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