Gotcha! Your war

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FOR a stranded Blackpool film maker the Falklands experience was as real – and surreal – as it gets.

For a young chap just back from fact-finding in the Middle East it meant a policeman knocking on the door to summon him back from leave and back on board ship as soon as possible.

For others – indeed all – the blood, sweat and tears of the Falklands conflict will live with them for all time.

We featured resort Royal Marine Paul Deacon’s experiences of the Falklands War to mark the outbreak 30 years ago – and appealed for your memories.

Now, as the anniversary of the end of the brief but bloody conflict nears – here are just some of them...

Ian Carr, of Thornton Cleveleys, advanced practitioner with Blackpool Council’s Connexions 16-19 NEET team, was little older than the young people he now helps when he served on one of the Royal Navy hospital ships, HMS Herald, in the Falklands.

Ian’s account of the ship’s involvement has already passed into history – it’s on display in the Falklands War museum in Port Stanley as a permanent reminder.

However, he admits: “It does not reflect the full nature of wounds or individual casualties we treated – but is a reminder of the sometimes forgotten element of the Royal Navy throughout the whole conflict.”

HMS Herald had completed a seven-month surveying deployment in the Middle East in early April, and started leave, when all members of the ship’s company were ordered back with immediate effect.

Ian explains: “Police officers had to locate ship’s company members across the country. On April 24, Herald set sail with medical equipment, extreme cold weather clothing, and enough food to sustain the company for six months. It was stowed in every conceivable corner of the ship.”

The ship was repainted white with red crosses to identify it as a hospital ship. Members trained as a nurses/medics to care for 100 casualties at any one time, under the supervision of the ship’s medical officer and leading medical assistant.

Injured men were airlifted by Herald or Hermes’ helicopters to sister ship Uganda for more intensive nursing care. Herald relieved Uganda of stabilised casualties for passage to Montevideo where buses and ambulances escorted by police ferried injured to waiting aircraft to transport casualties home.

As casualties rose Uganda moved closer to shore which made the ship a sitting duck for air attack by Argentinian pilots who (it later transpired) believed both ships were ferrying troops ashore.

Ian adds: “Herald was the only ship with the ability to escort Uganda into Falkland Sound (Bomb Alley) to evacuate casualties.”

The company slept in campbeds to leave the mess decks free for the injured.

“The reward was to see the joy of a badly-burned soldier or sailor, when dead skin was painstakingly removed by a caterer or survey recorder, that he could believe for the first time that he would not be scarred for life, or to see a limbless soldier take his first faltering steps towards independence with the aid of crutches, and the physical support and mental encouragement from a ship’s mechanic.”

HMS Herald arrived home in Portland Harbour on July 20 to disembark her helicopter and aircrew, and arrived in Portsmouth next day, accompanied by a flotilla of small craft, and families lining the jetty while the band of the Royal Marines played “When the Saints come marching home”.

Blackpool-born and raised documentary film maker John Tippey also found himself in the thick of things after boarding HMS Endurance for a film about Antarctica and icebreaking duties.

His semi-fictionalised account of the experience features in his new book Generally Farting About (available from XLibris and Amazon online). John, who now lives in Kentucky with his wife Sherry, a former Muppet designer, produced and directed a series of short feature documentary films, many with a military or political flavour.

John explains: “I was there with a film crew on Endurance aka Red Plum, a Royal Navy icebreaker, when war was declared. After a patriotic send-off from Portsmouth, the ‘Grey Funnel Line’ (a nickname for Royal Navy warships onboard) arrived in the Falklands three weeks later.

“In the interim we played ducks and drakes with the Argentine Navy. Not easy for a ship painted bright red for optimum visibility in the ice.

“Endurance’s official duty was to survey the area; in fact, she was snooping on the Argentine forces. Not a good idea under the present circumstances. She was not prepared for combat. The captain and crew began to prepare for the possibility of being attacked. This included drills on how to operate the guns brought up on deck. I found myself trying to recall my Second World War experience operating them. Rusty hardly describes it. Not the guns – my skills.

“As with all conflicts, the dust settles but stress marks and battle scars are not so easily left behind. For far too many recovery, if there even was recovery, would continue the rest of their lives.”

Brian Griffiths, of Little Bispham, supported the war effort from home via British Aerospace’s adoption of HMS destroyer Exeter. “We sent music, films, entertainment, knowing the crew would be stuck out there, and looked after them for the duration. We got to meet them in September 1982 . They stayed overnight in Blackpool and we gave them lunch and a tour here.”

Alan Tomlinson of Fleetwood recalls: “As a Merchant Navy member I went to the Falklands in May 1982. I was a 19 year old steward used to passenger liners.

“The ship commissioned, MV Rangatira, was a ferryboat that carried soldiers to the Falklands. It was nicknamed the Green Pig due to its colour and smell. I wanted to be part of the crew for the Atlantic Conveyor – but, fortunately for me missed out.

“On Rangatira’s way to the South Atlantic we were shown how to use machine guns, rifles, and given survival skills. I met several local lads there. My first thoughts as we approached Falkland Sound was this is what we are fighting for?’

“It was a bleak, cold place, but to fight for what was our’s was the right thing to do. There were ammo dumps everywhere, dug- outs and trenches all over the barren land. I eventually returned on the Norland ferry ship via Ascension Island, and then a flight to Brize Norton in the October that year.”,

or tweet her @jacquimorley