Friday, 23 November 2007
Thursday, 22 November 2007
You can check them out here
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
The truth is that not being a Christian, the religious aspect of the service has always put me off. I find it hypocrytical to my own beliefs as a Buddhist to stand there and pray to something I don't believe in.
This Remembrance Sunday of course, was somewhat different as I was in the Falklands. So I attended the service at Stanley Cathedral. Along with all the other veterans, we formed up and marched to the church. Hence, by the time we got there quite a few of the seats had been taken. This mean't that probably half of us where forced to watch the service on a TV, in a hall in the building next door. This wasn't a problem and along with the others I watched the service take place.
It followed the normal course of a few hymns, a reading, some prayers, reciting the 'Roll of Honour', and a surmon. What wasn't on the agenda, was for one of the veterans who march up to the front of the church and took over the service. You could see the anxious glances from the Vicar as he wondered what was going to be said. In fact everyone was straining to hear what Gus Hales of 9 Para RE had to say.
He had written a poem which, after apologising for interrupting the proceedings, he began to read.
DEEP IN MY MIND WHERE NOBODY GOES
By Gus Hales
Every year on Remembrance Sunday
I sit in the corner of the British Legion Bar,
Dressed in blazer, shirt, Regimental tie
And polished shoes, with my head held high.
But deep in my mind, where nobody goes,
I see a wooden cross where the wind of victory lies.
“Three Cheers for Victory,” I hear the politician say.
But you never asked me about my victory.
And, if they did, I would have explained it this way:
It isn’t your flags or emblems of war,
Or the marching of troops past the Palace’s door.
It isn’t Mrs. Thatcher on the balcony high,
Reaffirming her pledge to serve or die.
But it’s the look and the pain on a teenager’s face
As he dies for his country, In a far off place.
It’s the guns and the shells and the Phosphorus grenades
And the wounded and the dead in freshly cut graves
Or the grieving wife or the fatherless child
Whose young, tender life will be forever defiled.
Or the alcoholic soldier with a shattered mind
Who takes the suicide option for some peace to find.
Well, that’s my victory but no one knows
For its deep in my mind where nobody goes.
Gus then strode back to his place, to thunderous applause from almost all those who were there.
I say almost all, because I couldn't see the whole of the first two rows of dignatories. But from where I was looking, a few certainly seemed to have been somewhat taken aback.
Here was a Rememberance Parade being held in the Falklands on the 25th anniversary, being attended by two hundred and fifty veterans, as well as numerous islanders, all of whom had been there during the War. Dozens were suffering some sort of physical or mental injury, and at this point hardly any mention had been made of their War. It was if they were following a script that they delivered as the 'standard Remembrance Day Speech' every year. Gus getting up, had highlighted the suffering and the sacrifice very poignantly. His was the voice that called out to be heard.
Sad to say, the Vicar then went on to make a Sermon that completely failed in my opinion to highlight the Falklands War or the 25th Anniversary adequately. When he became involved in speaking about internal church politics, I think he missed the importance of the opportunity to say something very profound and neccesary on such an incredibly important occasion.
Gus's eulogy to the dead and suffering, so exactly illustrated the feelings of so very many of us and was so perfectly delivered.
Well done Gus!
Monday, 19 November 2007
Thursday, 15 November 2007
I didn't sleep too well last night, so that's now two nights in a row. To be honest I feel a cold coming on which is not surprising considering how exhausting the last ten days have been. The time until the flight seemed to drag on forever. Arrived back in Sweden and having said hello to Susie, I promptly fell asleep for a few hours. Great to be home.
Showed Susie and Fredrik my photos before grabbing an early night
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The chap sitting next to me was called Simon and had been on the HMS Coventry. His story was quite harrowing.
After the ship had been hit, he was knocked unconscious and lay injured. His head had been cut open , so blood was pouring from it. He had Formica fragments embeded in his scalp as it had become shrapnel due to the force of the blast. When he came around, he found that the ship was listing badly and on fire. He made his way to the exit but because the ladders were made of alluminium they had melted. He was trapped in a burning ship that was slowly sinking. Fortune smiled though and as the ship listed more he was able to walk on the walls and climb out onto the upper deck where he then jumped into the sea. Without an immersion suit he should have died but somehow he was able to hold on until rescued.
We arrived in London almost three hours late and poor old John Samson had been waiting all that time. I guess this is the one time I didn't bother checking to see if the flight was delayed or not. It was great to see him though and all the other Scots Guards who came out, took the time to say hello. It was sad to see everyone disperse. I just really hope we can keep something going between us all and stay in contact.
John took me back to Windsor where he lives and we had a quick drink and something to eat as it was lunch time. We then headed to his house where I had the chance to freshen up and get changed into some clean clothes. I was then able to show him all the pictures I had taken, over a cup of tea and describe to him the weekend. I found out surprisingly, that he had been with G company which I had never realised before.
In the evening his daughter Samantha and her boyfriend came over. We discussed the Falklands and I got a chance to talk a little about Buddhism to her. It was nice to actually meet her having spent time in the past talking to her on MSN. We popped out for an Indian meal and by the end of it I was on my chip strap. As it is a relatively early start tomorrow, I went to bed in good time. It has been a wonderful day and I'm so happy to have been able to spend some quality time with John.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
I took the time to go looking for the lost mural that I had been unable to find and ended up talking to the Chief Warrant Officer of the base and he was able to fill me in with the fate of our mural. It seemed that when the murals were taken down they needed some expensive restoration work. Each mural cost £4000 so they had to pick and choose the best ones. Therefore Ode To Tumbledown was saved, but sadly the Roll Of Honour with Cap Badges was stored away and when it was examined sometime later it was found to have completely decayed.
We had lunch before finally boarding the aircraft, which was then further delayed when one of the passengers had to be removed from the flight as he was unwell. They had to offload his luggage which took some time, so by the time we got away we were three hours late.
The flight back via Rio was long, but at least I got a larger seat this time. The most thrilling aspect of the journey was the Tornado GR3 escort we received on leaving the base and the helicopter salute.
Monday, 12 November 2007
I found myself heading to Memorial Wood as I still had a number of crosses left that had the Scots Guards emblem on them. It seemed appropriate to use them. I was going to go yesterday but decided that the weather was too bad and that I didn’t really want to be surrounded by other people when I paid my respects to the lads who had died. The diagram we had been supplied with was very good and I was able to easily find the trees that had been planted for each of the guys, who died either on the diversion or up on Tumbledown.
Having paid my respects, I made my way back to Aunty Teen's and had my usual breakfast of porridge before heading up to the Drill Hall where we were due to meet the guys from PWRR. It seems that some things in the Army never change and due to a miscommunication the bus didn’t arrive until almost 10am which was an hour later than planned. No matter, they eventually turned up and we headed off. There were quite a few interested, maybe close to fifty, so after a quick briefing we headed to the diversionary attack area.
The bus stopped somewhat short of the area, so doing this part of the tour took a bit longer than expected. Still we managed well enough to show everyone where Danny Wight and John Pashley died and explained a little about the reasons behind attack and what happened. I think the consensus of opinion among the guys who were there, is that it was a disaster with regards casualties but that it focused attention on an area of the battlefield from where they were expecting an attack. However looking at the terrain, it’s highly unlikely that any forces were pinned down there, as reinforcing Tumbledown from the area of the Stanley road was not something easily done at night.
Getting back on the bus, we then dropped everybody off opposite Goat Ridge and crossed a rock run to reach the area that the battalion had deployed from helicopters in 1982. We showed them the mortar line and pointed out the remains of trenches and holes left by artillery. From here we followed the route we took to the start line passing the Regimental Aid Post and Tactical Headquarters. Crossing the fence (which they seemed to have trouble doing without almost destroying it) we moved onto G Company objective.
When I did this last time with Alex we had pretty much bypassed this feature and instead skirted it. This time with Jim Gillanders and Roy Catchpole we walked over the feature and they described how the company had deployed for attack. Roy was able to find his old firing positions and even retrieved a few shell cases from rounds he had fired. It seemed to mean a lot to him, as I know the events of that night have weighed heavily these past years.
By now the group was quite spread out with small clumps of PWRR being led by various vets around features that represented the various stages of the attack. Our group caught up with Jock Davidson who was talking through the movements made by his platoon through the rocks to the left flank and rear of the main Argentine positions facing Left Flank. He interspersed his commentary with various talks about what he had learnt about soldiering due to the experiences he had that night. It was all solid stuff considering these guys are soon to deploy to Afghanistan and have recently finished a tour of Basra province in Iraq.
Meanwhile Simon was describing the route taken by Kisley and the events that unfurled around him. They had moved almost directly up the main draw and through the Argentine positions. Simon described being given a grenade to throw into a trench that Kisley wanted to attack and how nervous he was handling it, as he didn’t have much experience of using one. What followed was grisly as the grenades exploded in the trench killing one of the soldiers manning it and wounding the other. Simon then told us how he ran up to the trench and pointed his rifle and the wounded man and came within a fraction of a second of shooting him. Instead the wounded soldier put his hands up to surrender and then promptly fell over. This happened a couple of times and Simon almost shot him again thinking he was messing around. With the adrenaline pumping and the dark it took him a second to realise that the hapless soldier was trying to stand up and surrender but the grenade and blown off his foot, hence he kept falling over all the time.
At this Simon applied a dressing and calmed the chap down before passing him to somebody else to look after him.
We worked our way up the mountain finding old bits of webbing, trenches, discarded ammunition, old ponchos, entrenching tools, communication cable and lots of empty bullet cases and link. Teresa, a widow of one of the men, was desperate to reconstruct the events that led to her husbands death, as nobody has been able to shed much light on how he died. Simon was pretty adamant that Clark had been killed next to the spot where Binnie was wounded. We found the spot where Binnie was shot as it was the same gap in the rocks where Right Flank had formed up and where I was stationed during the attack. It seemed to answer questions for her and of course she was very emotional, she was standing on the spot where her husband had died twenty five years earlier.
We walked up to the memorial at the end of Tumbledown and I read the Ode again , which went down well. I was also carrying a bottle of Whiskey I had bought at Duty Free on the way over and it seemed an appropriate moment to share it with everyone. With over fifty people having a nip, we didn’t get much, but it was a fitting toast to absent friends.
We dropped off the back of Tumbledown and walked back to Moody Brook, looking at the remains of numerous bunker complexes that once dotted this area. The is where the Argentines massed their artillery and it is close to there, in the saddle between William and Tumbledown, that Mike Sear found the Argentine mortar line.
We bid the lads from PWRR goodbye and then went on our separate ways. I found time to do some shopping for gifts before going to see Sue. She had invited myself and Alex for lunch but I had been unable to go so, I dropped by to have a cup of tea. I fed the two pet lambs which were very cute. One was so hungry that he started sucking my little finger once he had finished his feed.
I had supper with Teen before going with her to the farewell bash up at the Drill Hall. The event was well attended and entertainment from the PWRR choir as well as the Scots Guards pipers was very much appreciated. I got an invite to attend a party at Patrick Watts house but instead I took Teen home, she looked exhausted and to be honest so was I.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
With today being remembrance Sunday, it’s a packed day of ceremonies which kicked off with a 9am service down at the cathedral. By the time I got there most of the prime seats had been taken, not that we had much chance of getting them as the lads wanted to stand outside and have a last smoke.
It was already standing room only inside so we were ushered into the parish hall where they had set up a television so we could see what was going on next door. The service itself was fairly long and didn’t finish until almost 1030. I think not enough thought was given to the fact that not everyone is a practising Christian. Also the sermon seemed to dwell on points that were really nothing to do with why we were there and wandered off and discussed rather political points about internal Christian wrangling. Oh and while I am bitching, I think that the Roll of Honour should have included those who died in 1982 and not just in WW1 and WW2 as I thought that was why we were here today. To remember those who had died. There was one unplanned event, when one of the veterans walked to the front of the church and read a poem. Sadly I couldn’t hear it though it seemed to go down well and received a warm round of applause.
After the church service, we filtered out and formed up before marching to the Cross of Sacrifice. The Scots Guards formed our own attachment at the rear of the parade and with four pipers to lead us, we followed a discrete metre or two behind the rest of the parade. Unlike the others we kept pace and I must say it myself we made an impressive sight marching along despite the rain and sleet that was by now falling quite heavily.
On the way we did 'eyes' left to the governor of the Falklands which again was rather smartly executed.
At the cross of sacrifice we had another service with a wreath laying, but as we were down on the road we didn’t hear anything. By this time the rain and sleet was still falling and we were all getting pretty cold. A two gun salute was fired from Govenors house and the sound echoed around the mountains. That was an eerie noise as the last time I heard that here was all those years ago. 'Last Post' was played and was ended as the RAF doing a fly past. One of the Tornadoes did a very impressive victory roll at low level over Stanley before punching the after burners and vanishing into the clouds.
The parade was dismissed and the idea was for us to visit the Memorial Wood. This is a wood that was recently planted with one tree for each of the lads who died. In fact each tree has a specific persons name assigned to it and there is a map telling us the layout. With all the people around though I didn’t feel this was the time to lay my crosses. I wanted to do it quietly by myself and not in front of a crowd.
I headed back to the house and got changed out of my rather damp suit, before popping up to the Drill Hall to have a curry lunch. The hall was full of veterans, islanders and lots of young serving members of the forces. Having spent most of my time talking to fellow veterans and islanders, I decided to spend time talking to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who had provided the honour guard today at the services.
First I chatted to some of the RAF guys who were all working at Mount Pleasant. The Navy guys were from HMS Clyde and told me a little about life on board the ship. The soldiers were from the Princess Of Wales Royal Regiment and this is the same unit as Johnson Beharry who won the VC in Iraq and the guys who held CIMIC house for 2 months.
All the guys I spoke to had seen almost constant action in Iraq and a couple of them had Mention in dispatches. They all seemed in good cheer, but I could only think that I was something like this at their age. I hope in years to come they don’t get the sort of problems many of the Falklands veterans have experienced and that they get the help if they need it. I found out that some of the Scots Guards are taking them on a battle field tour tomorrow so I will tag along as I want to see Tumbledown one more time.
I came back to the house for supper and Alex joined us again. After having a bite to eat, we popped around to the Victory Bar for a drink with the lads. After a beer, I called in at Teena’s to print off the Ode To Tumbledown and then having dropped it off back at the pub headed home.
Saturday, 10 November 2007
Bob rang this morning at some ungodly hour to ask if he could pop over for breakfast. He arrived at about the same time I was doing my diary. A nice lad, he reminds me so much of my late Uncle Chuffy. We ate together before setting off to meet up with Alex around at Patrick Watts house.
Gordon Hoggan and Mick Gillanders were there as they are also staying at the same house. Both looked a bit worse for wear but I had a chance to have a chat with them both, much to the chagrin of Alex who was champing at the bit to get away.
Patrick drove us out to a point about as close as we could get to Goat Ridge without going off road, and dropped us off. He pointed out the spot where the Scorpion tank of the Blues and Royals got bogged down during the diversion attack.
Twenty five years ago we arrived at this point by Puma helicopter. We had formed up in sticks, each the size of the number of men plus equipment. The chopper took take at one time. We were spread out with each stick kneeling on the grass, grouped according to which helicopter we were due to board. The helicopters came in low and fast, they would flare and then land and as soon as they touched down . We would run to the each side and throw in our bergens before finding a seat, filling up from the back. I was one of the last in so I ended up with a seat not far from the door. As soon as the last man had jumped aboard, the chopper took off fast and low and barely rose to more than fifty feet from the group. The door remained open and a crew member armed with a GPMG scanned the ground and air for any threats. It was an exhilarating ride as we had no idea what we were flying into. After only a few minutes we arrived at Goat Ridge where the choppers came in fast and low. The second they touched down we piled out and formed an all round defence in two semi circles, either side of the chopper. Our bergens were thrown out in a pile behind us and as soon as the last one was out the chopper was gone. After what had been a noisy and hectic few minutes, it suddenly became quiet. Orders were given, we retrieved our bergens and then moved up to our LUP (Lay Up Position) where we did our best to dig in.
Alex and I found the area where we had been assigned to, (or at least as close as we could remember). We found various signs of our presence from twenty five years ago, such as old packing cases which had been used to move some of the stores from echelon. We found a number of signs of what had to have been split trenches and we also found a number of shell holes.
Soon after we had landed, somebody sky lined themselves on the ridge and were seen by observers in the remaining mountains. This resulted in the Argentine forces firing harassing fire all day at our positions. Shells landed on and off but luckily as they had no way of seeing where they fell, little damage was done. Scots Guards suffered our first casualty though when LSGT McGeorge was a little slow in diving into his trench and was hit. He was later to make a full recovery. The time was spent getting something to eat and trying to grab some sleep. I remember Tally running around delivering mail, l I got a letter from my mother.
Darkness arrived and we moved up to our FUP (Forming Up Point) where we dropped off our bergens (we went into battle wearing belt order and berets). We were also all carrying mortar bombs that we had picked up from large stockpiles back at Bluff Cove. These we dropped off at the mortar line which twenty five years later we found. The area was strewn with empty ammunition cases and was obviously the scene of extremely hectic activity. You could almost close your eyes and picture the scene.
We followed Goat Ridge past what had been the area where the TAC HQ (Tactical HQ) had tucked themselves into the rocks with good places to observe Tumbledown and walked right past the RAP (Regimental Aid Post). We could tell we had found it as there was an old stretcher lying there still.
The start line had been a fence with a white tape across the ground. We formed up on this line in extended order and when given the word moved silently into the night. Alex remembered as we crossed the line being wished all the best by what he thought were Marines but in fact had been SBS.
The first part of Tumbledown had been the objective of G Company and thankfully on the night of the attack, the forces covering this area had been pulled back further up the mountain. Therefore G Company was able to take the position without encountering any resistance. Walking over the area in daylight we were both horrified at the almost complete lack of cover. If they had covered the area with a couple of machine guns and placed some wire then it would have been a hell of a job to assault up a hill that resembled a billiard table. G Company was to act as stretcher bearers to Left Flank, who was the next company to assault the mountain.
This is where the Scots Guards were to lose seven men who were killed. If you think that a company only consists of three fighting platoons of three sections and each section contains eight men, then a company has seventy two men. To lose seven men out of this force, then it’s a grim statistic and testament to the ferocity of the fighting that took place here.
My memories of that night are of the quiet before the storm. We moved to the left of G Company and spent what seemed hours lying on the ground waiting for the word to move forward. Left Flank fixed bayonets and charged the enemy positions from the right flank up into the crags. Most of the books assume that they attacked down the spine of the mountain but this isn’t possible. The terrain just doesn’t allow a company to deploy and attack, if they had
attacked this way then there was barely room for a platoon.
What did happen that night, was that the Argentines pulled back from the rocks that dominated the approaches which allowed Left Flank to get up behind the main line of defence. This unhinged the defences and after hours of fierce fighting they reached the summit.
While all this was going on we were called forward to retrieve some casualties. Alex and I found the area where we had moved to and the rocks where we had sheltered when we came under fire. This is the area where I was told to crawl back and tell the guys behind us to stop firing at us. It wasn’t Roy Catchpole who was firing at us but Curly Roberts Platoon, our own Right Flank troops! This is where I was sniped at by an Argentine high up in the rocks. It was a lovely sunny day, hard to believe this is the exact spot where I once felt the whizz of bullets whistling past my head.
From here, we walked up past the features that had loomed up in the night and through the area where we had been mortared as we moved up through Left Flank positions to where we were jumped off, to take our part of the mountain. After all the rocks, to suddenly come out again onto the forward face of Tumbledown and into the open area, I was taken back to all those years ago and could remember the whistles of the mortars as they dropped on us. There had been a lot of confusion that night as to exactly whom these bombs belonged to.
As we moved to where we formed up, we found many signs of Argentine positions as well as discarded ammunition and old equipment, such as spades and old ponchos. We could also find lots of signs of artillery and mortar strikes as well as huge holes from what must have been naval artillery.
Two questions have already haunted me from this point of that night. The first one was the disaster that befell the stretcher party that was hit on the way back to the RAP. The other question was who was it that was so badly wounded just as we were forming up with the explosion that happened.
Speaking to Alex it became apparent that the stretcher was carrying Lt Mitchell who had been hit as he was moving across a gap in the rocks at the boundary of Left Flank and Right Flank. The stretcher team left just as we arrived, so the fact that I volunteered to take a casualty back, mean't it could never have been this ill fated group of men.
The other question that has always haunted me is who was it that was so badly wounded and what happened to him? Well Alex was able to tell me the guy who was hit was named Nash and that he ended up losing a finger (even though he seemed more concerned with his foot) and that he ended up serving with the battalion for some time after. That made me feel better as he suffered that night, it was nice to know that he had made a good recovery.
I found the rocks where we had our GPMG. Alex was able to tell me the guys name was Fisher and that he was a thirty year odd guardsman who didn’t want promotion. He used to call me 'Big Bird' (after the character in Sesame Street) and smoked a pipe. He was a great guy. During the final part of the battle I was his number 3 and it was my responsibility to provide his number 2 with ammunition. A GPMG gun team consists of a gunner who fires controlled bursts of a few rounds at a time. The gun is fed by a belt of ammunition and this can twist and thus jam the gun. The job of the number 2, is to make sure the belt does'nt twist. The belt also consists of bullets linked together and normally they are linked together in sets of two hundred. When the belt gets to the end, it is the job of the number 2 to clip onto the end of the gun another belt of ammunition. So my job was to supply the number 2 with more belts and these were piled up in a relatively central position so that all the gun teams had access to them.
It was approaching dawn when we started the assault. Two platoons under Mathieson and Lawrence were the assault force. Dalrymple's platoon was providing covering fire. Just as we were about to kick off I remember Ian Amos moving behind the troops urging them forward into position and distributing the last of the ammunition, when one of the magazines on his rifle broke and rounds scattered everywhere. To say he was displeased is putting it mildly but somehow it provided a brief moment of comic relief in what was a very tense moment.
With bayonets fixed the two assault platoons moved off covered by us. A cacophony of noise erupted as they worked forward assaulting slit trenches and bunkers. Fisher banged away on his GPMG, which rapidly overheated and we swapped barrels pouring water on the one that had been taken off. We soon started running low on ammunition and I started ferrying belts of link from the central reserve to the ever hungry gun. I have no idea how long the assault lasted I just know that eventually we ran out of targets and gradually the noise of battle receded.
I stood in the very spot where, after the battle, we bought two very scared and shocked Argentine soldiers both with leg wounds. The area were they were brought was a half circle of rock, in which a number of us were seeking shelter. This is the point where we ceased to be animals and became members of the human race again. We checked to see if they needed their bandages changed, gave them a brew, a cigarette and made them comfortable. I distinctly remember the prisoners who were'nt wounded being led off the mountain and then at some stage taking a peek over the edge of the rocks to look at Stanley.
Alex and I had our sandwiches at the memorial to the Scots Guards. We took the time to leave a few words on the wreath we had laid there the day before. Yesterday we had laid the wreath and left the card blank. Today we sat and reflected on what we wanted to say. I then did a ceremonial Gongyo (Buddhist prayer) and left my Juzu beads on one of the crosses that had been left some time before. I think that when I get home I will look into how much it will cost to have a plaque made with the “Ode To Tumbledown” inscribed on it and see if I can get it placed there. Maybe I can convince Susie to come down with me to place it.
We dropped off the back of Tumbledown and walked into town. On the way down, we passed an old Argentine field kitchen and the admin area that they had. It was well protected from the elements and was certainly as about cosy as you can get. Once we arrived in Stanley we checked out the museum and then a few of the local pubs such as Dino’s, The Globe and The Victory. I spent the afternoon chatting with various veterans before returning to Teen's to prepare for the evening activities.
At 1800hr we had a photograph taken outside the Governor’s residence wearing medals and dressed in our best regalia. After the photo, the infant school sang us the song that had been so brilliantly sang by the young lady on Horse Guards in London back in June. It was beautifully done and the veterans showed their appreciation in a huge round of applause.
After the photo, we formed up and marched behind the pipers to the memorial. We had a wreath laying ceremony and service which was slightly marred by the fact the weather turned bad. An icy rain started as we were standing around which didn't really let up until the end. After the wreath laying we marched behind the band to Victory Green where we presented two benches to the islanders.
We were treated to an impressive fly past by one of the RAF Tornadoes. A rather humorous event happened as we were waiting, something that couldn’t be scripted as two seagulls flew past they were christened the 'Red Sparrows'. It was freezing and most of us were hoping that things would finish. When they did, Alex and I dived into the Upland Goose hotel for a drink and to warm up.
Having warmed up we went back to aunty Teen's for supper and an early night.
Friday, 9 November 2007
On a day very much like today with clear blue skies the Welsh Guards and 16 Field Ambulance arrived in Fitzroy harbour having sailed over night from Port San Carlos. For reasons that are still not clear instead of immediately unloading the troops, the decision was made to stay aboard. As dawn came the ships could be clearly seen from an observation post on the mountains surrounding Stanley and an air strike was called in.
Rick Middlewick was a young chef and a good friend of Paul Ackerman. Together they were passing time in the mess area at the stern of the ship Sir Galahad. Suddenly without any warning a Skyhawk aircraft of the Argentine Air Force appeared over the anchorage and dropped two bombs on the ship and fired rockets at the superstructure. The bombs punched through the hull and detonated among the Welsh Guards packed into the tank deck, setting fuel alight and causing horrific carnage beneath decks. The rockets exploded in the mess and Rick was instantly killed. One minute he was sitting next to Paul, the next he was gone, Paul was never to see him again.
This story, told to me by Paul back in Southampton only one week previously, was very much in my mind as we stood looking over the tranquil bay that is Fitzroy. The Welsh guards gathered in front of the memorial and a short service was conducted. The pipers of the Scots Guards played a lament and the Welsh lads who had attended laid their wreaths. It was a very emotional and personal scene as this was the first ceremony I had attended that was being conducted at the sight of where it had happened.
After the wreaths were laid for the Welsh Guards we moved over to the memorial for the RFA personal who died on the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristian. Paul had given me a poppy that his wife had bought from a WW2 veteran that morning. Paul had written Rick’s name on the poppy and asked me to lay it in the water. I climbed down to the shore and did as he asked. Rest in peace Rick and everybody else who died that morning.
I remember that morning very clearly as I was in my sheep pen at Bluff Cove which is just over the hill. We had arrived the previous morning on board landing craft from HMS Intrepid. I was making a brew and trying to eavesdrop on a conversation Alex was having with some SAS friends. Sometime earlier, (the exact amount escapes me after all these years) we had heard a series of booms from Fitzroy and could see a column of smoke over the horizon. The rumour mill was running overtime as to what had happened and it was gradually filtering down to us that a ship had been hit though the details were vague.
This was being discussed when suddenly from the West four aircraft came screaming down the valley pretty much about the same place that the Stanley road runs today. We all looked over and somebody remarked “Oh look, Harriers” to which the SAS blokes replied that they were Argentine and ran for their positions. Within seconds, a second wave of four aircraft flew through but this time they were met by a hail of small arms fire from the Scots Guards positions. It is said that we fired 16,500 rounds at these planes and that we were credited with probably shooting 2 of them down.
All I remember is looking at the planes and seeing the two at the rear seeming to fly into a wall of lead and disintegrate. One rolled over onto its back and was followed by a huge fireball somewhere between Bluff Cove and Stanley. The other went straight up like a rocket and vanished into the clouds where, a few seconds later, the clouds were lit up by a big orange fireball. Of course the battalion were celebrating the ragged cheers when the last four jets flew over almost untouched as nobody was ready.
After the ceremony for the RFA we did another for the Medics before heading over to the settlement itself for a final ceremony dedicated to all the 5 Brigade losses. Again the pipers played a lament and this time they were joined by a bugler who played the Last Post. After this we all retired to the small community hall for some refreshments provided by the locals. Once again they had done a sterling job and goodness only knows how much time and effort had gone into preparing the various cakes and eats. It was a fitting end to an emotional morning.
Alex came with me back to Aunty Teens for lunch and I got to meet the youngest grandson Scott. After a lovely meal, we made our way over to Teena's as I needed to get hold of a printout of the Ode To Tumbledown. We bumped into Sue so she happily drove us around and waited while I got the poem. She then dropped us off at the drill hall.
I was amazed at the number of people who had turned up to pay their respects for what was going to be an adhoc remembrance up on Tumbledown this afternoon. We had only decided the day before that all the Scots Guards would gather at the memorial and pay our respects. The word spread and about forty people came along with a camera crew. Getting to Tumbledown is not that easy as there are no roads and the ground very boggy. We made it though.
It felt extremely odd to be standing on Tumbledown on the very spot that Right Flank assaulted. I have so many memories of that night and to actually stand on the ground where it all happened bought it all back. The weather was even very similar to what it had been like as it started to snow.
We started the ceremony with me reading the 'Ode To Tumbledown', facing the assembled Scots Guards and the well wishers who had come with us. I had no idea what to expect but I felt incredibly calm and focused on the words of the poem. I don’t know where I got the strength from but in a strong and clear voice I recited faultlessly the words. It felt great, I put as much emotion as I could into the reading and I felt the words resonate in me. As I spoke the final words I looked up and scanned the faces of my fellow’s. I felt such pride for being allowed to be here with them on this occasion.
We then said the Lords Prayer and then laid wreaths while our pipers played 'The Crags of Tumbledown' and the bugler played the Last Post. It was a simple but powerful ceremony, all made up by the Scots Guards themselves for their friends who had died on this mountain 25 years ago. Some of the lads were in floods of tears and we all hugged each other and gave each other support. I can honestly say I felt reborn, today I was shown that I have not been the only one to have suffered. In fact my suffering has been nothing compared to what others have endured.
We drank some whiskey and chatted but the weather was foul with a cold wind and driving snow, so we came down to the area where only the day before the pipers (who had been part of the diversionary attack) found the spot where Danny Wight and John Pashley had died.
They had built a small cairn on the bank above where they had died and we had a small ceremony where we recited the Lords Prayer and then laid a wreath and played a lament. Again it was very tasteful and this time as the weather was a lot milder we had the chance to chat. We found various remains of the skirmish such as the spent cases from the rounds that had probably killed them. We also found remains of grenades (including one lying in puddle, which we will have to report as it has no pin in it!). We also found the remains of a radio that the patrol had dropped.
We returned to Stanley in good spirits. It had been a good afternoon and very emotional but the lads had paid their respects and it felt good to have done it our way in our own time.
After dinner we headed up to the dance which was being held on behalf of the Royal British Legion. It was good to get a chance to chat again with some of the Islanders and see them let their hair down. I even got Aunty Teen to come along and she seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself.
Thursday, 8 November 2007
I didn’t really have an agenda today except that I would prefer to do something with a fellow Scots Guardsman, so I was well pleased when Alex asked if I was planning on doing anything and suggested we did Goose Green. It seemed like a good idea so we asked for a driver and was allocated an Australian lady named Sue Wilks who volunteered to drive us around.
For the trip over to Darwin, we followed Eric Goss who was the farm manager of the settlement and is probably one of the most informative guides of the battlefield. First stop was the area just behind the initial First Aid point where 2 Para had been pinned down. This was where Eric had buried the thirty eight Argentine dead from the battle and where he put up a sign with a rather blunt “38 Dead Argies” on it. This about summed him up, as he is known to be quite a character and someone who you either get on with or don’t.
From here he showed us the spot where Col H. Jones was shot dead and pointed out a number of the Argentine positions many which can still be seen as the trenches outline are still there. He explained that Col H. Jones's injuries made it most probable that the person who killed him shot him from the front. He got quite in depth about why but I didn’t know enough about the battle to know if he was talking sense. What was very obvious about the battle was that 2 Para had a hell of a fight.
From here we went to the grave of the RAF Harrier pilot Flight Lt Nunn ,who was buried some distance out from the settlement. The headstone even had some parts of his harrier placed behind it. We then looked at the memorial built by 2 Para to commemorate the battle which has been fairly heavily modified over the years.
The settlement itself has suffered as many have moved to Stanley where there are better jobs available. I met up with Alan, the chap from Teeney Weeney Airways I met on the first day. He was based in Goose Green for about a week and arrived on the day after the battle finished. He explained that the area around still had bodies (and parts of bodies) lying everywhere and that it was a pretty grim place. I went into the hall where all the islanders had been locked up for three weeks. I also got to see the sheds where they kept all the prisoners with the original 'POW' markings still visibly painted on the side.
We then headed over to the new ferry terminal that is being built, at much cost and a lot of controversy. This is where recently a thirty nine year old islander died and whose funeral is being postponed until we leave the island ,as it would cause too much disruption (as everyone would want to go to his funeral). As we were following Eric, we didn’t really know why we were going here but the reason soon became apparent when we got there, as we could see a large colony of penguins. I think the wind was blowing in another direction when we were at Ajax Bay because these stank, a very distinct fishy smell!
Having seen the penguins, we headed back towards Stanley going via the Argentine Cemetery. This is very close to Darwin just off the Stanley road and was very well kept. It is tragic that very few Argentines are capable of making there way to the Falklands to visit the graves of their loved ones. It was only recently that restrictions were lifted, that prevented anybody travelling to the Falklands on an Argentine passport. A few have made the trip but for both relatives and veterans the cost remains too high and the numbers have dropped off to almost nobody nowadays. The Argentine authorities have also refused to allow the families to bring the bodies home as the government have used the whole situation to score political points saying 'why bring the body’s home to Argentina when they are already on Argentine soil'. Looking around the graveyard I was once again reminded of the sad waste of young lives.
Many of the islanders believe that if the invasion hadn’t happened twenty five years ago, the islands would have probably been given back by now.
From the cemetery we decided to pop into the Mount Pleasant Airport complex and check out the various murals that had been removed from the walls of Ajax Bay. I had found out only the night before that a lot of the units who subsequently were based in Ajax Bay, had painted murals on the wall. We had set a trend and quite recently the garrison commander decided to have them all removed to the base so that they would be preserved. We found the 'Ode To Tumbledown' which I read aloud to our driver and Alex. They were powerful words and I found it quite emotional.
We then headed back to Stanley and we popped up to Sapper Hill where there is a monument to the Royal Engineers. We had a chance to see the back of Tumbledown and look over the ground down to Stanley. I have very few memories from the conflict of this part of our deployment. I do remember crawling up to the peek and looking over the edge at Stanley below but have no memory of anything else. I know for a fact I wasn’t curious to explore the battle field or to scavenge booty.
We drove past the golf course and Alex had a look to see if it is playable. I think that he might get a round in before he leaves, though it looks a pretty fierce course with plenty of water obstacles! We also drove past the old water pumping station and saw where Moody Barracks used to be before it was destroyed by the Argentines. It was a nice spot at the end of Moody Brook close to the Murrell road.
I was dropped off at the house and popped in to pick up some goodies for the driver. Sue has young children, so I gave her the items that I had brought for children.
Tonight is a quiet night so no need to rush out, except I got a phone call saying they had found my mobile lying in a puddle at San Carlos! I walked over to Teena’s and low and behold, not only did they have my mobile but it still worked, incredible! It is really nice to be back in contact with Susie. Back at the house I had a nice meal with Aunty Teen and then headed to bed for an early night.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
I was a little too long lingering over my cup of tea so I arrived a few minutes late but luckily I was able to get a lift with Alex Allender and a naval chap from HMS Plymouth. As we were due to go to the Governor’s house this evening we had to leave first so with a couple of Landrovers we left. Our driver Ken Allbridge was brilliant and proved to be a superb guide. It turned out that he was a 5th generation islander and that he did guide tours as a living.
Leaving Stanley we took the “Northern” route to San Carlos go behind Mount Kent towards Teal Inlet. In 1982 this road didn’t exist, in fact there were basically NO roads in the Falklands 25 years ago and to get around you used either boat, plane or made your own road using a 4x4. To drive to San Carlos would basically take 1 to 2 days depending on how many times you got bogged and needed to dig yourself out. One of the first things that Ken pointed out was the remains of 2 Argentine helicopters that were caught by Harriers. The outlying garrison of troops of course needed re-supply and this was done by using choppers. Both of these had been spotted on the ground trying to hide from the harriers that by this time were prowling looking for targets. No idea if the crews had abandoned the choppers while they were on the ground but the burnt out wrecks of a Chinook and a Puma could be made out. Apparently there was a wrecked Huey a bit further from the road over a ridge.
We then proceeded to Teal Inlet passing a family standing by the road outside Lower Malo House that waved to various cars carrying other veterans as we passed by. Teal Inlet was where 45 Commando and 3 Para passed through on their epic yomp from San Carlos to Stanley. There was a small memorial to 3 Para here as this is where they buried there dead after the battle for Mount Longdon. From here we drove to San Carlos where we arrived at around midday. We got a very striking view of the bay where we landed from the ridge above and could easily pick out the jetty where we landed and the area where we dug in for the first 2 nights.
After arriving in the settlement itself we looked around the small museum they had there before walking around to the cemetery where the British laid to rest all those killed in the fighting. Of course most of the bodies have repatriated to the UK which is the first time in history that the British government have done this for its forces. Before now all soldiers were buried in the place they were killed and no bodies were sent home. We had a very poignant ceremony which was followed by a wreath laying ceremony. One of the guys next to me was having a hard time and was visibly upset so I made an extra effort to help him through what was obliviously a very hard experience. It seemed proper as I lost no friends in the Falklands. Though the battalion lost 8 men I didn’t know any of them personally so my grief has always been for the men of both sides.
Treesa Mitchell the widow of Clarke Mitchell summed up the whole war when she remarked to Alex what a terrible waste of young lives the war was. I couldn’t agree more. Looking around at the men, all in their mid to late forties and seeing the grief for friends lost 25 years ago you can see the huge impact that this war has had on all of us. My grief has always been for my lost innocence and the tragedy of what had occurred here all those years ago. When the service came to an end we retreated to get some food that the RAF had supplied for us. It then started to hail and rain so I missed the low flying helicopter that flew over and saluted us.
We left the reception fairly early as we wanted to visit Ajax Bay which was clearly visible across the bay. The farmer whose land we had to traverse to get to the old plant was more than happy to let us go there. He invited us over to his house for tea but as we were very pressed for time we had to decline. Old Jerry was quite a character, a real farmer, dressed as he was in his blue over clothes and the fact he had half a cow hanging up outside.
Seeing Ajax Bay bought memories flooding back and I was able to point out all the buildings and described to those who were interested what we used them for. The condition of the buildings was very dilapidated and they were falling down. However I was able to find the dining hall, the kitchen, pantry, our sleeping area plus all the rooms we used to hold the prisoners. I even found the wash rooms though they had almost completely vanished. Amazingly I found the 2 oil drums that we had used to make our hot water system that supplied us hot water for our showers. The only thing that was missing was our mural that had been removed and apparently moved to the museum. There was a colony of penguins outside the main entrance who seemed a bit perturbed that we were there.
We drove back to Stanley and changed then made our way down to the Governor’s house for the official reception. Finger food, drinks and polite conversation was the order of the day for about 85 of us. Most of the Scots Guards had elected to stay up on Tumbledown so only a few of us were there. It was an enjoyable enough occasion and after I was able to get a lift back to the house with the Brigadier in charge of the garrison. He and his very wife were very nice to talk to and we got a little lost trying too find our way to where I was staying.
I had something to eat with Teen before popping down to Teena’s to do some email and attempt to call Susie on Skype. Sadly that didn’t work so well so instead we chatted using text. Was nice to talk as communications here are not easy and there is a 4 hour time difference which means that it’s normally very late for Susie. This is not made easier by the fact I have lost my phone.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
My initial thoughts on arriving were that of almost disbelief that I am actually back here after all these years. It is really hard to take in that I am back at the very place which has played such a huge part of forming the character I am today. My mother always said that I left a boy and came back a man so the change it made to me has always been something very profound.
We disembarked, thanked the crew (I shook the pilots hand) and then made our way into the arrival lounge. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of old Argantine equipment dotted around, being used as ornaments such as old 120mm mortars and 105 howitzers. There was a small committee of islanders waiting to welcome us. One of them remarked I couldn’t have been old enough to have been here as I looked so young!
The arrival procedures were quick, as we had filled out the immigration papers on the plane. They stamped our passports (something to remember the trip by, though I am sure this is standard) and we filtered through. While I was standing in the queue I got talking to the lad in front of me and it turned out he had been a cook attached to 3 Para. He recognised the name written on my poppy and we discussed our experiences. It turned out he was used as an ammunition mule and stretcher bearer on Mount Longdon and had a bad time of it. His mate who he shared a cabin with him was a young REME armourer who was flown in on the morning after the fighting to fix one of the Sustained Fire (SF) guns. His friend was hit by shell fire and died in his arms with his leg ripped open by a shell fragment. They have been hard memories for him to live with and haunted him ever since.
We boarded a bus and spent forty five minutes getting into Stanley, driving along what is about the only decent road to the capital. The young lady who was acting as our tour guide, pointed out various places of interest such as Fitzroy, Bluff Cove and the various mountains. It was strange actually seeing the places that have been such familiar names in my memory. The first thing that struck me ,was that things don’t look the same as they did all those years ago. In fact things felt in some respects a lot smaller (Bluff Cove looked tiny) while others looked a lot bigger (such as the distance from Bluff Cove to Tumbledown). Of course this is really surprising as memory plays tricks so I am really looking forward to walking over the battlefield again.
The arrival at the FIDF (Falkland Island Defence Force) Hall was emotional as the place was crowded with islanders all smiling and greeting us. We were ushered into the hall and given an introduction speech by the governor and some of the SAMA committee. After this we retrieved our bags and then met up with our hosts. Mine turned out to be Teen Short a very lovely widow who has lived on the islands all her life as did her mother, a very hardy lady who has had a very tough life but with a heart of gold. She gave me a wonderful chicken stew for lunch, followed by trifle with evaporated milk and lashings of tea. I felt that I had been transported back to another era as I hadn’t had food like this since my youth. We chatted for a while and it turned out that she lived on the far west of West Falkland and the war for her had been very quiet and she had only moved into Stanley about six years ago. The house I am staying in is one of the original ones and was wrecked by the Argentines, though now it is of course a clean and comfortable bungalow.
After lunch I walked into town and met a couple of lads down by the WWI memorial who turned out to have been with Teeny Weeny Airways. I walked with them into Stanley and went looking for a mobile chip for my phone. Susie had been a little upset that I had been unable to contact me since last night as my O2 mobile didn’t work and the number I gave her wasn’t being picked up. We did get a chance to chat and the new mobile number worked fine and I am reliably told it will work all the way out to Goose Green.
I got a chance to say hello to Teena Short who is the niece of the lady I am staying with. We walked to where she was living, at which time I turned around and walked back with 4 guys from the Welsh Guards. They remembered Paul Ackerman and my neighbour in Hereford Andrew Davies who they said had the nickname of Mary. I must ask him why he got that nickname next time I see him!
They wanted to go into the Globe for a drink so, I said my goodbyes and instead had a cup of tea in the little café behind. This was run by an islander who remembered my friend Rachel's mother, Alison Bleaney who had been living in one of the outlying settlements. Rachel was also a nurse here and seen very hard times.
Michele was nice to chat to. Just as I was about to leave a chap from 2 Para turned up looking for something to eat. I am finding that this pilgrimage is containing quite a cross section of people and some of my preconceptions are slowly being chipped away. He told me of his memories of Wireless Ridge watching the Scots Guards gradually fighting up Tumbledown and what a hell of a mountain it was we took. He was very quiet, something I don’t really associate with the Para’s. It just goes to show you how one shouldn’t make assumptions.
I walked back to the house and had a shower before getting changed and heading up to the Drill Hall again where we had a reception. I met many islanders and chatted with loads of people. The universal feeling here, is one of huge gratitude towards us and a deep appreciation of the sacrifices made during that war of twenty five years ago and of the suffering and scars since. One lady had been not much older than us and was living at Fitzroy. She remembers the Sir Galahad being hit and helping the casualties. A lasting memory for her were the dozens and dozens of Welsh Guardsmen lying on the grass with the hands wrapped in plastic because of the burns they had sustained.
I got to swap cards with Mike Seear (who wrote the book about the Gurkhas) as he would like to interview me about my experiences on Tumbledown. I walked back to the house and headed to bed. The first day has been an emotional experience but I feel good emotions, not bad ones, and if the rest of the trip turns out to be like this it is going to be great!
Monday, 5 November 2007
A full English breakfast (army style) followed by checkout, meant I still had a couple of hours to go before it was time to catch the coach. To kill time I found an internet café and went for a walk around Waterloo. A heck of a long day ahead with me sitting down.
There was a bit of drama when a bunch of veterans got stuck in the lift, which required the fire brigade to come and rescue them, much to the amusement of those waiting in the reception. The coaches eventually arrived and we were shuttled to Gatwick.
I sat next to a lady called Linda who has had a hell of a time dealing with the consequences of twenty five years ago. She had been a theatre nurse on HMS Invinsible and had assisted at countless operations on casualties from the various ships. The trauma of having young ratings die in her arms has plagued ever her since.
Arriving at Gatwick, we made our ways to the arrivals checked in which was fairly painless. We had a couple of hours to kill again while we waited for the rest of the coaches to arrive. It seems that they were unable to carry all the luggage so an additional vehicle had to be organised at the last minute.
The aircraft was fine and I got a fairly good seat next to a window, except there wasn’t a window to look out and my seat didn’t go back at all. That didn’t matter though, as the company was pleasant. Vince was in 36 Engineers and had had a long and interesting Army career, in which he was in the RFA Stromness and had handled the distribution of equipment in San Carlos. He supplied me with a steady stream of fruit gums, pastilles and pleasant conversation, so he made a perfect partner to share what turned out to be an eighteen hour flight.
The first twelve hours to Rio De Janeiro were long but I managed to get at least four to five hours sleep, which was good for me. The food was great and the plane was actually quiet and very comfortable. We had a three hour refuelling stop, which was slow
as the airport was closed. I chatted to Brian who had also been on RFA Stromness as one of the naval party and who runs a small cottage industry embroiding special designs on clothes.
Sunday, 4 November 2007
I woke this morning in Southampton having slept well feeling rested and ready for the day. I collected my thoughts thinking about what lay ahead today and remembered the last time I met up with everyone it had been a blur. The anticipation of meeting everyone again had made me quite nervous. Today I am due once again to meet up with former comrades but hopefully this time I can walk away from the whole experience and not feel as frustrated as I had back in June. I had so wanted to reconnect with the men with whom I had gone through the Falklands events and experiences with. But the evening had flown by so fast that I had too little time to take it all in. This time I have almost ten days and I am determined to make the most of it.
After a cooked breakfast, I gave Paul some photos and he kindly lent me a book about the Vulcan bombers his father had worked on. Amazing to think that Paul’s father was serving in the RAF at the time and was part of the team that serviced the huge bombers that flew the missions to bomb Stanley airport. I wonder what was going through his mind. We drove up to London in a car that sounded more like a Landrover than a Ford (due to the bearings going on the back wheels ), but we arrived safe and sound at the Union Jack Club around 1300hrs. I dropped off my bags and said a very quick hello to Alex Allender, Ian Gillanders and Roy Catchpole all of whom were sitting in the lounge waiting to check in. I couldn’t stay as we had a lunch date so I said my goodbyes and got back in the car.
Paul’s daughter works at a pub in Camden Town so we had lunch and a drink and passed the time chatting about life. It was interesting to watch the characters in the pub as this is quite a fashionable part of town. Apparently Amy Winehouse lives around the corner and pops in but she wasn’t there today. Just some dodgy Chinese guy selling porn DVD’s out of a plastic Sainsbury's shopping bag. The Stranglers concert was due to start at 1930hrs around the corner so about one thousand five hundred fans started to filter in. At about 1600hrs I decided it was time to go, so I made my farewells and headed to Mornington Crescent tube station and made my way back to the UJC in Waterloo.
I picked up my bags along with my fleece and bag full of goodies and headed to my room which immediately reminded me of my room back at Chelsea Barracks (as it was about the same size). In fact the UJC reminds me very much of a barracks as there are no en-suite facilities and everything seems shared. The showers are sadly on the next floor, so I grabbed a bath instead as the only way to go between floors is to use a lift. One of which is broken.
Actually I shouldn't grumble but a twenty five story building with only three lifts suck. Especially when one lift is out of order :)
The UJC though, is an impressive club. The walls contain plaques to most British and Commonwealth regiments and their is a roll of honour with the name of all the holders of the Victoria Cross on one of the walls. Also an impressive display with photographs of many of the holders. Incredible to see that some of them had the VC with bar which means they won the VC twice!
I put on my suit and headed down to the reception being held at 1815hrs, where I joined the gathering throngs of veterans. We were welcomed by Mike Bowles who as chairman of SAMA82 is the man behind the committee that has organised this pilgrimage. Waiters and waitresses circulated offering wine and soft drinks, so I grabbed one and mingled. I quickly found Alex and Roy and we started chatting.
Immediately some of my misconceptions about how the last twenty five years have affected others were dispelled. As Corps attached I have always thought that as an outsider, I have had it tough because I have nobody to talk to. Having moved on in 1983 and having never again contacted the Scots Guards until 2007, I thought that as serving members of the Battalion, they would have kept closer. Not so. Alex left the Army in 1993 and apart from working with the local Scots Guards association, he has had little contact with other members of 2SG. Roy left the Army before me, as he came out in 1986 and joined the Police Force. It was strange the three of us standing there. The last time we were this close was when Alex sent me back to tell Roy to stop shooting at us as we were between him and the Agentine's, further up Tumbledown. Of course it wasn’t Roy shooting at us at all it was the Argentine snipers but at the time it seemed very different.
I hope I am not going to have problems with names on this trip. There are just so many people to remember. It never has been my strong point. I found Ian Morton and he gave me a very hearty welcome. The last time I saw him, he had a pretty big hole in him from a sniper’s bullet. He looked well. In fact everyone looks pretty good to be honest. Age hasn’t crushed them yet and they are almost all big hearty Scots Guards who would still give most people a run for their money!
I spent time chatting with Ian Gillanders who seems a really nice guy, it’s going to be great getting to know everyone again and they all seem genuinely pleased to see me. So many stories to take in. I wonder how many times I am going to be reminded though that I didn’t pay them enough or that I had stopped this or that allowance! I will just have to grin and bear it, as it’s all said in jest :)
At 2000hrs, Dame Maggie Thatcher arrived, dressed in her signature blue dress. She looked frail but happy to be there. She was given three cheers and then mingled with the crowds, though to be honest apart from grabbing a photo of her, I was more interested in being with the other Scots Guards. Anyway I couldn’t get close to her due to the press of people around her. However as she left, I was coming back into the main area, so I stood with my back against the wall. She looked into my face and I smiled and nodded to her. She smiled and nodded back. Also there was General Hugh Pike and a few others but I didn’t get too see them.
By 2130hrs, I had had enough and was very tired, so I retired to my room and watched some tv.
The evening had gone well and I was happy. Only downside is that I have now used one of my two shirts and somebody spilt red wine onto the one I was wearing. I just hope my host knows a good housewive's remedy for getting rid of wine stains on a white shirt!
Also hope I get to sleep well, as I won't sleep much tomorrow as it’s a long night flight.
Saturday, 3 November 2007
QE2 waiting for us in Southampton.
The night before we left was pretty crazy as almost without exception the battalion went out on town and got a little drunk. We rolled back into the barracks some time around midnight and collected our rifles from the armoury in a some what unusual fashion, since the armourer was very drunk and just handed the weapons out without any control. Something he was to regret later when he was fined. When we finally left we were poured into coaches for the brief trip to the waiting ship, passing on our way some Guards (top brass) who had turned out at 3am in full ceremonial dress on horse back to salute our departure. The lads weren’t too impressed and much to the disgust of the various assembled dignitaries, they were subjected to being mooned and various hand gestures. On arrival it was a question of hurry up and wait as it took for ever to load the ship.
My departure this time was a lot more dignified. The night before wasn’t some wild drinking session at the local but instead consisted of a lovely evening with my wife and a close friend. Instead of a 3am departure we had a nice breakfast together before going to the airport where I was waved off and given a hug and a kiss. Very different from all those years ago indeed. Funnily enough though the destination for today was the same city of Southampton as I stayed with Paul Ackerman and his wife.
The flight was uneventful (always a good sign) and very pleasant. I had a chat with the air stewardess as I had given her my wreath to look after so it wouldn’t get crushed. She was intrigued to know what was in the box, so when I explained I was a veteran who was returning to the Falklands for the first time in twenty five years and that the box contained a wreath and some crosses that I intended to leave on Tumbledown she became very interested. We chatted for a couple of minutes and she wished me the very best and said what a great job we had all done. I was quite glad to have flown British Airways today.
The coach trip to Southampton was good and my impression of National Express went up a notch since the last time I used them. They seemed to have redesigned the coaches so you didn’t have to be 4ft pygmy to have any leg room.
Travelling through the Berkshire and Hampshire countryside was like going back in time. This area has been somewhere I have lived and worked in for many years but I haven’t been back here much in the last twenty years. Familiar landmarks slipped by and it was an interesting journey back in time. Southampton itself has changed considerably and undergone major redevelopment due to the resurgence of the cruise industry.
On arrival, I took a taxi to Paul’s but I arrived thirty minutes early and the house was empty. However a kindly neighbour came to the rescue with a cup of tea, so the wait was very pleasant. Very friendly neighbours I must say! Thanks for the cup of tea Steve. Paul and Lois turned up having just returned from their band practise. Lois is a singer in a band and Paul plays lead guitar. I must say I admire Paul’s thirst for life. As he explained to me later ever since surviving the Galahad he made a determination to live a full and rich life. He and Lois have a small but very comfortable house and spend their time and money on the pursuit of happiness. This entails travelling, sailing, playing in a band and just about any other activity their heart desires. They certainly thrive on the life style and I must say they look happy and content. Paul and I have known each other for twenty eight years now (we met in 1979) and though we only met again this year for the first time in twenty six years, it seems like only yesterday. Lois remarked that it was uncanny how similar we are. As I explained it probably has something to do with the fact that we have walked a similar path in our lives. We went into Southampton for a Japanese meal (which was delicious), before going to a pub that played music from the 1980's. We watched the youth of today at play and reminisced about what we were like at their age. Then, being the old people we are, we headed home at a sensible hour to get our beauty sleep, though we did stay up an hour or so more to swap war stories and show each other some photographs and movies.
Paul had a truly remarkable experience in the Falklands and it’s very sad he was unable to return this year. He missed the initial draw so decided instead to go sailing in Turkey thus using up his vacation for this year. Then four weeks ago totally out of the blue he got a phone call asking him if he wanted to go. Sadly he couldn’t so this time he has to stay behind. However hopefully he will get to go soon as the trip is something he feels he needs to do. Paul was on the Sir Galahad and lost many friends. He was one of the lucky few to escape injury and he was instrumental in helping many wounded Welsh Guards off the burning ship. Having lost all his gear he was re-equipped and attached to 40 Commando and put in charge of a Karl Gustav anti tank weapon. He later went on to escort prisoners back to Argentina on the Norrland. Like me, has had some hard times, and like me, this year has been a year of reconciliation where many ghosts have been laid to rest. We have both had the chance to really talk and share our experiences with other veterans and have taken part in a number of activities which have helped answer some of the burning questions of “why me” that we have carried with us for so many years. Paul has also had a chance to take part in some of the celebrations in and around Southampton such as spending a day on the QE2 and meeting various dignitaries in Yeovil. At the last event he attended the military attaché to the Argentine embassy was present. Paul was introduced and they shook hands. Paul had been on the Sir Galahad, the attaché had been on the Belgrano.
Paul asked me how had we been able to do what we did all those years ago. What was it about us that had allowed us to fight a war eight thousand miles away, against a numerically superior force. I replied that I think we were the product of the Thatcher years and that we thought we were capable of anything, none of us had even contemplated defeat or that we couldn’t do what we were being asked to do. What I do know though is that the Falklands War was a righteous war. The good and the bad guys were clearly defined in the eyes of the world and that nobody questioned our actions or political motives. Both sides fought with honour and bravery and we had the almost universal support of the British people. They supported us without questions then and they still turn out to cheer us today. I just wish one day to shake the hands of some of the Argentine veterans and wish them well and hope that some of their demons are laid to rest just like Paul and myself have been able to do this year.
Thanks for wonderful stay Paul and Lois and I hope you enjoy the Stranglers concert tomorrow.
Friday, 2 November 2007
Susie helped with packing my suitcase last night and between us we managed to cram everything in.
I couldn't help but wonder what people's reactions would have been if I had been able to bring my kitbag that's in the attic at home. It's the one I took with me to the Falklands so has all the markings for Right Flank, 2SG, with the last 4 numbers of my army number on the bottom. I bet it would have raised a laugh or two :)
So I have my suit (black), shoes, medals, corp tie, belt, jeans, boots, jacket, shirts, underwear, socks, T-shirts, medical kit, washing kit, mobile phone, laptop, iPod and of course the compulsory cuddly toy (courtesy of the wife). I am also carrying a wreath and 18 wooden crosses (8 with SG cap badge). Just need to get some presents for my host and the driver(s).
At least I'm not going as heavily loaded as last time :)
Thursday, 1 November 2007
It certainly gave me something to think about. With all the stresses and strains of the last 3 months the fact that I am now talking to people directly and that the flight is on Saturday is really bringing it all home to me as to just what a huge deal this is to me.
I feel so grateful to the islanders for showing that they care enough to look after us. We live in a world nowadays where teenagers kill each other on the streets of our cities and the news is constantly ramming negative image after negative image down our throats all in the name of news and public interest. Yet the vast majority of us are law abiding citizens going about our lives and trying to do the best for our friends and family.
The Islanders themselves are stopping everything for our return. I am told almost every 4x4 in the Falklands will be used to ferry the vets around the various battlefields. Almost everybody who can accomodate somebody is having a veteran stay at their home. Almost all the islanders, who are self employed, will be taking the week off to look after us. They are all doing this with a smile on their face and grattitude in their hearts which is something I doubt many of us are really used to outside our own family and friends.
I even got to look up the name of the person I am staying with and found her included in a report about feral cats in the 1950's on one of the islands. Nobody can escape Google it seems :)