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Simon Bolivar

My Falklands Story: Part 8 Let battle commence.

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Quote Originally Posted by Simon Bolivar View Post
Part Eight: Let Battle Commence
As mentioned in part 7, we sailed from Ascension on the 30th May, having covered 4,000miles to Ascension, we only had 3,750 to go to reach the islands, at an average speed of 11knots, all ‘down hill’. We travelled in convoy for protection against attack, specifically submarines once we were within range; so we held every other ship up as we were the slowest & oldest.

Also on this day The Maritime Exclusion Zone was declared TEZ & Ronald Regan stopped Haig’s peace mission & finally sided with us.
The 1st May the first retaliation was carried out by harriers from Invincible & Glamorgan & her group started shelling Stanley Airfield. Three Mirages attacked & caused damage to Glamorgan & Arrow. The first of the Vulcan bombers flew down from Ascension to bomb the airfield. And 114 inhabitants of Goose green were imprisoned for the next 4 wks, under constant armed guard.

Onboard the Uganda we were fairly unaware of these matters as we carried on our preparations. One day I was on deck & saw a Vulcan bomber go overhead, the sound wave was massive & it was flying low enough to look enormous. I know their effectiveness was debated afterwards ref the actual damage done to the airfield & the amount of time it actually restricted flying but from a psychological warfare point of view, they must have had a big impact, sure looked scary to me.

I took to swimming in the pool after work, one of the last to do so as the water got colder. The fun thing was by now we were moving about ‘quite’ a bit & it was rather fun to try & float in the centre & get washed from one side to another as we rolled & corkscrewed about.
2nd May: We heard on the BBC that evening that the General Belgrano had been torpedoed & had sunk. To be honest some actually cheered, some were upset. I distinctly remember thinking, there’s no going back now & it’s just a matter of time before we see losses of our own.
4th May: The Argentines hit back by Exoceting the Sheffield, with the loss of 20men & numerous injured. Suddenly a real pall fell over the Uganda as the consequences of our collective actions sunk in. Some of us knew people on the Shiny Sheff’ & that always makes it more personal. I didn’t but I was to get to know one very well 18yrs later. Bob Chambers was onboard that day & got off uninjured. In 1990, like me he married an Antwerp’s girl & joined the RBL Antwerp branch same meeting as me. He became the Chairman & we have swapped a few drinks & stories along the way.
That night Sindy came around to my cabin & we talked the events of the last few days over, with some CSB. It had been a long day & tensions were building up. We laid down on the bed & I guess there was some mutual comforting but no more, I was sticking to by ‘I am gonna be faithful’ plan.
9th May: The fishing vessel The Narwhale was sunk by harriers after intelligence gathering, one of the crew killed & the rest of the crew taken prisoner & sent to the Invincible.
11th May: The Uganda arrives in the Red Cross Box, off the Falklands, we finally received our first casualties. These were half a dozen of the worst injured from the Sheffield (which had just sunk whilst being towed to safety), & the survivors from the Narwhale. I have already written about looking after them in an earlier episode.

The Sheffield survivors had a mixture of burns & shrapnel wounds; one Chief was blinded from shrapnel whilst topside. We thought we have covered all eventualities during our training sessions onboard & I am sure eye injuries were discussed as we had a Captain ophthalmic surgeon onboard but no one had mentioned dealing with totally blind personnel. I doubt any of the ordinary nurses or medics had any previous nursing experience of dealing with the totally blind. It was a very frightening situation for him as he was on his third ship in a couple of days & obviously was going to take a lot longer than everyone else to learn how to find his way about safely. His was mobile & was escorted everywhere. He received a lot of help from the other patients & frankly this probably helped them a lot come to terms with their injuries too; it’s always useful to realise that there are others far worse than you. Frag wounds heal; burns improve & after many surgeries an ‘acceptable’ result can be achieved but the blind can be blind for ever.

<O
></O>In his moving account he tells of his relief to be onboard the Uganda, in the relative safety of the Red Cross protection, been given pyjamas & an issue of survivors kit ( I guess he would have just come across in a borrowed pair of overalls) & most importantly being able to telephone his wife & tell he his was OK. But happy co-incidence when he called his wife, the wife off a fellow Sheff’ shipmate was visiting & he was able to tell her that her husband was alive & well. This was the first confirmation she had her husband had survived the attack & was receiving the best possible care. He doesn’t record exactly what he told her about the extent of her husband’s injuries but at 46% burns, he was one of the worst.

Taking patients down to make their first phone call (often in wheelchairs) was intensely emotional. However badly they were injured, they all made light of their injuries & just spent their time reassuring their families, rather than getting it all off their chest & receiving support from the family; that would come later & go on in many cases for years.


Our phone calls were limited to once a week I think & charged but I believe the patients got their first one free. It was a big advantage over other ships in the taskforce that weren’t able to communicate freely with home.


This patient had received his eye injuries when the Exocet exploded & there were loads of tiny fragments in his eye, some pressing on the optic nerve. In a normal eye hospital some of these would have been removed by electronic eye magnets but as that wasn’t available, the deeper ones had to work their way out due course. He reported finding irritating fragments in the corner of his eye & sometimes his eye being blood shot when one fragment ruptured a tiny blood vessel inside the eye. He did go on to recover his eyesight & from his other head wounds.

We did have another chief who had similar injuries & never regained his sight. He spent several yrs as a guide at RNAS Yeovilton aircraft museum! Later he worked for St Dunstans, the service home for the Blind.

Both of these patients obviously needed a lot of nursing care & psychological support. We had a Psychiatrist onboard, an RMN & two chaplains, several patients reported in ‘White Ships Red Crosses’ feeling significantly helped by the ‘Sky pilots.’


There were some practical issues as well. The ID cards had been put together in the safe on the Sheff & were lost, as well as all the crews pay records. On the Uganda they were given F ident 107 cards which were Red Cross ID cards for chaplains, casualties & prisoners of war. Medical staff had F ident 106 (I think that is the right way around). Advances of pay were kindly given by P&O to service personnel so they could by cigg’s, toiletries, nutty & pay for phone calls.


The wards were filling up & we were now all working watches so there was 24rs cover on the wards. This still meant only 3 medical staff per ward, which was very tight on the orthopaedic ward but crazy when the burns unit over flowed & a new ward was opened in what had been designated as the wardroom. The P&O staff would come in, when not doing their own watches & help out with feeding & bathing patients, aiding them to mobilise & spend time listening to them & generally being very supportive. Some positions were filled with a single person eg The Lab Tech doing blood cross matching, so they were on call 24/7. Luckily we didn’t have any European working time directive to worry about! People slept when they could, where they could & just kept going.

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Comments

  1. PeeJay's Avatar
    Maggie took a lot of flak for the sinking of the Belgrano but I always felt that it was a strategically important blow, it showed the Argentine people what their idiot leaders had led them into.
  2. Simon Bolivar's Avatar
    Aye, as it was sunk outside of the Exclusion zone it wasn't thought cricket to have sunk it but if the USofA had sunk it there, no one would have batted an eye!