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Thread: My Falklands Story Part 17A: White Flags over Stanley

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    Default My Falklands Story Part 17A: White Flags over Stanley


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    Turns out this part was so long I have split it into two.
    Part 17a: White Flags over Stanley.
    14th June: As dawn broke Argentine troops were seen fleeing from the hills back down to Port Stanley, by mid morning white flags were seen flying in the town. At 2100 FI time General Menendez surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore & at 2215GMT Margret Thatcher announced the formal surrender. 98000 Argentines had laid down their weapons.
    15th June: Senior British officers flew to various outposts to accept surrenders off isolated Argentine troops.
    16th June: The MOD announced the official count of loss of British Military & civilian life was 255 & approx 300 wounded. This was an underestimate of injured & 777 wounded are the most quoted. The Uganda alone had treated 730 casualties, (don’t forget Canberra had her share too) performed 504 operations & lost just 3 patients & 3 staff.
    The celebrations onboard were modest; the surrender was expected by then, although just a few wks before when the finale would be wasn’t clear. We held a party onboard & a let our hair down a little (after 3months at sea, there was a lot more hair than a servicemen would normally have to let down).
    The following day we entered into Port William, which is the outer port to Port Stanley. Big ships can’t enter Stanley as it’s too shallow. We met up with the Canberra & apparently the QE2, although I can’t remember seeing her myself. One of our officers was speaking on the open radio to a senior officer he knew on the beach & asked him what the three Hull trawlers were doing, that had passed us heading out to sea as were entering. ‘Very far from home’ was his thought. ‘Oh they are converted mine sweepers & they are just going out on patrol’. ‘Oh, where is the exercise?’ ‘No exercise there is a large minefield just outside the harbour. Good God, which route did you arrive by?’ It was explained. ‘Damn you were lucky!’ We hadn’t been informed of the minefield as only open comms were allowed to a Red Cross ship & this info was designated Restricted. Hmm, who the fu*k from? They didn’t think to tell us in case the Argentines heard there was a minefield outside the port? Wasn’t it the Argentines who had laid the mines? I guess there was no deliberate decision to keep us in the dark on this issue, by then they were so used to not telling us anything, no one thought that this would be a time to keep us informed. I’d like to think some serious questions would have been asked in the house if we had indeed hit a mine, just outside the refuge of safe harbour after the war was over. I guess this was our closest scrape & on reflection one I’d rather not repeat. In fact yrs later I was offered a job to go out to Iraq picking up casualties from minefields post the first Gulf War & I turned it down. One should never push one’s luck too far & by then I was a married man with daughter.
    We were offered an afternoon on the island, our first chance to step ashore since leaving Gibraltar, most of us made the effort to climb in to the open lifeboats & pooter ashore like we were on a P&O cruise. It was strange walking around the town we had just helped liberate. It wasn’t exactly like scenes from the liberation of Italy, France or Holland. I can’t really recall seeing many locals; they all seemed to be keeping a low profile. We found that the only pub, the Globe & Laurel, for yrs the Bootie hang out had been closed to servicemen. Already the locals seemed to be treating Jack & squaddies as they might in Pompey or Aldershot; as a necessary hassle& not to be fraternised with.
    We saw some of the damage to the buildings & a downed puma by the road side. 1982-02-17_10.jpgI went off the road a little to take a panoramic pic of the harbour, just about 15yds up an incline, picking my way around the gorse & broom. Afterwards I realised that wasn’t so smart with small plastic mines scattered at random, I could have come a cropper for the second time that day.This is Government House (note flag).1982-02-17_9.jpg
    That flag had been raised after the surrender by the RM of Juliet Company 42 CDO & my mate, the guy I talked into going down there before the first shot was fired, is the one in the blue beret. So glad to save he survived.Falklands_War_5.jpg

    We made arrangements with the locals & had a large group of children come out the following day, we had jellies & ice cream (can’t believe we hadn’t eaten it all by then ourselves!) & played party games suitable for 8yo’s & matelots. Some of those children still remember that day & mentioned it in the recent write ups this year.This is Port Stanely Cathedral1982-02-17_18.jpg

    We began to pack up our remaining supplies, theatre gear, beds, remaining medicines & dressing & they were flown over to the local hospital that we could see from our deck. It was green with red cross on the corrugated tin roof. This passed the time as we were all getting impatient to get sailing & be homeward bound.
    The Red Crosses were painted out & the funnel painted yellow. We were removed from the Red Cross Ship in Geneva & became a troop carrier. We were to carry the 16th Field Ambulance & the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gurkha Reg home. We only had three patients left, given just a little longer to recover form their recent op’s before they were to be transferred to the airport & flown home.
    One Patient we had was a 17yo RAF lad, with hand injuries. I stopped & talked to him & he asked me how long I’d been in theatre. ‘About 3 months now’. ‘Oh, I only got here 48rs ago’. ‘How the hell did you get so badly injured in that time? I asked’. So he told me his pathetic story. He had just left basic training & was waiting to start his trade training. Because large numbers were need down South to relieve those who had been fighting & man the airport, he was sent down to be an extra pair of hands. The first morning there a Fight Sergeant had told him to go to the top of a hill & collect a bunch of grenades; they had already had the charges removed. There was a pile of detonators & a pile of mills grenades, put each pile into a separate sack & bring them back down the hill to the base. ‘Now can you do that simple task?’ asked Flight. ‘Well I guess so’, said the kid, ‘where’s the hill’. Flight pointed in the general direction of one of the mounts & walked a way. These days we’d say he showed a lack of duty of care, especially to one under 18yo.
    So the kid marched up the hill, collected said grenades & put them in a sack. He picked up a detonator & had an idea. As the detonator wasn’t in the grenade it couldn’t go off. So he pulled the pin & held the detonator & counted down… bang! The detonator of course went off & it blew half his hand off. Now the curious thing from my point of view was that it didn’t blow all his fingers off but the lower half of his hand. He was left with a thumb, index & middle fingers, reasonably functioning; it’s just his hand now looked like a claw.
    Whilst accepting you would have hoped a 10yo could have seen the obvious danger in his actions, letting a totally untrained & unfamiliar 17yo near explosives unsupervised, wasn’t clever either. He looked & obviously felt ever sorry for himself. He was obviously going to be discharged from the RAF, he hadn’t even completed his training & now he was medically unfit to continue. I assume his only consolation would have hopefully been getting a lump sum from the Falklands compensation fund. He reminded me exactly of those firework warning ads in the 70’s. Perhaps if they had continued those, he might have been a little sharper.
    During a boring afternoon, a dozen of us were kicking a football about where the triage area had been. Suddenly (like Radar in MASH) I heard a chopper coming in before the others seemed to notice. We had received 1100 deck landings & 3,111 personnel had been transferred to & from the Uganda but we hadn’t had a flight for a few days. It landed on deck. One of the PO’s told me to go up the ramp & find out what they had stopped for. I climbed the ramp & as I crested the top I could see the aircrew man already out of the aircraft, trying to unload a stretcher with a casualty. I ran over bending low to avoid dipping blades. ‘Ok mate grab the stretcher, let’s go!’ ‘Hold on’ I said ‘what are you doing? We aren’t a hospital ship any more & we have no facilities to accept casualties’. He tried to tell me above the noise of the aircraft that there had been a disaster on the runway, that a missile had gone off & injured many & he hadn’t got time to argue, he had to go back & collect more. I pointed to the green roof across the bay, take them over there’ He said they were already full & tried to dump the frightened casualty on to our deck. By now others had come up behind me & someone helped me carry the stretcher down the ramp & we put him down on the wooden deck. The other guy went back up to collect another & I stayed with the casualty. I carried out a primary survey, starting at the head & talking to him. He was fully conscious & in pain. All the morphine ampoules had been signed back in so his oppo’s had nothing to give him. He had been covered with a poncho & I could see a field dressing roughly secured to the stump of his shattered left leg, which ended below the knee. What I couldn’t see was his right leg. Now I had seen several casualties which appeared to have lost a limb initially but they were lying awkwardly & we had never received a dble amputee. So being positive I spoke calmly (well I thought I was sounding calm) asking him his name & regiment. Blow me if he wasn’t Welsh Guards; weren’t they the unluckiest regiment in the British army? I continued my survey down his body & then lifted the poncho. Do you know what’s happened mate? ‘Yeah, they’ve taken my fucking legs; they have taken my fucking legs!’ I looked at the other crudely dressed stump, this one above the knee.’ Yes they have,’ I replied. I stayed with him whilst they found some analgesia & the surgeons worked on him the best they could.
    The story only made a few lines on the 7th or 8th page of the Daily Mail. There was snow on the runway; the mail bird was due in. A NCO had walked into the mess & asked for volunteers to sweep the runway so the mail birds could land. Never going to be any shortage of volunteers for that task, mail is always worth some graft. Whilst they were working out on the runway a RAF pilot was running through his checks on his Harrier prior to take off, when a faulty missile launched & ploughed it way through the Welsh Guards, like a supersonic bowling ball. It hadn’t actually exploded or we would have had far more casualties, the only injured were in its direct path. We had the dble amputee & several with a single legs missing & other injuries. I often wondered how they came to terms with their disabilities compared with those uninjured during the conflict. The outcome may have been the same but surely it’s easier to accept being injured by the enemy than friendly fire, especially after the conflict is over & you & your family are just counting the days until you arrive safely home in one piece.
    There are servicemen killed & injured in training exercises every yr & they barely make a line or two in the press. It’s not great news & it’s not a heroic way to go but hopefully these days of greater health & Safety awareness & the fact you can now sue the crown, will mean less of this waste of life & limbs.
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    Simon Bolivar: Liberator of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru & Venezuela.

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    Fascinating, again. Have really enjoyed reading these, thank you.

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