Friday, 28 September 2007
Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2)
First was the QE2 which took me from the UK to South Georgia. She was a wonderful ship with a crew that treated us like royalty and of course as an 18 year old I had never experienced such luxury before. At that time in my life I had only been on ferries to either Ireland or France.
She is still in operation today on the cruise circuit, in fact when I checked yesterday she was off the east coast of Canada.
Website for the QE2
On arrival in South Georgia we cross decked to the Canberra which took us into San Carlos water and from which we were moved by landing craft to San Carlos. I remember the huge seas and being strapped to the side rails with a climbing harness so we wouldnt get washed overboard when I manned the GPMG's that we used as defence against air attack.
She was sold for scrap in 1997.
Website for the Canberra
MV St Edmund
The battalion got to spend a few days aboard her when she was docked in Port Stanley just after the ceasefire. I remember going aboard and being met by a Royal Navy party who gave us all a tot of rum and then led us to cabins where we were told to get a shower and then sleep. It was the first shower since landing so was the first wash we had had in 2 weeks. It was also the first nights sleep in a bed. We all crashed out for 24 hours and when we woke up found that the Navy had washed all our clothes overnight for us. I can't tell you how good that made us feel. It was like being welcomed back into the human race.
She is still in use though not as the MV St Edmund, she is now called Sciroco and operates between Almeria, Southern Spain and Nador, North Morocco.
Website for the MV St Edmund
When we finally went home it was to be aboard the Norland. This is the ship that took most of the Paras to war and was to be our ride home. She rolled and wallowed like a pig in the South Atlantic and most of the guys stayed in bed. I remember sitting in the dining area playing solitaire looking out the windows at the grey sea and watching the horizon go from grey sky to grey sea for hours on end. I also remember the crew especially one called "Wendy" who was quite a hit with some of the guards.
She is still in use today though not as the MV Norland. She was renamed SNAV Sicilia and now operates the route between Naples and Palermo.
Website for the MV Norland
I also spent a night on HMS Fearless and I visited one of the frigates that came into Ajax Bay though I have no idea which one. Maybe I can get to find that out, I will keep you posted.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
At the recent reunion one the lads there came up to me and said he had a photo of me that he had been saving to give me for 25 years. He was an avid photographer and took literally thousands of photos during the conflict. This is one he took of us being moved from the QE2 to the Canberra in South Georgia (thats the Canberra in the background). He just happened to catch me in profile with my usual cheesy grin.
I really regret not taking photos while I was there especially as I had a camera with me!! The only other photograph is in the UK which was taken on the Norrland on the way back.
This is a photo taken at the reunion dinner the day before the parade in London.
I am in the second from rear row slightly off center to the left.
John Bay is to my right and Kieth Foley to his right. Dennis is in the front row, 4th from the right.
So many years have passed by and though the faces are fresh I have long since lost the ability to apply the names. It was a truly wonderful evening but went by so fast that I had little or no chance to renew friendships and get back in contact. I wouldn't hesitate to repeat the process again though if another reunion is planned.
Thankyou Scots Guards for organizing this get together.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
The mural consisted of a roll of honour to the dead we suffered on Tumbledown surrounded by cap badges of all the units that were with the Scots Guards that night. He borrowed mine for the Royal Army Pay Corp crest that he painted. Finally was added the following words:
I often wondered what became of that wall and recently I read it was moved to the museum in Port Stanley. I hope thats true, would be nice to see it again.
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The photo on the left is of the Paymaster of 1st Battalion Scots Guards in 1982. The rest are Denis O'Keefe, Kieth Foley, myself and Paul Ackerman. All of us are wearing our medals.
The photo on the right is of myself, Paul and Terry Anderson, Paymaster of the Gurkhas. In fact we have a representative of each of the infantry battalions of 5 Brigade.
Why is my damn tie crooked!! And why the hell have I got my medals the wrong way around!! I got the wrong answer when I asked which way around they should be. In fact they should be in the order you received them going left to right. So according to my medals I went to Ireland first and then Falklands, doh!!
We formed up and I got to march next to the commanding officer Major General MIE Scott, MBE. Quite a character even if he raised a few eyebrows among the veterans by saluting while wearing civilian clothes :)
Strange to realise that this man is a genuine hero as far as I am concerned. He took one look at the plan that Brigade had for the Scots Guards and said we weren't going to do it that way and instead came up with the alternative plan that we eventually put into action. The original plan called for a frontal daylight assault along the main Stanley track, something that would have been a massacre. The reason this was supposed to be the plan was because Brigade didn't think we were capable of anything else! Talk about lions led by donkeys!
Quite a few laughs were had as various Guard Drill Sergeants tried to get some semblance of order among us before we marched onto Horse Guards. A few "say please" were muttered from the ranks that bought many a smile to the guys and give them their due even the Drill Sergeants say the funny side. The ceremony itself was very tasteful with some tear jerking moments. I think the one that got most people was the wonderful singing of Kathryn Nutbeem.
One of the highlights of the day was meeting Tom and his family. They all came up for the day from Essex to attend the parade and Tom wore his Navy blues and looked very dashing (and so young though I had to remind myself I was younger than him when I went South). We all had a terrific day and the atmosphere was just electric. The crowds cheered and waved flags, relatives called out for their loved ones and the veterans all had smiles on their faces.
I think for me the most poignant moment was hours later in Chinatown. Susie, Fredrik and I were having a meal in a quiet restaurant and I noticed another veteran with 2 ladies. We bumped into each other and I remarked that I had been at the parade and just wanted to ask him how it had went for him. He mentioned he was with 9 Para engineers and I commented that we had lost one his unit with us on Tumbledown. "That would have been Pash" he replied, "Aye that's the guy" was my reply. A firm handshake and we were on our way both knowing that 25 years ago a comrade died but it could have just as easily been either of us. A time to feel grateful that chance had smiled upon us and a time to reflect on the 100's who did not come back.
This is taken with the Gurkhas on Two Sisters the day before the assault. We had been air lifted by helicopter up to Goats Ridge and were shelled all day. What I do know is that the sound of the shell landing close to the camera during this is something I can still remember today.
My mother, father and brother came to meet me at Brize Norton. I think this was one of the few times I have seen my mother in tears. We were exhausted but so glad to be home. They put us onto buses and gave us a police escort all the way to Chelsea Barracks where we had a chance to spend some time with our families before being allowed home. I remember helping count a huge pile of cash which we issued to the lads before they left and then I went home. The chap playing the pipes was Pipe Major Jimmy Riddel who sadly passed away with cancer a few years ago. He wrote a rather famous (at least in the bagpipe world) piece of music called the "Crags of Tumbledown".
It's strange to think I have marched through the streets of London twice to the cheers of the crowds. The first time was in September 1982 when the Welsh Guards (featured mainly here), Scots Guards (very last couple of seconds, they wear the chequered design on their hats) and the Blues and Royals were given their medals. I remember looking up at Prince Charles as we marched past thinking "Crikey he has got rather large ears, just like his dad!"
I gave them details of the people I was interested in meeting and they responded that they had lost contact with John, Gordon O'Leary and Vic Williams. This prompted me to talk to the RAPC Regimental Association who informed me that they had also lost contact with them and that according to their records John had died in 2001 and Gordon had committed suicide in 1995. Rumours of John's death though was premature and I was able to track him down through his brother who passed on a message to him. When I told him of the reunion he signed up we got to meet again for the first time in a very long time (20 years). It was great to know he had done well for himself and catch up on his news :)
It turned out that the only person missing from the pay team of 1982 was Vic Williams (right) who is now living in the USA running an Aikido dojo. We exchanged a couple of emails and it turned out that the USA immigration had been so slow to renew visas that he couldn't leave the states even if he wanted to. He sent his best wishes and a few photographs that I hadn't seen before taken down South.
Lastly I got to meet and say a huge thankyou to my paymaster at the time Denis O'Keefe (chap on the right). At the time he was a Captain but was to retire as a Colonel which is no mean achievement for someone who had come up through the ranks. The chap on the left is CSGT Allender who was my immediate superior on Tumbledown. As ex G squadron SAS he had seen combat along with our CSM Ian Amos (who sadly wasn't there) and he was the one that had told me to crawl back and tell Left Flank to stop firing at us :) He thought he had sent me to my death that night and put my name down for a mention in dispatches for my bravery, though I think stupidity at not realising what I was doing would have been a more apt description. He was very happy to see me and likewise I would have loved to have been able to spend more time talking to him.
It was Denis who has had the biggest impact on my life. When I left the guards I was posted to the Queens Own Highlanders and I had a terrible time adjusting to them. In fact I rebelled and had a huge falling out with my paymaster who, not knowing any different, threw the book at me. My reports went from O for outstanding to F for totally usless and it was Denis who stepped in and stood up for me that resulted in me being posted back to the UK and for me getting my training in computers that have stood me in such good stead since.
Scots Guards are from right to left back row me, John, Gordon, Vic and front row Kieth and Denis. Paul isn't in this photo as he had been posted away from the battalion before this was taken but Meridith Butt is back row far left. Meridith was my room Corporal during my training.
This was to be the first time Paul Ackerman and I were to meet in 26 years since Paul was my Apprentice Sergeant for Bednall House during my first 2 years in training. (See blog entries below). We all went to the exhibition (which was a bit small and dissapointing to be honest) before retiring for something to eat and a beer.
Left to right (Fedrik, Steve Fordham, Paul Ackerman and myself) standing in front of a huge photograph of the surface of the moon, or is it the mountains surrounding Stanley, they look so similiar.
I even found an old photograph taken in 1982 in the Pay Office of the Scots Guards. I can't believe how young I look (I am the one on the left) and how naff Steve Fordham looks with his moustache (he only got rid of it recently as well, man what were you thinking!!). Still we have aged quite well I think though I guess I should leave that to others to judge :)
As well as meeting Paul and Steve it was also great to see James (left) and Andrew (next to James). Both of these guys used to work with me on a variety of projects in Kuwait, Ghana, Libya, Germany and of course with me in Sweden. We have been through a lot to together and to see them make the effort to come especially to London to spend a few hours with me was extremely touching. It was a fantastic start to a great day.
Afterwards we headed back to the B&B and bid farewell to Steve who went off to visit his sister. Susie and Fredrik went to meet with Keiko (Susie's best friend) while I went to a reunion dinner arranged by the Scots Guards at the London Scottish Drill Hall. This was to be a memorable evening as not only was I going to meet up with people that I had not met in 24 years many of them I was going to get to talk to as it was an informal get together. However I was extremely nervous as I had no idea if I was going to remember anybody. My fears though were to be groundless as I wasnt the only one who couldnt put a name to a face :)
Monday, 3 September 2007
At 0430 hours on April 2nd 1982 60 or so men of the Buzo Tactico, the Argentine special forces, landed by helicopter at Mullet Creek 3 miles outside of Port Stanley. The long years of negotiation between the British and Argentine governments with regards the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands had failed and Argentina had resorted to the military option. Despite frantic efforts to broker a last minute peace deal the world was powerless to prevent the tiny British garrison from being expelled and a large contingent of Argentine troops from landing. Barely two months later at 2359 on the 14th June 1982 the final surrender document was signed and hostilities came to an end after a campaign that had seen the British fighting, and winning, a war against a numerically superior enemy 8000 miles from their home bases. Time will only tell if the cost of 255 British and 750 Argentine dead was worth it.
The initial invasion of the Islands resulted in the capture of the British forces defending Port Stanley. Naval party 8901, consisting of 80 men, resisted as best as it could but overwhelming numbers, 60 special forces and the 600-700 strong 2nd Marine Infantry battalion, meant that defeat was inevitable and to save needless bloodshed the Marines surrendered. The British were treated with great respect and placed on the transport Bahia Parasio that sailed for Bahia Blanca naval base where they were landed on April 13th. On April 15th a tribunal of senior naval officers interviewed them and on April 16th they where taken to an airfield, flown to Uruguay and handed over to the British authorities. This was the only significant number of prisoners captured by the Argentine forces and all of them returned to fight during the conflict as Company J attached to 42 Commando. Only one other prisoner was taken during the conflict, Lt Glover, a pilot shot down on May 21st and returned to the British on July 8th.
The battles for the recapture of the Falkland Islands were a series of hard fought actions that saw individual battalion assaults on key objections as well as skirmishes between special forces. Names such as Goose Green, Pebble Island, Mount Longdon, Two Sisters, Mount Harriet, Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge mean little to people now, but for the soldiers of both sides who fought for these features they are burned forever into their minds. In conditions of freezing winds, snow, rain and mud the opposing forces fought each other for the control of the high ground and strategic points of the area around Port Stanley.
With British troops in the high ground around Port Stanley the Argentine general Menendez had little option than to surrender and so it was that the fighting came to an end and 12,978 prisoners where taken.
“I remember vividly my first sight of a live Argentine soldier. Having been in combat all night I was exhausted, cold, wet and a little in shock from the events of the last 14 hours of fighting. The platoon was sitting in a large semi circle in the lee of a large rocky outcrop to keep out of the wind and snow. The smell of battle was still strong despite the wind and we were all covered in filth from the fighting with black faces from the cam cream and cordite. I looked to my right and saw a group of enemy soldiers being quickly escorted off the battlefield. Suddenly two prisoners were carried to where we were sitting and unceremoniously dumped on the ground. They looked very scared and in a lot of pain each with a crude bandage applied to leg wounds. They lay there avoiding eye contact and looking a very sorry sight. We all just stared for what seemed to be an eternity. Then without hardly a word being said some of the jocks got up and walked over to the prisoners and asked them if they were ok. Minutes earlier we were killing them, now we fell over ourselves trying to make them comfortable with a sleeping bag, hot tea, cigarettes and a helmet under their heads. I have never been amazed by human nature to this day” The author, Tumbledown, June 14th 1982
Many of the prisoners were in a poor physical condition suffering from the terrible field conditions, shortage of food and injuries. There was simply nowhere to put them as the only tents that the British had sent to the Falklands had gone down with the Atlantic Conveyor. 8,000 were moved to the area around Stanley airport where they could easily be watched and efforts were made to improvise shelter. However there were no provision for such large number of prisoners and it became a top priority to repatriate as many as possible quickly. 2 days after the fighting 4,167 prisoners were taken onto the Canberra and on the 19th June they were disembarked at the obscure Argentine port of Puerto Madryn. On June 21st Norland returned a further 2,047 prisoners. Most of the remaining prisoners were repatriated by the Bahia Paraiso and the Almirante Irizar. It is ironic that the defeated arrived home earlier than the victors who had to wait a further three weeks before they began the journey home.
One group was left still on the Islands. 593 Special Category prisoners were being held at Ajax Bay living in primitive conditions inside the bomb-damaged refrigeration plant. This group consisted of General Menendez, pilots, officers and other specialist troops. They were considered to be key personal and would not be released until the Argentines had formally recognised that hostilities were at an end. This was legally questionable as Article 118 of the Geneva convention states that POWs must be “repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities”. On June 23rd the Scots Guards Right Flank company took over from the Royal Marines.
“They were kept in 5 large rooms, one for officers, one for SNCOs and three for the “chicos”, the other ranks. They were kept apart as each group didn’t like each other very much. The officers were very correct in their manner, disciplined and quiet. They said mass regularly and sat in small groups and chatted. The SNCOs were very sullen and withdrawn and as their room was to one side we had little contact with them. The other ranks were noisy and happy that the war had ended. They made ingenious things out of old tin cans and bits of rubbish. One group that sat by the main guard post had quite a decent chess set. We didn’t have a Spanish speaker amongst us so one of the conscripts, “George”, volunteered to translate. He had a lot of fun as he was responsible for choosing the ever popular fatigue parties. We had a visit from the Red Cross, three of them turned up and looked at the conditions. They were very upset with the lack of showers and demanded that we provide washing facilities. The fact that no-one had access to washing conditions didn’t seem to matter so Major Price, Right Flanks company commander, held a meeting with our REME armourer and some 9 Para engineers who were
staying with us. In the end they placed a plastic water bowser on top of an old shed and diverted an artic stream into it. Then 4 Scots Guards with hard brooms were positioned around the shed while groups of naked prisoners were marched across the snow in sub zero temperatures and given a cold shower and scrubbed with the brooms. I guess the Geneva convention doesn’t mention that the water had to be hot and I must say the Red Cross were not very popular for that.” The author, Ajax Bay, June 27th 1982.
On June 30th the remaining prisoners were transferred to the MV St Edmund and on July 13th they finally set sail for home. The Falklands conflict was at last over and the last combat troops returned to England. For all those who have fought in wars though I think that we are all prisoners, the memories will never leave. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”.
Middlebrook, Martin: Task Force; Penguin 1987
Biji, Nicholas van der: Nine Battles to Stanley, Leo Cooper 1999
Oakley, Derek: The Falklands Military Machine, Ravelin 1989
The author is Steve Cocks was a Lance Corporal attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. During the Falklands War he served with Right Flank, one of three rifle companies, as a combat medic, ammunition carrier and on a GPMG team. During the Battle of Tumbledown he was the NCO responsible for evacuating walking wounded for the company. However the injuries inflicted by modern rifle bullets meant that all casualties had to be carried off the mountain so he spent the battle supplying ammunition to one of the GPMG teams during the final assault. In June 1982 he was 18 years old and if killed would have died a virgin.