The Sandbaggers – Enough of Ghosts


The disappearance of Sir Geoffrey Wellingham in Brussels (whilst on his way to NATO Headquarters) puts MI6 on red alert.  If he’s been kidnapped, there’s no shortage of terrorist groups who might be responsible – so where do they start?

Burnside decides to send both Sandbaggers to Brussels (despite Peele’s order that only one should go).  Whilst it might be seen as an indication of the respect he still holds for his ex-father in law, as so often with Burnside there’s also another reason.  A top secret file (which shouldn’t have left the building) is currently residing in Wellingham’s safe in the Foreign Office.  If Sir Geoffrey doesn’t return, and the file is discovered, then the consequences will be deeply serious for Burnside …..

Enough of Ghosts opens with Willie Caine visiting Tom Elliot’s parents.  Caine’s awkwardness is apparent right from the start and the torture of his visit is probably made worse by the sheer middle-class stolidity of the Elliots.  There’s a seemingly indeterminable pause, whilst Mrs Eliot makes the tea, before Caine can launch into his spiel.  He tells them that Tom didn’t suffer at all and that he died in a plane crash.

It’s a gross distortion of the truth, but as Burnside later says, what use would it have been if he’d told them Tom died in agony?  Possibly the worst part for Caine is that the Elliots aren’t angry or full of questions.  They realise that Tom was involved in security and understand there won’t be any publicity.  Mr Elliot is a retired Royal Marine, so the service instinct and loyalty remains strong in him.  For Caine it’s pretty much the last straw – he’s been a Sandbagger for six years, but now he wants out.

One of the most interesting moments in the story comes later on, when Bunside’s secretary, Diane Lawler (Elizabeth Bennett), mentions to him that Willie would probably be better off out of the Special Section.  Burnside is far from impressed (rather insultingly reminding her that one of her functions is to make the coffee!) but Diane isn’t cowed and makes sure she has her say.  As she’s been a character who’s remained in the background until now, her unexpected passion carries some weight.

ELIZABETH: Mission planning might suit him better anyway.
BURNSIDE: He’s been a Sandbagger for six years.
ELIZABETH: Yes, but he’s never really been the type.
ELIZABETH: Well, I’ve seen the psychiatric reports on Sandbaggers. That’s what no-one understands about them.
ELIZABETH: People think a Sandbagger is some sort of superman, they don’t realise he has to have a basic character defect to quality.
BURNSIDE: Go on, Dr Lawler.
ELIZABETH: You know it’s true, every one of you has had it. None of you has been able to cope with affection, so you’ve all opted for respect instead.
BURNSIDE: Is that so?
ELIZABETH: You feel you can’t be loved or wanted for the person you are, so you have to create a false person – one who is more committed, more dedicated than anybody else. That’s your definition of a Sandbagger.
BURNSIDE: Interesting, but wrong.
ELIZABETH: Is it? I’ve been in the Ops Directorate for twelve years, longer than you. And I’ve seen Sandbaggers come and go.
BURNSIDE: You think Caine’s different?
ELIZABETH: He could have been. Why do you think he has such a loathing for violence? Because this isn’t his scene at all.  He’s a nice, uncomplicated human being who should have had a home and wife and kids.
BURNSIDE: You volunteering?
ELIZABETH: I might have done, before you got to him and turned him inside out.

It’s unusual to see Burnside very much on the back foot – the above extract demonstrates that for most of the exchange he was listening and offering short rejoinders, rather than dominating as he usually does.  He’s on firmer ground with Peele though, especially when he expressly ignores the order not to dispatch both Sandbaggers.

Peele argues, quite logically, that there’s little they can do – and if another mission comes up, it would be foolish to have both of them stranded in Brussels.  Burnside agrees, but then decides to take the opposite course anyway.  Why?  Because it’s what he feels is right or just because he knows it’ll aggravate Peele?

As for Wellingham, he appears to be held by a group of German terrorists and the Sandbaggers are later joined by a group of elite German counter-intelligence officers who have located the group’s hideout.  Nothing is quite what it seems though – although Wellingham is later released unharmed.

The plot-twist is quite neat and it’s telling that Burnside doesn’t seem to be particularly angry or affronted.  Possibly this is because it’s something that he might have done himself in the past (or if not, he may try it in the future).

The successful outcome of the mission seems to have done the trick with Caine, who decides to stay – at least until Sandbagger Two (Michael Cashman) is promoted to Sandbagger One.  By Caine’s reckoning, that’ll be another six years at least.

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