An extract from the book 'Above All Courage' by Max Arthur. No section of this article may reproduced without the author's permission.
In a strange way I feel I was destined to be part of the magnificent 2 PARA, and all the events that took place just fulfilled that destiny. I first developed the ambition to one day join the battalion in 1976, when I saw the painting by David Shepherd, 'Arnhem Bridge, 5 p.m., The Second Day'.
I felt a strong attraction to be part of that organization and started working towards that goal. As a student I joined the Territorial Army Parachute Field Ambulance to win my wings, so that when I took up my commission full time I would be already prepared. With the TA I learnt the basics of soldiering which were to give me the background understanding which would later give me the basis on which to plan for war. In the latter part of 1981 it was to be a major delight and challenge to find that I had secured the doctor's slot with 2 PARA, which had come up for grabs. It was not without some trepidation, though, that I approached the job, and wondered if I would be up to it. I even had an odd sense of foreboding that something was about to happen, perhaps to do with Belize where we were due to spend six months of 1982.
I went into the job at the deep end. Three weeks after joining the battalion, I did my first parachute jump for two years. I should have done a retraining course after that time lag, especially as there had been a number of procedural changes in the interim. But there wasn't time, so on the advice of the Adjutant, David Wood, I kept quiet and went and jumped anyway. I think I was as frightened as at my very first jump. The jump went without a hitch for me. But my vehicle and its trailer of medical supplies failed to materialize as its Hercules transport went u/s on the pan at Lyneham. It was this that prompted me to re-inaugurate the scales for carrying all our medical kit with us, in our bergens, when we jumped, and that was to set us up pre-prepared for a manpack war. Subsequently, after a long discussion (and several beers) with David Wood, I devised a new mnemonic for immediate first aid. The standard response to lying on the drop zone or anywhere was to yell 'Medic'. We wanted to engender some reaction in either the casualty or his buddy. To this end we introduced the idea of the character of ABE, the Airborne Medic. By association of ideas, ABE's name would arise. The letters of his name stood for: Airway Bleeding Evacuation. It was a variant of peacetime civilian first-aid mnemonics which introduced a sense of urgency of evacuation out of the area of danger.
With a proposed six-month tour of Belize, we started to run courses in advanced first aid to train 'patrol medics'. These were all part of the preparation for the tour that wasn't to be (not in 1982 anyway) but that left us in a high state of preparedness for what subsequently did happen. I was highly aware of the battalion's recent losses at Warren Point in Northern Ireland, and I wanted our preparedness for any similar incident to be as high as possible.
Six days before I was due to leave for Belize, the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands. I was moonlighting in the NHS, as a locum surgical Senior House Officer at the time. During the course of the Friday, as I went about a clinic, and theatre in the afternoon, I kept in touch by the radio news. As I travelled back to my girlfriend Naomi's flat that night, I had a double take at a sign in Ealing Broadway Tube station: 'All members of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment return to barracks immediately.' But the only message I received that day from the Army was to check that I had had my Belize briefing. I had.
I spent the weekend saying goodbye to friends and was in the bar at the medical school on Sunday night when Naomi caught up with me. My mother had contacted her at work and she had been trying to find me for hours. 'The Army wants you,' she said and burst into tears. I rang Aldershot and spoke to John Holborn, the Rear Party Officer. H. wanted me back for an O Group the next day — Belize was on hold.
I finished off my boozing session with my mates with a different destination in mind. I felt a mixture of elation and apprehension. The O Group the following day served to brief us on the status of the impending departure of 3 PARA with 3 Commando Brigade, and the uncertainty of 2 PARA's position. It looked like Belize was off but rather than redeploy south, we would be required to remain in the UK as Parachute Contingency Force. Morale started to nose-dive. But H. wouldn't have us left out.
Initially, we started to consider the problems of an airborne assault on the Falklands. The logistics and casualty estimates were terrifying and in retrospect not a real option — but we planned anyway. It served to prepare us for a 'worst-case' option. I had to re-equip. All my medical supplies were in mid-Atlantic, container-bound for Belize. This was the situation with most of the battalion's heavy equipment.
I started comparing casualty statistics for previous wars with our projected estimates and ordered certain special items of equipment. The figures again were frightening. But they prompted me to consider the Israeli technique of issuing intravenous fluids to the individual soldier. Initially, the idea was purely to distribute the load for transport to the battlefield, but if the soldier was going to have fluid at the sharp end, wouldn't it make sense to train him to administer it? To this end I spoke to Chris Keeble about funds and we purchased an artificial plastic arm-infusion trainer to teach setting up drips. But siting drips, even under ideal conditions, takes skill and aptitude; not everyone can pick it up. We were able to train some of the medics to site drips, but in the time available to us we couldn't achieve much more.
In the bar (where, in the evenings, so much of the multi-discipline discussion and planning was done) David Wood, Malcolm Jowitt (one of our Para anaesthetists), and I addressed the problem. Why not go back in the history of fluid replacement to rectal infusion — the administration of fluids by an enema technique? We didn't know how effective this technique would be, we couldn't find any really scientific evidence. But it was a technique that could be taught to everybody, and it would at least motivate the soldiers to carry the 1 lb bags of fluid. (If they didn’t think it was of personal use they might ‘bin’ the bags.)
Subsequently, the weight of military medical opinion came down against rectal infusion as being ineffective. But we needed to motivate the soldier to believe that this fluid was for him and he wasn't just carrying the medics' load for them. It is funny now, but that attitude did pervade at the time. One 2 PARA officer had a long argument with Malcolm Jowitt as to why I was making the soldiers carry my fluid for me. The same officer learnt the hard way, after nearly losing his life to a shrapnel fragment in his liver. After Goose Green, everyone wanted his bag of fluid and I and my medics were no longer 'idle knackers'.
Eventually H. resolved the problem of our not being on the order of battle for Operation Corporate (the code-name for the Falklands campaign), so the next problem was 25,000 seasick pills. The departure was delayed for nearly a week, prolonging the goodbyes, and the goodbye celebrations, to the extent of cirrhosis. By the time we actually sailed, on 26 April, we didn't really need the twice daily seasick pills to sedate the battalion whilst the ship settled into its routine, but the sergeants-major ensured compliance anyway.
During those initial days I liaised with the officers and seniors of the Parachute Clearing Troop (PCT) who were subsequently to form the 'red' half of the Red and Green Life Machine at Ajax Bay (the Marines formed the 'green' half). We set up a training cadre for patrol (subsequently to be renamed 'combat') medics. We were to run three such' courses, each an intensive week of training. The idea was to establish a system of 'double hatted' medics throughout the battalion infrastructure. We didn't believe that much 'buddy-buddy' care would be performed on the battlefield. So we had to provide a back-up between front line and company medic — thus the combat medic — one in every ten men. Their training included elements of anatomy and physiology, but mainly we explained the reasons for, and therefore the important points of, the various procedures to enable them to work more efficiently and more effectively.
Apart from my role as ship's doctor, in which I was helped by the other doctors in the PCT, I was busy planning, briefing my brother officers and lecturing to soldiers. Now I had a demanding audience: 'Why do we do this?' 'Why can't we do it that way?' and I, in turn, challenged them, 'How are you going to react? How are you going to carry your casualties? Go away and think about it. I don't have the answer — if you come up with one, let me know.' We made everyone aware of the potential problems and they tried to come up with solutions. We didn't really solve the problem. We started to make up lightweight casualty carrying sheets. To do this we had to despatch someone to HMS Fearless with material and nylon strapping. But we only managed to make up four in time. On the day, it was all improvised using, where we could, teams from the Defence Platoon to carry forward resupply and bring back the wounded.
As war grew more certain, the preparations became more earnest and anxiety levels higher. We started breaking out the issues of supplies and ammunition. From my point of view this included three field dressings, one half-litre of intravenous fluid, and a syrette of morphine per man. We overcame the problem of fragility of the morphine syrettes by taping them to the insides of our helmets.
The cock-up of our late notification of 'D-Day' is now well known. As a result, that night was so rushed that, in retrospect, it was a good thing. There was too much else to think about to let fear get too strong a grip. Before we boarded our landing craft the Norland crew prepared a feast of egg banjoes — fried egg sandwiches — for us. There were two reactions to the fear — some ate none, others ate a large number. I was in the latter group. My stomach will always rule my heart.
My first patient that night was the BBC's Robert Fox. He was hit in the mouth by a rucksack, splitting his lip. It would have been a fine thing for our radio journalist to be hors de combat before we even started. I repaired his lip with some steristrip adhesive tapes from my pocket. I expected to have customers a short time later.
About 200 metres offshore in the landing craft someone had a negligent discharge. We were so tightly packed in, I couldn't believe the shot hadn't hit someone. But we could only wait for the craft to empty. When it did empty, miraculously there were no bodies in it.
We didn't actually hit the beach that night but, rather, the sloping foreshore about 20-30 feet out. The wade in through the icy water of the South Atlantic was to precipitate a lot of problems with feet. Boots, which had been effectively waterproofed, now served only to keep the water in.
Relatively silent pandemonium existed on the beach, where the landing craft had beached out of pattern. The battalion tried to recognize its constituent parts in the dark, and snake out in its projected order of march. I married up with the second half of my team and we eventually moved off at the tail end of the column, where we could 'minesweep' any casualties. The first land-based casualty was a lad named Hemphill who fell, injuring his back and knocking himself out with the Blowpipe missile he was carrying. A good number of the column walked straight past him until someone tripped over him and realized he was a casualty.
In doubling forward to the casualty we had to negotiate a ford in a thigh-deep brook. As luck would have it, one of the medics, Cleggie, tripped and went right under. He was soaked through. We now had two casualties to cope with, or would have two if we didn't keep Cleggie moving. Luckily I had filled my stainless steel thermos with hot, sweet drinking chocolate for just such an eventuality and this revived Cleggie somewhat. At this stage, I didn't want to leave any bodies behind on the route so we pressed on, carrying the still unconscious Hemphill in one of the carrying sheets we had had made up on Fearless. We all took turns at the carry, the Padre David Cooper probably more than most, and as we went we picked up stragglers — the gunners carrying the Blowpipe missiles. The crippling weights everybody was carrying were telling and we were way behind schedule. H. was to admit to me later that he had made a mistake with regard to personal loads.
We kept Cleggie moving to help keep him warm; there was little we could do at this stage about his wet clothes. By this time it was getting to the point of finishing a carry on the stretcher; walking with just your load for a bit, then taking over a carry on the Blowpipe missile. Knackered barely does justice to the way we felt. David Cooper must have made three or four trips back and forth picking up ditched Blowpipe missiles. Eventually, as daylight dawned and we neared the base of Sussex Mountains (the top of which was our destination), I found a suitable spot to leave Hemphill and Cleggie. We put them in a gully, both in the same sleeping bag, leaving the thermos and some signal flares. At lifting of radio silence, we would signal a chopper to pick them up — which is what subsequently happened, Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly their rescuer.
We meanwhile made our way on to the base of Sussex Mountains, having to cross a frost-covered wooden bridge. By this time I had lost count of the number of times I had fallen crossing the peat, but it had all been in the dark. Crossing the wooden bridge it was now daylight, and I provided some entertainment when both feet went out from under me and I went down on my back with an explosive 'Fuck!' This was to prove most people's favourite word for the campaign, and we meant it every time we said it. The initial plan was for the medics to dig in at the base of Sussex Mountains. We were thankful at this because the task of climbing to the top, was just about beyond us. As we dug in we processed two or three ankle and other minor injuries for evacuation to Norland. At some stage Cleggie was restored to us, complete with dry clothing and his testicles back in their normal place.
The first Mirage and Skyhawk jets to overfly us sent a certain sense of urgency to our digging, as had the first helicopter earlier until we recognized the sound as friendly. We had barely got down to our knees in the peat when it was decided to ferry us to the top of the mountain to join the rest of the battalion. This task was performed relatively effortlessly for us by means of a hover taxi, a helicopter, in about four stages.
By now the surreal impressions of the voyage through the South Atlantic had exchanged themselves for the surreal patterns of life ashore. Once established on the ridge line opposite Battalion HQ, we set to digging in. I picked a large vertical rock, about 8-10 feet high, against which to construct a shelter for treating casualties. I placed three stretchers against this rock to form a lean-to shelter; then, covering the stretchers with waterproof nylon camouflage sheets, I used peat blocks to build up a protective and camouflage layer on top. Inside this small area, when we did not have an in-patient, I would sleep. The rest of the lads, including my radio operator, dug in amongst the rocks around.
From the entrance to my RAP (Regimental Aid Post) — my stand-to position — I was to have a magnificent view of the ensuing air battles over Bomb Alley. We had barely settled in before casualties started arriving, proving the age-old lesson of military medicine — 'battle sick outnumber battle wounded'. Predominantly, we had trench foot problems, although we did have one case of heat exhaustion, from a lad in Patrol Company, who had marched too fast with too much arctic clothing on! We also had minor cuts, burns, dental sick, as well as one case of suspected appendicitis.
With the first dental extraction I performed I don't know who was more surprised, the patient or myself, when all went smoothly. Considering I was relying on memory of a half-hour dentistry film, and guidance from the Padre, I was delighted. The second did not go so well. After my local anaesthetic infiltration failed, I had to resort to a general anaesthetic called Ketamine. This drug gives general anaesthesia with retention of normal breathing and airway reflexes; however, it gives rise to what are euphemistically called 'emergence phenomena'. In this case, the tooth came out okay but the patient was euphoric. He decided that he was so grateful he wanted to give me a present, and duly presented me with a live grenade. After we had disarmed him and set him aside to sober up, I largely refrained from dentistry.
Not all the time on the mountains was spent on treatment. We also performed a fair amount of preventative medicine, mainly in terms of visiting the various locations and inspecting feet. We developed 'Feet R&R Centres' where problem feet convalesced before they got too far. It was a frustrating time of relative inactivity for the battalion but, nevertheless, a busy time for David Cooper and myself. The Padre and the Doctor moved nearly everywhere as one, we became almost Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a pattern that was to remain for the rest of the campaign. I was to find David a tower of strength and whilst not being a religious man myself, I respected David's strong faith. As Christ said of Peter, 'Upon this rock I will build my church'; David Cooper was the rock upon which I built my Regimental Aid Post. What follows are extracts taken from my diary, with subsequent amendments.
Tuesday, 25 May
Last night David Cooper and I made our way across to Battalion HQ after the evening stand-to. Not least of the dangers was that we had to cross the valley, from the top of which was aimed one of D Company's machine guns. (D Company had already shot up the RAP once during over-enthusiastic anti-aircraft fire.) We had to warn everyone before we left that we were coming, so we weren't shot by mistake.
There had been reports of Argentinian 'special forces' patrols in the area and as we crossed the valley we heard noises and movement. We went to ground briefly and then made a beeline for Battalion HQ.
Shortly after, all hell broke loose down in the valley with D Company's machine gun opening up and flares and automatic fire further down the valley, nearer A Company's position. A lot of rounds were expended but, in the light of day, there were no Argie bodies — had they been there, or had it been a friendly patrol?
Today a flight of Argentinian A4s (Skyhawks) came in, and the Sir Galahad came in for quite a pounding and, maybe, a close miss with a bomb. One A4 at least was hit. A pilot ejected and was captured. The Rapier again failed to work.
B Company had eight cases of trench foot for evacuation.
Wednesday, 26 May
This morning we tabbed down to the mortar line, so that I could manipulate a frozen shoulder. When we tabbed back up the hill, at 17:00, we were told we were off for Darwin tonight. Two days before, when a similar foray was cancelled at the last minute, I had had to make a difficult decision about which men to leave behind. Not so this time, as the whole battalion would be involved.
Frantic repacking again, stripping down our bergens to the minimum (about 60 lbs), we tabbed off at an horrific pace, which eventually settled down when one of A Company collapsed. I left Cleggie with him, and the rest of us tabbed on to Camilla Creek House. Six hours and fourteen kilometres.
During that tab, in the darkness, across a largely peat terrain, many people fell. Some of us repetitively. Those with heavier weight fared worse.
At one stage, whilst negotiating a rut in a track, I turned my ankle quite severely and felt something go. The air turned blue, and my ankle would have been the same colour, I am sure, if I had taken my boot off. But I knew that if I did, it would swell up and I would be unable to put the boot back on again. So I did the opposite, I tightened my lace to give me as much extra support as possible, and limped on, favouring my bad ankle, with the inevitable result that I fell regularly on the other leg, although luckily without such severe consequence.
After a fall what sapped one's strength was the painful process of rolling onto one's front, climbing to one's knees, then planting one foot, then the other on the ground in order to rise slowly with the weight of the bergen.
Finally, we reached Camilla Creek House, in darkness, and moved into an outhouse and spent a cold night. There was not enough space for us all to stretch our legs so we piled them on top of one another in the centre of the floor like 'pat-a-cake'. Then, like 'pat-a-cake', every half-hour one would wake with one's feet at the bottom of the pile, extract them, put them on the top, only to wake again half an hour later with crushed legs.
Thursday, 27 May
We awoke at 9:30 Zulu time, and brewed up. It was still dark. The rest of the battalion did not stir for some time. One case of frostbite casevac'd. Chris Keeble's ingrowing toenail sorted out.
We moved out into the surrounding terrain during the afternoon to prepare for the night, not least because John Nott announced over the World Service where we were. We expected to be shelled any minute, but weren't.
During the O Group, after our first Harrier strike, call-sign 97, Peter Ketley's party, took four prisoners including one casualty. In fact, there were two Argy casualties Peter brought in, both with gunshot wounds to their thighs. The first, a sergeant, had a through and through SLR (self-loading rifle) wound with a fractured femur — he required IV fluid and IV morphine. The second had a submachine-gun wound in each leg with a possible fracture of the right femur.
Both patients were treated dispassionately, with firm wound dressings applied to stop bleeding, intravenous lines set up to replace fluid loss, and both antibiotics and painkillers were given by injection.
None of us had dealt with real gunshot wounds before. I was glad to be able to 'blood' my medics with casualties whom they did not know or identify with. They would find it a damn sight harder to cope with such injuries in their mates. I was proud of the professional manner in which they handled their job, without prejudice to the nationality of our patients.
The O Group was put back until 17:50 Zulu time to allow for the incorporation of information gleaned from the prisoners, and the CO outlined a six-phase battalion plan to take the Goose Green/Darwin isthmus, with the initial fire support of HMS Arrow. We all retired away from Camilla Creek House until start time to make our individual preparations.
The medical plan I formulated was for two medical sections forward, each with a Medical Officer: Rory Wagon and myself. I would leave Sergeant Bradshaw, Private Buchanan and two PCT guys at Camilla Creek to deal with any casualties we managed to evacuate by the captured Land Rover. We retired to the cud to eat and kip down until 02:00. As it was, I spent until midnight trying to tie up casevac details with the helicopter handling teams.
Friday, 28 May
I got the lads up at 01:20 after spending a freezing night in the cud. We brewed up, packed up and moved close into Camilla Creek House, moving off behind Battalion Main Headquarters just after 02:00. Moving with the medical kit divided amongst us, in our bergens, the order of march was myself, Hall, Clegg, Polky, Gibson, Bentley, Rory Wagon, Taff Jones, Hamer, Davis, Hood, Corporal Thornborough and the Padre.
We harboured for about two hours, just off the isthmus, whilst Phase One went in — apparently without casualties on our side. There was a light drizzle, I slept a little.
We then moved, in darkness, onto the isthmus about 06:00, moving down a farm track on which I repeatedly fell, to the amusement of the RSM. My ankle was becoming increasingly unstable.
Around the area of Burntside House we came under mortar and artillery fire, quite close, for about ninety minutes. The peat, as throughout the campaign, damped down most of the blast. At one stage, when mortar bombs started to land near our position, it didn't ease the soul at all to be told by Hamer, my second radio operator, 'It's all right, Sir, they're ours.'
We were also under fire from a sniper/snipers on the right of the track and at one stage a round whistled inches above my head. It was at this stage that D Company took casualties and we were asked to move forward. I was petrified, especially of the sniper, as I was wearing a waterproof, the lining of which glowed white from its snow camouflage reverse. The sniper fire had been quite accurate previously although no one had been hit.
We moved forward about 400 metres, under fire still, taking cover once or twice, and found two casualties from D Company, one (Parr) with a round lodged in his umbilicus, the other lad (Grey) with a suspected fractured pelvis where a round had bounced off his webbing. Subsequently we found this to be only bruising — no fracture. We were again shelled in this location and came across TAC 1 with the CO and David Wood, the Adjutant, who had a shell land between them, without injury. As David said, 'These Argies have got some shit ammunition.' It was the last time I was to see either of them alive — two men I respected immensely.
We then found out about the first dead, Lance-Corporal Bingley, who had been put by the side of the track. We stayed where we were for several hours and treated Mort, who had a gunshot wound to the arm. We couldn't evacuate him until first light. We dressed his wound to stop the bleeding, set up an intravenous infusion and started antibiotics. He did not need any morphine, as the shock of the wound had numbed his arm. Main Headquarters moved in and we brought the bodies of Private Fletcher and Lance-Corporal Cork, both dead. Fletcher had been about to apply a shell dressing to Lance-Corporal Cork when he was shot dead.
About 11:00 hrs
We again came under heavy shelling especially as Main moved in. Shells landed either side of us. The companies ahead of us, A and B, were pinned down. By this stage HMS Arrow had left, our artillery had stopped and the mortars were out of rounds. Things looked sticky and the fighter ground attack was fogged out by weather.
At least the Scout and Gazelle helicopters were bringing ammunition forward, dumping it with us, then, in turn, taking out our casualties. It was about 13:00 Zulu when I heard call-sign Golf 69 on the net — the CO had been hit and was trapped in a re-entrant. A and B Companies had both taken casualties and were also calling for help.
I ventured to Chris Keeble that the RAP go forward, Team A to A Company, Team B to B Company. Chris was busy, I didn't get a reply but took it as tacit agreement. We took with us members of the Defence Platoon and ammunition for the companies, who were running low.
We advanced ahead of Main, with Mike Ford, Colour-Sergeant Caldwell and others. As we came forward, two Pucara came over. They buzzed us and then attacked two Gazelle helicopters which appeared on the horizon. They swooped like birds of prey, and one Gazelle went down. I saw it blow up — I'm not sure of the other, it seemed to escape up the valley whence it came.
At this stage we came across Golf 69, alias Major Tony Rice, and he told us how to get to A Company. The captured Land-Rover appeared — it had previously bogged down in the rain and mud and had been unable to evacuate casualties — so we put the ammo on it.
We skirted Darwin Bay and met up with A Company at the base of the smoking gorse-lined gully known as the Bower. There were a number of casualties, Argies and ours. We first treated Shorrock, A Company's medic, who was shot in the back, then Worrall who was shot in the belly, Lance-Corporal Adams, shot in the back, and Kirkwood, who had a leg gunshot wound. Tuffin had a serious head wound but was conscious and had been for several hours. We almost missed him because he had been placed under a corrugated iron sheet for protection. We learnt Shorrock had been lying in a ditch for five hours! All wounds dressed, intravenous fluid, pain relief and antibiotics given. I instructed one of the medics to keep Tuffin talking so he wouldn't lapse into a coma.
Speaking to Company Sergeant-Major Price I learnt of the deaths of the CO, the Adjutant Dave Wood, and Chris Dent, Second-in-Command of A Company — his wife was a Royal Army Medical Corps doctor. I was devastated. I wanted to cry, with anger, fear and frustration, but there was more work to do. I had to set an example for the others who were also feeling personal losses, perhaps more so than myself. After all, I was, supposedly, more accustomed to bodily violence.
We treated the casualties, and just as we were finishing, a magnificent sight occurred. Four helos, casevac equipped, led by John Greenhalgh, came over the horizon. We had just got Worrall away in a Gazelle but they are not really designed for casevac. We got all our casualties away in due course, and some Argentinians.
Shortly after, Main moved forward to the hillside to our right. Soon after, we came under heavy bombardment in the gully, with shells whistling not twenty feet overhead. The rear slope position saved our bacon. There seemed to be one hell of a battle over the hill and we could not move forward.
There were a few casualties occurring from shrapnel wounds and after cries of 'Medic' we dealt with a couple of wounds on the brow of the hill above Main, until continuous artillery barrage forced us back round to the gully where I decided to go firm. Shrapnel casualties drifted in, the smoke and cordite streamed through our position, doing its damndest to fog us out at times.
We were under fairly constant artillery fire, with rain a lot of the time. However, we were getting stretcher parties forward, and helicopters in, to evacuate our casualties. One lad came in almost in tears. He was okay but his mucker, Private 'Chopsey' Grey, was pinned down, dying on the forward slope with his leg blown half off.
I knew I had to send a medic forward. It was difficult to ask, I felt almost as if I ought to do it myself, but knew that was out of the question. Bill (Lance-Corporal Bentley) accepted the task without qualm. Together with a stretcher party he precariously made his way into the forward slope to Grey. He completed the partial amputation with his clasp knife and was able to stem the blood loss with a tourniquet. They were then able to bring him into the RAP.
Grey was the colour of his surname. He had no veins visible anywhere, he had lost so much blood. I had no option but to try and cut down, with a scalpel, onto one of his veins. He was so far gone he couldn't feel anything. I don't think I quite got the vein but I left the cannula in the soft tissues — probably not in the vein, but at least infusing fluid. The tourniquet had stemmed the blood loss. He went out on the next chopper. Apparently when they started to transfuse Grey at Ajax, as his colour returned he miraculously came back to life.
We kept on dealing with the casualties as and when they arrived until light faded and the casualties stopped. Just as well because the helicopters weren't equipped to fly at night. We were left with three minor injuries — a back injury, a knee sprain, and an ankle sprain. All in all, we dealt with thirty-four of our own casualties and I'm not sure how many enemy.
We worked long into the dark, by which time the battle had lulled. A Company overlooked Darwin and B Company, Goose Green. The battle halted and, as darkness closed in, the dribs and drabs flowed in.
We heard our first of Rory Wagon's team who were still holding casualties. They were expecting a lift out for them but the chopper got lost and their lift never came. Later, when John Greenhalgh heard this, he flew back in and took out their seriously wounded. Prior to this, at dusk, he had, remarkably, taken his Scout onto the forward slope to drop off Lance-Corporal Bentley and to pick up casualties. He had flown, guided by lads on the ground, by a radio version of the 'Golden Shot' —'left a bit, right a bit' and 'here'.
We had brought in our dead, including H., to the side of a gorse bush at the bottom of the gully: a grim reminder of the cost.
David Cooper, the RSM, Roger Miller (the Operations Officer) and myself sat down to try and work out our losses of dead and wounded so that next of kin could be notified. We had to be very careful and delay notification until we had definite proof of death or injury. We knew some cock-ups had been made after the Sheffield went up.
Eventually, when I settled down to sleep on top of a gorse bush, I lay exhausted and frozen, aware that my mind was behaving abnormally. It was as if it had reached sensory overload. Although the fighting had stopped, I was interpreting the rustle of my space blanket (my sole covering) as machine-gun fire, the crackling of burning gorse as artillery.
Yet one part of my mind was functioning and was able to recognize this. It wondered if I was cracking up. But nature can be very kind, and very quickly I fell into an exhausted sleep, not to stir until dawn. When I awoke, I was cold. I couldn't feel my feet at first. But then early physiotherapy for ankle injuries is ice treatment, so I suppose nature had spontaneously treated my injury. I still refrained from removing my boot.
Saturday, 29 May
Dawn broke at 11:00 Zulu time and as there were no further casualties at that stage I stayed in my space blanket in my bush. Chris Keeble, now commanding, came round and explained his plan. Two Argentine warrant officers had been returned — one to Darwin, one to Goose Green —having been told that there were two possible courses of action: 1) they surrender; 2) military action to level both settlements. Chris had laid on a mortar, gunnery and fighter ground attack demonstration. It was not needed. They chose the former option.
During the negotiations, we dealt with the remaining Argentine wounded and prisoners who lay at the bottom of the gully, next to the burning gorse. Many different wounds but little noise. One spoke a little English. As I put a drip up, he said, 'Why you treat me?' God knows what they'd been told of us.
They were such a pathetic group that even though we had not eaten properly ourselves for twenty-four hours many of us (not just medics) dug into our pockets and found whatever glucose sweets or biscuits we had to hand to hungry fingers.
We moved their wounded out and shortly afterwards Team B were choppered into our position, only to move on to Goose Green. Because we had been on the central axis, most of the casualties had come to us. Team B had dealt with about seven casualties from B Company, two of which were near fatal. They had had problems with communications and had not been able to get a helicopter for nearly fourteen hours. But all the wounded survived.
A television news crew choppered in and tried to film the tragic spectacle of our dead. I sent Bill to see them off. We soon processed the remaining Argentinians and then packed ourselves to move on to Goose Green, pausing briefly for an historic photograph.
We'd thought during the night that another officer, Peter Kennedy, was dead - he was missing. But he wandered through the RAP having lain up all night after procuring the Argentinian flag from Goose Green.
However, Jim Barry was dead, we passed his body as we moved down the track to Goose Green. Jim shouldn't have been with us. He had been picked for the Americas Cup sailing team and should have been in the States. However, when the Belize tour was called off he had hung around and had volunteered to come with us when we mobilized. He was machine-gunned in the chest by an adjacent trench when he moved forward to accept the surrender from the trench in front of his. His corporal was killed in the same incident.
As we moved into Goose Green, the population were out to greet us with cheering, food, and drink. A seven-year-old offered me a bottle of vodka. I deferred, but took a sip of Fanta instead from her friend. Hank, one of my medics (a Scotsman), was not so reticent with a bottle of Scotch!
We set up the RAP in the eating house for the sheep-shearing station. We moved into the warmth of civilized habitation for the first time since coming ashore. It was almost uncomfortable after so long outdoors. The lads settled in and we cleaned up. One or two minor injuries appeared for treatment. We all had a beer and brooded amongst ourselves. The boss's death was announced on the World News. We worried what our families would make of it.
Sunday, 30 May
We all got up, lateish for us, at midday. After cleaning up ourselves and the building we started to process our lads - mainly feet problems. I made myself temporarily unpopular by insisting that everyone who reported sick must first wash and shave, utilizing captured Argentinian razors and soap.
We had an Argy with gangrene on the foot, still alive after thirty-six hours on the battlefield. He was duly treated and despatched by helicopter to Ajax Bay.
I sorted out one or two minor shrapnel wounds by excising dead tissue under local anaesthetic. The wounds were then dressed for closure in two or three days.
Fifteen of us travelled to Ajax Bay in a Wessex, to what we thought was a memorial service for Lt-Col H. It turned out to be the funeral of all our dead. At least David Cooper presided. At present the policy is that this is the final burial but we are determined that this will not be so. As H. said, 'We will take all our dead home with us.'
Monday, 31 May
Having spent last night in the house across the way and frozen, I decided to move back into the RAP for warmth. Just as well because the civvies wanted to move back into one room of their house.
It now seems definite we go back under command of 5 Brigade. Although they say at present that we won't be garrison force. Time will tell.
Apparently there is mail on the island but Brigade have lost it. At least we are now able to contact Brigade on the radio. Two more Argies were found alive on the battlefield, one I treated at the RAP, the other I treated at the site of his wounds. I flew out there by Scout.
The gully was still smoking - it was eerie to fly over the land where there'd been so much violence. The Argentine had been found in a trench under a body. He had a gunshot wound through the left eye and a gunshot wound through the leg. Both wounds showed signs of gangrene. He had a raging fever. His wounds and the cold had produced a strange symbiosis. The cold had stopped his gangrene from spreading and the fever had kept him alive.
I set up a drip and gave him an injection of morphine, followed by the intravenous equivalent of Domestos, in antibiotic terms. It was miraculous that he had survived so long, but if he'd come this far.... Then, having splinted his wounded leg to the other, I despatched him to Ajax Bay. (He lost his leg and his eye, but he survived.)
That morning we had our own service of memorial for our dead, and Major Keeble gave us a briefing on what lies ahead. The other forces seem to have encountered little resistance so far.
There is a strange atmosphere - I can't quite place the oddity. It's all due to the reactions of people to the last few days. Even I have been acting oddly and very possessive about my soldiers.
We're now losing a lot to trench foot and other foot problems; I am trying to bed them down locally. The time has come for a move towards normality. The holiday is over. We had a Tom with a fever today. I hope it's an isolated case and that it's not malarial. How many of them have taken their Paludrine since Freetown (Ascension Island)?
Tuesday, 1 June
I've woken up this morning with a clearer mind and a will to re-assert my authority, and get things back to a semblance of order. The operation is by no means over, who knows what is ahead, but we have to get a grip again now.
Mal Worsley-Tonks is the new Adjutant. Although when we went to Ajax we heard that all our casualties were alive on the Uganda, we have had no further news. He is going to push for a copy of the signal, difficult when we're out of communications with Brigade again.
I travelled into Darwin to visit A Company and Lance-Corporal Bentley. He is having second thoughts about leaving the Army. It would seem a shame now to lose all the ground we've made in terms of experience — we must consolidate. I must try and keep him. Bill's performance has been nothing short of outstanding. He is both a born soldier and a very brave man. From the first time we came under fire he stayed cool and set an example to those around him, including me. He has a calming influence, projected not least by his immense practical sense. If there was nothing else to do whilst we were under shellfire in the gully, Bill was brewing up! Understandably, just his presence instils confidence in all those around him and the others have come on immeasurably.
When I got back to Goose Green the mail had arrived and silence reigned. But there was a sudden reminder of the perpetual danger of violent death. There was a huge bang and nine POWs were blown up while clearing a pile of ammo which had been booby-trapped. We rushed to the scene, to find several severely injured and two killed outright. Bullets were exploding in the fire and shooting off in all directions, a potential hazard to those who came too close. Sergeant Fowler of the PCT had pulled two of the injured from the fire itself. Occasionally a charge bag would explode with a Crump. I took the most serious case — he had both legs blown off, one above the knee, the other below the knee. He was in agony with both lower limbs gyrating in a grotesque manner.
With Sergeant Fowler assisting, I found a vein, we gave him intravenous morphine and managed to set up an intravenous line — unfortunately his thrashings pulled it out. We moved him and the others back to the RAP where Rory Wagon and I tried desperately to resite a line. We tried every trick in the book including attempts at central venous lines, but we just couldn't find a vein. After ten minutes we gave up and crashed him back to Ajax Bay. He arrived alive, but died shortly after. He was probably a dead man from the moment he lost his legs.
Later on, after we had moved out the casualties, I was finally able to read my mail. The smell of burning flesh still pervaded the RAP.
Wednesday, 2 June
Finally we prepared to move on. The next move is to Bluff Cove and Fitzroy and we're told we stop there (I've heard that before). I continued to deal with large numbers of foot problems and started to sort out the delayed primary suturing from a couple of days ago. With typical precision, no one knew exactly what would happen until last thing, when I was told to take two medics with A Company. Then, when I was about to board the Chinook, I was told I was not to go. Still, 'flexibility' — we go tomorrow.
Thursday, 3 June
After countless delays, not least showing round the CO of 16 Field Ambulance and two Gurkha Rifles doctors, Martin Entwhistle and Paul Edmondson-Jones, we flew out by Sea King, alighting at Bluff Cove. We had to travel light and leave most of our supplies as well as a few casualties behind. They should follow us by sea, once we are established.
We settled ourselves into the garage with a treatment area in the kitchen. Diane, the housewife, is a nurse, trained in London, who is incredibly helpful. We were given tea and scones — delicious! Having established ourselves, we really just sorted ourselves out.
I met, for the first time, the new CO, Lt-Col David Chaundler, who parachuted into the sea from a Hercules. I reserve judgement on him for the moment. I have too vivid memories of H. We had a briefing on what the folks back home think of 2 PARA. They obviously reckon we're pretty shit hot.
Friday, 4 June
Having set up the RAP in the kitchen, I moved off with the CO, RSM Simpson, Tony Rice and Colour-Sergeant Caldwell to Fitzroy. We were driven to the downed Fitzroy bridge by tractor, as the helos weren't flying. We ended up doing a shuffle-bar stint across the struts of the bridge. (Shades of 'P' Company.)
In Fitzroy I examined all of B Company's feet —still large numbers of u/s feet, approximately six per platoon. We will have to arrange for rest and foot care. Most of these feet will respond to rest, elevation, warmth and simple hygiene measures, supplemented, where necessary, by painkillers. However, all will be more susceptible in future to a recurrence of trench foot.
The civilians again treated us to the tea treatment. It's so nice to be nearly civilized at times. We ended up tabbing back - quite a refreshing hike. I've lost count of the number of miles we must have tabbed in total.
When we arrived back I did a bit of minor surgery on Col-Sgt Caldwell's foot. He had a low-velocity missile wound to the outer side of his big toe, just missing the bone. We couldn't evacuate him because the helicopters were still not playing. We therefore cleared the kitchen table and I borrowed a knitting needle from Di, to use as a probe. I infiltrated the wound with local and gave Caldwell a shot of Valium and pethidine intravenously (he obviously enjoyed the experience). He didn't enjoy what followed.
I donned a pair of gloves and cleaned the entry and exit wounds. Then I passed the now sterilized knitting needle through the wound track, so that it demonstrated the wound track and projected from entry and exit wounds. Using a scalpel I incised down onto the needle, so opening the wound track. It was then a fairly simple, although somewhat painful (for Colour Caldwell), procedure to incise the dead tissue and dress the wound open. I will close the wound (if that is possible) in three or four days.
Diane was super - giving us steaks this afternoon. A beautiful mutton steak, the best I've had and the first fresh rations for ages.
The O Group didn't offer much further information - although the CO and I did decide to move Team B to Fitzroy to man an R & R Centre for recuperation of foot problems.
Tonight, as we were bedding ourselves down in the garage, we could hear the Argentinian big guns, the 155s, probing the areas around Stanley. We weren't sure whether we were in range and were all a bit apprehensive.
Just as we were about to switch off the light, I noticed there were an awful lot of flies buzzing around it and remarked, 'Someone better go shit in the corner or the flies will have nowhere to go to.' Polky either liked my joke or was just plain nervous, he chuckled on for about fifteen minutes.
Saturday, 5 June
I did the rounds again this morning with the CO, this time with a bit more style, by Gazelle helicopter.
After despatching Team B to Fitzroy, I proceeded to visit D Company and still beat B to Fitzroy.
I was even back by lunchtime, although there was no lunch. No rations had come in as yet. There wasn't even any water because the Blues and Royals came through in their Scorpions last night and drove over the water pipes. But Di cooked us some chops so we ate well on meat again. Then the rations came in, but there was still no water to cook them (the only problem with dried rations).
Sunday, 6 June
Not D-Day, but the Scots Guards landed at Bluff Cove. It poured down and the Fitzroy bridge was treacherous. We moved via the bridge to Fitzroy. Later the whole of Battalion Main moved back to make room for the Guards. Thirty bodies were bedded down in the RAP, mostly trench foot cases. They all lay, in bundles of kit, with their feet exposed and elevated. We were using the Fitzroy Community Hall, which was heated, and allowed us to treat the casualties properly. A lot of the feet were very severely swollen and painful.
Monday, 7 June
Now established in Fitzroy Community Hall after the move yesterday. The trench foot problems have started to improve. The medical supplies we left behind have arrived but some of our kit was taken by 7 Gurkha Rifles.
I had a very exhilarating ride back to Goose Green in a fast, low-flying Gazelle (it had to be fast and low flying - a Gazelle had been shot down on this route the previous day) to sort out the problem.
I had a stand-up row with their RMO because he hadn't taken me at my word about sending for the foot casualties I had had to leave in Goose Green. He evacuated them before I sent for them. As a result, they are lost to us. As soon as they reach the Red Cross ship Uganda, they must, under the Geneva Convention, be repatriated to the UK. Their medics had taken some of our medical supplies because they had made the mistake of being separated from their kit - most of theirs was still on the ship. I suppose the same principle was the reason why I was now having to make such a trip back. But I nearly blew a fuse when they started a 'Now, we know you've been through a hard time but it's all over now' routine. Instead, I calmed down, and took the RMO aside to defuse the confrontation, if only to prove that I was rational. I don't think there was any ill intent. We had been ashore longer and were better aware of the problems of resupply. They handed over the missing supplies and John Greenhalgh arranged to get me back in a Scout. The Scout did well -100 knots with an underslung load. When I got back I found that the advance party of 16 Field Ambulance had arrived at Fitzroy.
Tuesday, 8 June/Wednesday, 9 June
The foot problem is much improved. However, I had a stand-up row with the CO of 16 Field Ambulance. He wanted the casualties evacuated, over my head, so he could move his kit into the only centrally-heated building in Fitzroy. I refused. We were at stalemate and it was as David and I were on our way to the CO to explain the situation that the Argentine air attack came in.
We were walking towards Battalion HQ when we realized everyone had taken cover. We joined a machine gunner in the nearest trench. Galahad and Tristram both went up with a bang. I made my way back to clear the decks for action; David carried on to Battalion HQ to see what he could do. A flash of Cooperism hit me, and I told the foot casualties, 'Pick up your beds and walk. Fuck off back to your companies and we'll catch up with you later.' These casualties made something of a pathetic sight as they trooped out, but they all knew that more serious casualties were likely to be appearing any minute.
As an RAP we are trained to work out at front line so it seemed logical for us to deploy out to the shoreline and leave the Community Hall free for the Field Ambulance to set up.
To this end, we grabbed our crash bags and ran down to the shore. I didn't have my radio operator at that stage, and chaos was all around me. Helicopters were starting to fly in casualties and I noticed a landing craft heading for the jetty. Taking Taff Jones with me I made for the jetty, leaving Bill and the rest of the medics, aided by ordinary members of the battalion, to deploy along the headland. The RSM was there and I was able to allocate priorities on evacuees from the craft and the RSM allocated manpower from the numerous helping hands.
One young lad was burnt and had a fracture so I set up a drip and gave him some morphine in the landing craft before manhandling him. Most of the rest of the survivors in this craft just had minor flash burns. One of the other officers helping out was Captain Peter Coombes, the training officer from the Field Ambulance. He told me that most of the surgical teams' kit was still on the Galahad.
When we had emptied the landing craft he and I decided to take it out to the Galahad, he to try and salvage the kit, myself to salvage the injured. Although we would both help each other where necessary. Taff came with me, and a number of lads from the Field Ambulance went with Peter. The Boatswain of the landing craft navigated the craft in towards the now incendiary Galahad. I was somewhat nervous about sailing towards a potential time bomb, so I lit up my remaining King Edward cigar. After all, one more flame wouldn't make any difference. We sailed in alongside Galahad and it became apparent that, by now, most of the casualties had been lifted off. Peter managed to get over the guard rail onto one of the seadecks but was beaten back by the flames. We therefore decided to make a tactful withdrawal.
Having pulled clear of the Galahad we rounded up the remaining life rafts floating in the bay, one or two of which had casualties amongst their survivors. These we ferried back to the shore. Thus, by the time I got back to the Community Hall, the more serious casualties had been evacuated. There were still large numbers of Guardsmen, though, with flash burns on the face and heads.
As I was dispensing penicillin to a line of Welsh rumps, one hapless Guardsman asked me, 'Is it all right, Sir, if I smoke?' I'm afraid it was all too much for me. I replied, 'You've only just stopped, haven't you?' He didn't quite know how to take it at first but then he saw the funny side of it and I lit the cigarette he held between blistered fingers.
It then became apparent, after the casualties had gone, that most of 16 Field Ambulance's kit had gone up in the Galahad. With the aim of setting up a Brigade Aid Post, I gathered all my lads and all our medical kit back in the Community Hall. This upset 16 Field Ambulance so the next day I moved the lads and all our kit down to the greenhouse of Ron Binney's house, and here we reclaimed and bedded down our foot casualties in a slightly less favourable environment but at least we were autonomous.
We then spent most of the day digging in for an air attack that didn't materialize. In the evening David and I were invited to a Select O Group and we had rather an excellent compo meal supplemented with gin, Martini and pilchards. We finished off with Ovaltine! What ordinarily would have been a revolting mixture was to us a banquet.
Thursday, 10 June
Again no Argy air raid and things seemed set for Friday night. It transpires that we revert to 3 Brigade from 5. We actually had some mail arrive at last after David Cooper chased it up from Fearless. David said to this bloke, 'Who the hell are you?' He replied, 'I'm Admiral Woodward. Who the hell are you?' David answered, 'I'm 2 PARA's Padre, and where's our bloody mail?' It was traced and turned up at Bluff Cove. I had two letters and a card from Podge and Den and a letter from Dad.
Dave and I visited a couple of the locals for a cup of tea and cake. It's quite handy visiting with the Vicar!
Friday, 11 June
The old tension is building up now as we prepare to move at 16:00. Tonight 3 Brigade goes for the high ground around Stanley and 2 PARA is reserve. I have this awful sensation that I won't survive tomorrow, my twenty-fifth birthday. I can't seem to shake it. Even logic says the more times you expose yourself to danger, the smaller your chances.
We were choppered by Sea King up to Bluff Cove peak where we lay up on the hillside overlooking Teal Inlet. I listened to Lance-Corporal Bentley and Private Gibson discuss the satellites pinging overhead, and the conundrum of infinity, 'There must be another planet out there the same as ours — with two identical armies about to pitch into battle. . . .'
Finally, at 23:30, we moved off, laden down like beasts of burden once more, tripping and falling and cursing in the rough ground. Every fifty metres a man stopped to drop his trousers — Galtieri's Revenge.
Saturday, 12 June
As we moved up onto the track round the north of Mount Kent, we could see the sky ahead lit up by Naval star shells and tracer ammunition. The pace was hard and the cooks and the stretcher-bearers started to fall by the wayside. Despite them having lighter loads than us, we found our-selves picking them up, booting them up the arse, and forcing them on. Pushing them made things seem easier for us.
By 02:00, however, we had reached the forming-up point and dug in temporarily. By this time one of the cooks had twisted his ankle and another had jacked, fallen into the mud and was going into exposure. There was no means of casevacing them so I bundled them together in a sleeping bag. With brew lights lit up everywhere, the hillside looked like a fairy grotto.
David Cooper, my signaller Hall and I bundled into a shallow trench to keep warm. At 03:00, when I was up inspecting the 'sickies', Mark Coe and Sergeant Bradshaw chimed up with 'Happy Birthday To You', after first singing to the Padre by mistake. My first birthday greeting.
Eventually, about 04:00, we got the order to move into a position of support for 3 PARA who were having difficulties on Mount Longdon. We were told the Marines were doing well and were on Mount Harriet and Two Sisters. We again pushed forward at a forced pace to try and cover the seven or eight kilometres to the far side of the valley before daylight. The bergen loads once more began to tell.
The airburst shells over Longdon loomed nearer as we approached and the odd shell they'd overshot came even closer. The battalion snaked on. As daylight fell we were stretched round the foothills of Mount Longdon and as the light got up things quietened down enough for us to have a brew. I dug out the last of my Weetabix and had a birthday feast with hot powdered milk.
The World News at 2:00 p.m. Zulu had no mention of the Stanley conflict — it was all Beirut. Towards the evening, OC Headquarter Company, David and myself were called to Zero for an 0 Group, only to find Zero was about four kilometres ahead. We arrived as the CO was putting the finishing touches to his orders for an attack on Wireless Ridge — just in time for a message to come from Brigade cancelling the op.
Mike Ryan and I tabbed back to bring forward the lads of Echelon Platoon and the RAP to a nearer site. Towards last light, together with some attached Marine engineers, we moved in next to a waterfall. After a hot meal, I was about to fall into a deep sleep when Lance-Corporal Bentley presented me with the RAP torch as a birthday present on behalf of the lads.
I survived my birthday and slept deeply — I didn't hear much shelling, little else happened that night. My birthday had passed; I felt a great weight off my mind. Stupid of course, but although more dangerous times were ahead, I was never as frightened as I had been on 12 June.
Sunday, 13 June
We moved out of our location before first light to move nearer to Zero's location, north of Longdon. There had been reports of enemy helicopter activity near us the night before, so we needed to move closer in. We moved in, but not right in, and lay up during daylight in a gully.
Basically, we tried to get as much rest as we could, and a hot meal. We partially dug in, which was well worthwhile because quite a few overs came our way, exploding in the valley and on the far ridge. We were also treated to a flight of Mirages and Skyhawks which swooped over the ridge to the north and made for Teal Inlet and Brigade Headquarters. Only one came back that way.
I really took my life in my hands and went over the top of the ridge to have a shit. During the course of the afternoon we finally had the go-ahead for our previously planned attack on Wireless Ridge. The company commanders departed for a recce from 3 PARA's location.
All suddenly changed as we closed in last light for the move off. A hill we thought was occupied by C Company, 3 PARA, was in fact an enemy position and so the whole attack plan had to be modified. This changed the RAP to a much more satisfactory position (and stopped us getting wiped out, as it happened).
We were rubber clicked on rations though — not enough came for a forty-eight-hour supply per man and one pack for each of us was withdrawn from A Company. But they'd had them for nearly three hours and, needless to say, the goodies had gone.
Two letters even turned up for me before we moved off. One from Leslie and one from Nay, but it was too dark to read much more than the signatures. As light faded the familiar battalion snake reappeared. The bergens were crippling now — the overall mileage was showing.
After about two hours of sweat and slog we reached the new Zero location and dropped off between the mortar line and Zero, digging in next to a rocky outcrop as our own gunners shelled the enemy position. Already two mortar men had broken their ankles supporting the mortar base plates on the soft ground — two more subsequently did the same. One could make the diagnosis in the dark from twenty metres: bang, crack, 'Fuck!'
The snow began to fall as we watched for D Company's attack to go in.
Whereas at Goose Green we had been short on firepower support, Chris Keeble and the new CO had made sure that this wouldn't be the case for Wireless Ridge. Not only did we have dedicated Naval and artillery support, we also had two light tanks from the Blues and Royals. In fact, one of the subalterns from the Blues and Royals was my first casualty with a case of 'hatch rash' — his hatch had come loose and knocked him out.
The Argentines also had pretty good firepower support, including three 155mm guns, but they had other targets as well as us, which was just as well because they could make a pretty big bang. It was one such shell landing near the A Company Aid Post that killed the company Colour-Sergeant and took several fingers and the shoulder joint out of Private Davies, the medic who had replaced Shorrock.
Davies was brought into us on the back of a Scorpion and after treating him we got him out on a Scout. He caused quite a stir when they cut his clothes off — they didn't expect a medic to be wearing a shoulder holster and pistol. After Goose Green we'd all got a bit dubious, even I had a pistol and a submachine gun.
One spin-off from Davies's injury was that the lads knew that I would need to replace him. Two A Company medics in two battles — the post wasn't popular. They all became solicitous of my comfort suddenly: 'Want a brew, boss?' 'Want some chocolate?' As it was, A Company had its combat medics so I made no immediate decisions.
The companies on the ridges between us and Stanley were finding the enemy artillery their only real obstacle. It created problems for us as well. One of the stretcher-bearers who was resting in his sleeping bag near the RAP was injured by a piece of shrapnel in his bag.
We had dug trenches in which we huddled in the steadily increasing snowstorm. From my point of view there were fewer casualties to deal with than at Goose Green, which was as well because the distances involved were much greater this time.
I spent much of my time co-ordinating casualty retrieval by radio from my trench. There were two nets to listen to, the Command net to 'read' the battle, and the Admin net to control the casevac procedure. By now the cold and fatigue were numbing my brain. David Cooper and I were huddled together in the same sleeping bag, shivering.
At times I wasn't sure whether I was hearing real or imagined messages over the net. At least we kept our casualties moving as the battle started going our way. But the weather steadily worsened. The cold seemed to concentrate in my left ankle, which whilst now less unstable was consistently larger than the other.
In between episodes of activity we half dozed, only to be woken by our next turn for the attentions of the Argentinian artillery. As daylight approached the weather improved; at least, it stopped snowing.
The fight was now several kilometres ahead of us. Even Battalion Headquarters was moving forward. We in turn packed our bergens and moved off, by now several kilometres behind the lead companies. It, was obvious that things were breaking in our favour.
We were all suffering now from the extra burden of the medical equipment and, at David Cooper's insistence, I flew forward in a flagged-down helicopter to try and secure some transport for the rest.
As I walked up to Main Headquarters on the ridge overlooking Stanley and saw the unimpressive capital for the first time, the message came over the radio that the surrender had been made. I heard the message and as the others rejoiced I wandered off to be on my own. As I looked down onto Stanley the tears and sobs welled up. The relief uncapped all the pent-up frustration and suppressed grief; it was finally the time for self-indulgence.
As I regained my composure, I gained a new lease of energy, as did the lads when they arrived shortly afterwards. It was with a tremendous sense of elation and absence of fatigue that we finally made our way down the last ridge and down the road into Stanley.
Now there would be the paperwork to do.
Reproduced by kind permission of Max ArthurRead More