When the QE2 sailed from Southampton and was out of sight of the worlds press she quietly hove too and laid anchor. What the world hadn’t been told was the engines were damaged and needed repairing, so we quietly waited for three days while repairs were made ,far from prying eyes.
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.