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Simon Bolivar

My Falklands Story Part 15: My chance to join the RMís on the Falklands.

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PART 15: My chance to join the RMís on the Falklands for the final push.
So once Goose Green was re-taken, the move came to head to the final mountain range so Stanley could be retaken without leaving pockets of resistance behind. As the gap between the front line troops & the main Dressing Station at Ajax Bay got further & therefore longer, someone decided a few extra medicís pulled from the Uganda would be useful.

Lt Butters was a commissioned medic (not a doctor), he called half a dozen of the Medical Assistants onboard in his cabin & told he had been tasked with finding four volunteers to go ashore & support the RMís advance. ĎSo whoís up for it then?í He asked with an evil glint in his eye.
Before I left college, a tutor told us the secret to a happy life was to know yourself. Of course however he tried to describe it or explain it, we didnít really understand. At that age you havenít got the experience to use that information but I stored it away by 22yo I knew myself fairly well.

I knew that although pretty fit for a matelot, after the heavy training we did on the way down but there was no way I could have kept up with Bootnecks as they yomped across the Camp, without equipment, let alone with it. If he had said the Bootneck Medics will be going fwd & youíll be replacing them in the Red & Green Life Machine I may well have gone for it. It would definitely have made more sense, after all no matelot is going to be fit enough straight off the shelf but the Green Beret ones obviously would have been, we could have easily done their job in Ajax Bay. Of course we didnít know about them working with the bombs lodged in the roof at that stage. See volunteering is dangerous coz you never know all the facts.

I remembered the advice my maternal grandfather gave me. He was a regular before WWI & served right through it as the Corporal of the Horse in the Kingís Hussars. His advice stayed with me throughout my service career & stood me well. Firstly he said never gamble & secondly never loan any money you canít afford to give away, then if you get any back itís a bonus. He had seen to many men gambling their wages away before they had been paid & ended up being discharged after the war with nothing, he came out with enough for a deposit on a farm. Loaning money to friends easily leads to heartache & lost friendships & why lend to someone who isnít a friend? So good advice there. Lastly he looked me straight in the eye & said never volunteer for anything. You volunteer the day you take the Kingís shilling, thatís enough heroics, keep your head down, do your job & get back safe. For those of you, who recently saw the documentary on the story behind War Horse or have seen the film, will understand what hell it must have been to have spent most of the war in the Calvary amongst the quagmire of the Western Front. Later he was transferred to the machine gun regiment, where he was able to get his own back on the men in Grey who had killed so many of his mates & horses.


So my natural inclination was to keep quiet & let the youngsters crack first.
No one spoke out, which surprised me somewhat; these kids werenít as daft as they looked! So Butters went from one end of the line to the other asking whether we would like to go. The first one said that whilst he would go if he had to; he would rather stay & see it out on the Uganda as he had been part of it since the beginning & really felt he was playing a vital role here. There was some general muttering of agreement. Others when questioned felt they were expected to be more enthusiastic, all said they would rather stay but first one & then a couple more agreed to go. So the remaining three looked at each other & wondered whoíd weakened first. He asked me & I used the first guys answer, we were part of the team, we had been on since Gib & dealing with the burns was training I would never get anywhere else. I didnít say, my wise old WWI surviving grandfather said never volunteer for anything; ĎBilly donít be a heroí as Paper Lace so eloquently put it in the 70ís. Nor did I say I am in the middle of a deep & meaningful relationship & if I leave she might be with someone else before I return.

Then the sadist said ĎOk you two go pack your bags, I only needed two anyway, just wondered how the rest of you would reactí.

So one Ďvolunteerí got away with it & I walked out of the cabin in a fug. I couldnít believe heíd been toying with us in this way. But then a strange thing happened & as a student of psychology, I thought about it a lot afterwards. Suddenly I changed my train of thought, I started thinking well why didnít he pick me? I was the second eldest & most experienced, the oldest was theatre trained so heíd be wasted in the field. Why not me? He had picked two 19yoís, not noticeable fitter & only a couple of yrs out of training. Then I started feeling responsible, I should go in place of them, it wouldnít be fair to send them, to put them at such risk.
I am not saying this so say I suddenly became courageous, just trying to show how fast & how crazy the mind can consider many options, even the very ones that you had coldly reasoned for not going. I worked myself up between thinking Butters didnít think I was good enough, to thinking heíd rather send kids to do a man's job.

Within half an hr or so I went back to see him in his cabin & asked permission to enter. This could be the most significant interview of my career. ĎI was just wondering Sir, why you chose the otherís, when some of those of us staying had more experience? I was stepping on dodgy ground here. Firstly for questioning a superior officer & secondly as he might just as easily have said, 'OK Iíll send you as well', therefore not Ďsavingí anyone but putting myself right in it. To be honest, if he had said, 'I was just waiting for you to reconsider Dove, you were the one I really wanted', I would have gone like a shot. You could say that would have been the perfect lesson in reverse psychology. As it was he looked bored with the whole affair now, ĎI chose to keep you because you are the most experienced, I am responsible for the care we give onboard here, not what happens in the field, you have your place here, now get back to ití. ĎYes Sirí, I replied & walked out. I was switched on enough to realise this was the best possible outcome & any further debate could have landed me on a charge or worse. I went back to my cabin but had mixed emotions about this affair for a long time. I am glad to say the kids survived so no need to beat myself up long term.


The next day as if to bring us all back down to earth, an info tannoy was made. As the Uganda had been a school ship for 20yrs+, they liked to make tannoys at random whenever the Bridge decided something was suitably noteworthy. For example Ďfor those of you how are interested, thereís a pod of pilot whales off the port bow,í was one that stuck n my mind. These always seem to happen when we were knee deep in guts & as the windows were all boarded up, there was now way to take a break & go topsides to see the bloody whales/ dolphins/ penguins. But today was different. I was on the Burns ward & the tannoy was made, Ďfor those of you who are interested, HRH The Prince Andrew has just landed on the Flight Deck with mail.í


I just thought, ah our paths cross yet again you pompous ****, (another story for another time) & got on with bed bathing another miserable Taffy. Next thing I see the two other members of staff on the ward running out. Yes they were nurses but what the hell? Turns out, I of course didnít leave my post but it was reported later; that loads of nurses had run up the stretcher ramp onto the helideck, gone to the side of the Seaking, grabbed the mail sacks & disappeared back down the ramp whilst HRH was still giving a royal wave from the cockpit! I hope that didnít deflate his considerable ego too much. Well the celebratory culture hadnít really started then & mail was king. There was to come a time when Andrew would have the attention of a girl in every port his visited, unfortunately it was Fergie every time!

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  1. butternutsquashpie's Avatar
    Ah! LT. Butters being a sensible man. Good times