Friday, 9 November 2007

Day 7

Today was to be a truly emotional day, as today is when we decided to commemorate the guards. The day started with a convoy of Landrovers heading to Fitzroy with something approaching 125 pilgrims and islanders. The convoy took about 45 minutes to make its way down to the beach where the terrible events of June 8th 1982 and the biggest single loss of life of the British forces took place.

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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice one Steve. Thanks for doing remembrance of the Sir Galahad. Cheers, Paul

Hobgoblin said...

Steve,

Given the weather you had when you were here I would think that the Whisky was very welcome. The part full bottles that you left have subsequently been emptied by grateful visitors and I eventually removed the empty bottles over Xmas when I visited the memorial with my father. There are, though, still two full cans of lager waiting to be drunk :-)

barry boyd said...

My brother, Alan Boyd, ex MT was a serving police officer when u lads went there. He went to the careers office in a patrol car and asked to come back, and was told politely where to go. He served between 69/79. youngest lcpl at 17.
I served 1SG 85/91. Followed in big bro,s footsteps. After coming out, met a man, now my best pal. Hope you know him, LOTS DO ***** KEVIN VEST known as SUMMIT. respects to you all. ta Baz