a lot I can do about it.

3 Comments

Filed under History, Newspapers, Racism