Monday, 1 November 2010

Patrick Watts Radio Broadcast

Back in 2007 Dutch radio unearthed over 2 hours of tape recorded during the invasion in 82.

They have kindly given me the links to these historical archives

Part 1

Part 2

Sunday, 31 October 2010

After Action Report

When I was back in Stanley in 2007 I had the chance to talk to Patrick Watts who was one of our hosts and quite an expert on Tumbledown.

At the time he showed me a document that he had that was an after action report written in July 1982 by LCPL Gorman of 2SG.

This document has a mine of information such as the ORBAT of the battalion as well as the events prior, during and after the battle including an interesting section of what went right and wrong.

I have scanned this document and it is now available for download.

A day out at Karlberg

Last year when I attended the lecture given by Mike Cole of 45 Commando I bought along a civilian friend of mine who had been a nurse in Stanley during the war. She got chatting to the staff who organised the event and it was suggested that maybe she could contact an old friend of hers who might be interested in giving a lecture about the Falklands from the medical point of view.

So this year I had the chance to attend a rather unique event in which 2 lectures were given attended by no less than 4 veterans of the conflict.

Mike Cole who was company commander of Zulu Company 45 Commando, Professor James Ryan who was a surgeon with 16 Field Ambulance, Rachel Aspogard (Debbie Bleaney) who was a trainee nurse at Stanley Hospital and myself.

L/R Steve Cocks, James Ryan, Rachel Aspogard and Mike Cole

Believe it or not James Ryan is still serving in the Army! He has served in every theatre since the Falklands and has been instrumental in implementing many of the medical systems used today. He still lectures and works extensively with the Americans as well as being involved with training all the British MASH units before they deploy to Afganistan.

His lecture was a real eye opener of what worked and didnt work all those years ago. The fact that the hospital ships had to be placed far out to sea torpedoed the intial plan for casualty evacuation. This required the surgical units to deploy on land and there was simply nowhere to go except the old refrigeration plant at Ajax Bay. Conditions there were on par with World War 1.

The photos that were shown of some of the injured were harrowing as were his comments with regards the conditions in which we fought. Describing the battle against infection and the horrific injuries from anti-personal mines, high velocity rounds and shrapnel he really was able to get across to us what it was like to be a field surgeon.

We then had lunch with the cadets after which Mike Cole gave his presentation on his attack against Two Sisters.

Even after all these years its impossible to miss just how much Mike still admires his men who had an average age of 19 1/2. His description of the build up to the assualt followed by the battle itself was delivered to an appreciative audience.

After both lectures we had a question and answer session.

A fantastic day and one I hope they will repeat next year.

Monday, 10 May 2010

An interview with "Militar Historia"

Major Jonas Blomquist interviewed me recently for the June addition of the Swedish magazine "Militar Historia".

The article is of course in Swedish and you can download it from the link on the top right of the blog .

In the article Jonas asked me a number of questions of what it had been like to have been with the Scots Guards. Entitled "Han Var Med" or on English "He was With..." he started with the question "You were only 18 at the time, that was young".

One day I will get around to translating the entire article as I too would like to know what it says :)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Moving On

The Falklands has had a huge impact on me. It is undeniably the biggest and most traumatic incident in my life. I took part in events that are part of history, and no matter that when I die nobody will remember me, the Falklands will forever stand as a footnote in history.

The problem for me, and I believe for many other veterans, is that when we look back at our parts in the conflict it is with very mixed emotions.

My mother came to visit me for Christmas this year and as always she tried to buy me a book or two. I love my mother but not her choice of books as normally they come from bargain bin somewhere and the authors are rarely inspiring or interesting. This year however she surprised me. Not that she had given anymore thought to the subject matter but that the books she chose actually were pretty good.

The books were part of 3 pack and sadly I have lost 2 of them on some train somewhere because despite my best efforts I cannot seem to find them anywhere. The book that I was most taken with was titled "Heroes" and was a series of interviews with various veterans of WWII.

Now the reason that I mention this book is that after the Falklands I devoured books on war written from the personal perspective. I have to admit looking back I was searching for an answer to a question that I had been asking of myself.

How you deal with emotions of surviving a war?

As an 18 year old pay clerk attached to an infantry company taking part in a night assault on a mountain top 8,000 miles from home was something that I was neither prepared for emotionally or physically. My training in the army had consisted of 13 weeks basic training and then copious amounts of drill and classroom work. More effort was put into training my mind and not my body. The army didn't need me to fight they needed me to pay people and therefore thats where they put the effort.

So after the war, having looked the beast squarely in the eye, I went back to being a wage clerk. And for a while it was OK, I was among friends, I was still with the Scots Guards. But then I was posted away to Northern Ireland a new infantry regiment who I just didn't get on with. It's not that I disliked them, it's just that we never had the chance to bond. My life could have taken a very different course from the one it has turned out to have taken. I was lucky in that somebody noticed that my annual reports from extremely good to extremely bad and pulled me out oif the battalion in time to save me from imploding.

Years later after a very fortunate posting I found myself being fully qualified as a computer programmer, 24 years old, married and with my whole life ahead of me. I decided that the Army wasn't for me, became a civilian and tried to live a life that wasn't based on the military

There is a saying though that "you can take the soldier out of the army, but you can never take the army out of the soldier".

No matter how hard I worked, no matter how much I tried to build my business there some inescapable facts that I had to live with.

I know what a bullet hitting flesh sounds like. I have heard the screams of the dying and the wounded. I can still feel the ripple of the shock waves of a bullet as it passes my head. I can close my eyes and feel the earth patter over my prostrate body as a shell lands near by. I know what war did to me, for a brief period in my life I was given the means to kill and if I was presented with an appropriate situation I was supposed to be able to end a life. I have descended to the most basic state a human can be, that of the hunter with death in his eyes.

And I failed as a soldier.

I was supposed to be a hero, we all were. I was supposed to charge a machine gun post, rescue a fallen comrade from the battlefield, rush to the aid of a friend and save his life. I was supposed to do something!!

In the end I carried ammunition up a mountain, did what I was told and came away having not even fired my rifle. I felt a failure, when people asked me about the Falklands I felt a fraud, a coward.

So for years I lived with this guilt. If only I had done this or that. Why didn't I fire my rifle? Maybe if I had I might have made a difference. I might as well have not gone, I was useless, pathetic, I didn't deserve the respect of my fellow soldiers because they were the real hero's not me.

And of course once I was a civilian I had nobody to talk to about these feelings and so I buried them. They became a mantra. I would replay in my head the events of that night and imagine what would have happened if I had something different. I worked harder and harder to convince myself I wasn't worthless and was unforgiving on myself. But at the same time I was looking for answers, surely I wasn't the only person to feel this way? Surely not everyone who goes to war isn't a hero. Surely I can't have been the only one.

But back to that book.

This book was all about heroes, or so the title said. But in fact it was more than that it. It was about people who had been to war and their thoughts now that they are older and wiser. No longer the lions in their youth but instead old men and women looking back over the years to those days when they played their part in events which are also part of the footnote of history.

And for the first time in a book about WWII that I have read here were veterans with some of the highest awards saying how war had effected them. How that looking back at what they had witnessed had changed them and how they had learnt to live with the effects. I felt for the first time in a long time that I was reading the truth of how war impacts us as humans.

There are no heroes, just survivors.

Like anything in life there is a small percentage of people who thrive in any given environment and war is no exception. Some people are born warriors but the vast majority of us, and I count myself among the later, just do our best to survive.

The last 3 years has been a turning point in my life. Meeting the battalion again, going back to Tumbledown, and engaging in conversation with many veterans since has allowed me at long last to start moving on. I am no longer haunted by that night. I am no coward, nor am I a hero.

I am a 46 year old man who went somewhere I hope never to go again, where I stared into the jaws of the beast and walked away. I have my health, a great wife, a great job, and no real worries. I am a lucky man.

Strangely though I am also a little lost and at a crossroads. With the Falklands no longer dominating my every thought and the video tape in my head not playing so frequently I have to find a new way to live. I had got used to being that person I was, but I am no longer the same.

I wonder where life will take me in the years to come.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Return to the Falklands

An interesting video that I found, for some reason the poster of the video doesn't want people to imbed it so I have to just add a link here instead.

This was posted sometime around the 25th anniversary and provides an interesting commentary in particular about the relationships between the two sides. It also contains a fair chunk of coverage of a return to the islands by an Argentine veteran and an insight into how the veterans view the issue.

Return to the Falklands

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Year

There is something sadly wrong with me, I just can't do night clubs's

This year we decided to try and do something different so we spent a fortune on a dinner and dance package. We went to a classy nightclub called Berns and were entertained in a very 1930´s style with an Asian flavor to both the food and the show.

Everything was fine until about 11pm which is when the disco started up beneath us. The heavy bass and vibration through the floor just bought back instant associations of Tumbledown.

I have avoided night clubs for a long time as the heavy bass, flashing lights and noise has in the past made be feel very uncomfortable. In the past I have broken out in heavy sweat and start getting the most macabre thoughts of death and destruction.

I didn't get the sweats this time but the thoughts came think and fast and I just sat there watching the crowd around me imagining in my minds eye shrapnel cutting revelers down and the meaty thwack of metal hitting flesh.

Stockholm's bold and beautiful were in abundance. The girls were all stunning in their party frocks and everyone looked happy and full of life. Drink infused exuberance surrounded me and all I could think about was the cold lifeless eyes of the lads who had died up on Tumbledown, robbed of being able to celebrate drawing a breath let alone a new year.

I felt so out of place and when the wife suggested going at about 1.30 I jumped at the chance and couldn't leave quick enough.

I just can't do discos which is sad as I know the wife loves to dance.