David Thorpe Photography

Personal Pix

Landmarks and Memories

Here I am in my flak (why do I keep seeing this spelled flack? It is an acronym from the German FLugAbwehrKanone - anti-aircraft cannon) jacket before going to Sarajevo. The jackets are very heavy and offer limited protection but it is better than nothing.

One problem for me is that I can't stand getting too hot and in Sarajevo it was very, very hot. To my surprise, I found myself more willing to take the jacketoff and risk a sniper round than I'd imagined I would be. I actually got to the point on a couple of days where the heat was such that I couldn't stand to keep the jacket on and the chance of a bullet seemed more humane than cooking inside the this thing. It remains a possibility that had a round passed near me, I'd have put the jacket back on whatever the heat.

I haven't covered very many war zones but they do seem to throw up dilemmas a a unique kind. In Sarajevo, we had a young woman interpreting for us, a Sarajevan. She had no flak jacket. Should I offer her mine or not? I felt bad about being protected when she was not. I offered. She refused point blank. Very professional of her but how would you live with yourself if she got shot standing right beside you, unprotected.

On leaving Sarajevo, we had to get up 'sniper alley' to the airport. We paid a driver $700 to take us in his bullet holded VW Golf. On the way, there were two Serb guards who had set up a road block and were stopping all cars at rifle point. We had to stop and as the driver would down the window, there came the overpowering smell of alcohol, The guty with the rifle was drunk. He poked his rifle barrel into the car. I could just about hear the sound of Stuart White in the back breathing heavily with fear over the sound of my racing heart beat and own panicy breathing. Suddenly we shot forward and the driver was accelerating hard twowards a UN tank up the road ahead of us. A machine gunner on top was keeping a careful eye on the drunken Serbs. I looked round and saw, 20 metres behind us now, the Serb aiming his rifle straight at out car, his face contorted with drunken rage. Stuart had seen it too and we both doubled over in our seats to offer as small a target as possible. Time passes agaonsingly slowly at tiomes like this, when you do not know if you will still be alive or in one piece in the next few seconds.

Our driver managed to position the car so that any shot aimed at us would likely hit the UN vehicle, which would return fire with a heavy machine gun mounted on the top. No shot came and a few minutes later we were getting out of the car at the airport. A Guardian journalist waiting for a ride to Zagreb there noted in her report the arrival of 2 'grey faced' News of the World journalists. She was right.

And that driver, as far as I'm concerned he earned every dollar of that seven hundred.
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