Dogs of war or Fred Karno’s army?

The Daily Telegraph
Monday 4 November 1991
Report: Michael Smith
Pictures: AP and REUTER

Rabble without a cause takes up arms for Croatia

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war
Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I

COMPARISONS with the Spanish Civil War were inevitable. Pictures of guerrillas fighting a seemingly impossible cause against a well-equipped army drew young men from around the world to the Croatian cause.

“I saw some stuff on the news about how Croatia is fighting for freedom, so I thought I’d come down and see what I could do to help,” said George Patterson, a bespectacled 17-year-old Londoner who dropped out of school to join the Croatian National Guard.

Danny Kington, 24, a former British soldier from south-west England, said he volunteered to fight with the Croatian National Guard after seeing television coverage of Serbian guerrillas “laughing like a bunch of savages” and firing mortars at a church “just for a bet”.

Not every recruit to the Croat cause is so idealistic. Shakespeare’s “dog of war” is a member of one of the oldest professions. Most of the young men who sign up with his traditional regiment, the French Foreign Legion, are running from a past they would rather forget.

The first of Yugoslavia’s mercenaries was the self-styled “captain Dragan”. An Australian with Yugoslav parents who joined the war on the side of the Serbian irregulars and quickly became a media legend.

Ah yes, said the Melbourne police: Dragan Vasiljkovic, 36, alias one Daniel Snedden, a thug involved is escort agency protection and rackets on the fringes of drugs and prostitution.

The shadowy Croatian Defence Association (HOS) denies reports it is paying foreign mercenaries up to £10,000 a month, but the members of its so-called “International Brigade” are a world apart from the volunteers of the National Guard.

Patterson displayed a startling naïvety about the horrors of his profession. One week of training with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle was the limit of his experience before he was flung into action. But even this slight young Londoner qualifies as a mercenary, joining an international brigade of men who have played their part in virtual every war ever fought.

Not all those who fought in the Spanish Civil War were idealistic volunteers. Nor is every foreign soldier in Yugoslavia a mercenary.

The cry of “havoc” echoing around the Balkans has let slip the dogs of war, but they seem a pretty mixed bunch. More Fred Karno’s army than battle-hardened professionals.

Picture captions:

  • Flying the flag: the first international unit of the Croatian National Guard
  • Australian: Captain Dragan, a ‘media legend’
  • Dutch: a trained physician nicknamed ‘Doc’
  • Austrian: Christian Schubert, 21, exchanges fire with a Serbian sniper 200 yards away

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10 Responses to Dogs of war or Fred Karno’s army?

  1. Such vicious reportage. Completed whilst those fighting were ignorant of what was being written about them and were unable to respond. A minority of idiots, yes. But only a minority and generally the volunteers were much better behaved considering the lack of supervision, than some individuals in NATO’s armies. Some journalists only saw what their editors wanted them to see…

    • davecinzano says:

      Thanks for the comment, Daniel.

      I have quite a few more cuttings lurking around and will be posting them up when I get the chance to scan them & type up the text, hopefully they will be of interest.

      I recall in particular a story about a seventeen year old lad from Bromley – George something-or-other I think – who pawned his mum’s telly to pay for his passage across to Croatia after seeing the war on the news. Does he ring any bells?

      • Nigs Balchin says:

        Thew USDDR’s vice president, Rod says that he knows George, and yes he was in Nustar in 1991, and yes he was 17 at the time. Rod actually sent him back to Croatia’s capital because of his age, he was under 18; and he left very, very reluctantly.
        George is a respected member of USDDR.

  2. Yes, that was 17 year old George Paterson, from Biggin Hill, Kent. He was a nice enough lad, who served in my platoon in 1991. After a week we facilitated his repatriation from the front line at the request of his parents, via the British Consul in Zagreb. He hung around the capital for a couple of months but with nothing to do and no money, he eventually returned home to the UK.

  3. George Paterson says:

    Daniel Kington, i am quite surprised that your comment bares little resemblance to the truth. Perhaps you have merely forgotten what actually happened? I’ll give you the opportunity to address the veracity of your recollection before commenting further.

    Dave, it is unfortunate but the reporting integrity of the media hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years. I don’t usually comment on the war but i find myself forced to by Daniel’s comment.

    • Dan Kington says:

      Your truth or mine pal, I still haven’t forgotten your despicable conduct. We’ll let the facts speak for themselves shall we?

    • Zana Bralo says:

      Wow, blast from the past.Got to love the miracle of internet. Hi George, I was with you and Daniel in Vinkovci and Zagreb. Maybe Daniel’s memory is not what it used to be.

  4. davecinzano says:

    Thanks for responding, George.

    I remember thinking at the time that this Telegraph report seemed somewhat sensationalist, right down to its position within the paper (it was towards the back by the TV pages IIRC, rather than in the main news section).

    Daniel, George: Did Michael Smith actually visit Croatia and speak to either of you himself, or is this more likely a report compiled from wire copy?

    George: I have somewhat neglected this project (uploading all the clippings I can find) of late, but I believe I saw a cutting about you from the Sevenoaks Chronicle not that long ago. I will try and dig it out.

  5. George Paterson says:

    Hi Dave, it’s an interesting site, i always wondered about the old articles.

    I can’t confirm if I’d met Michael at the time, there was a lot of interest from the press but not alot of them actually got to Vinkovci. We were not issues with AK-47’s initially but given a simple rifle or puska that worked a lot like the M1 Garand. I did wear glasses but i’d hardly call someone who’s 6’2”, slight.

    I was fully aware of the horrors and was willing to take the risk in supporting a nations right to self determination free from violence. In this i will happily quote Edmund Burke from Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents:

    “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

  6. davecinzano says:

    Thanks Nigs, George and Daniel for your comments, apologies for not attending to them sooner. I shall change the settings so that comments are not left in the approval queue in future.

    Today it is a fascinating chapter of history; but at the time, on the frontline, I imagine it was something very different.

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