More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part Eleven

Over the next few weeks, allmediascotland.com is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

I used to congratulate myself that I wasn’t naive enough to expect war to be like a John Wayne movie. In reality, I discovered it was.

At least in the beginning it was. For a few brief days in September 1991, I found myself in a supporting role, if not exactly a major player, in a bizarre black farce enacted in eastern Croatia in those early days of the Yugoslav wars.

That same sort of mixture of tragedy and humour must have been in mind for Mark Twain when he observed, “The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow.”

The Press Centre for the war in Croatia in those days was in the plush and rather incongruous surroundings of the capital Zagreb’s modern, four-star Intercontinental Hotel. On a good day, it was but a short drive from the front. At the end of September ’91, you could drive to the frontline near the village of Pokupsko in less than thirty minutes, do your story and be back for a beer in the bar by lunchtime.

Of a morning, journalists milled about questioning the bright and earnest young men and women; most were