From the time an old “uncle” in Dundee mentioned this to me when I was still a wee boy, the thought has never ever left me.
Son, he said…from the time you’re born and take your first steps, you walk in one direction…towards death.
Sounds horrendous, but he was basically telling me that eventually everyone dies…the one thing that’s guaranteed in life. He was old school, he fought in both world wars, and he was definitely the type that when he speaks, everyone around him listens.
He was aware of how fragile I was at the time, living with dysfunctional parents, doing a lot of stuff on my own, and looking for a way out. He went on to say that from birth to death, the time in between is up to me. Take the bull by the horns son, go with your heart as you’re still way too young to go with your head. You have one life…now go and live it!
Great words, and most certainly at that time…it was the 1960s after all.
I listened, I digested it…and when I was ready aged 14…I ran away from home.
The greatest events that have happened in my life are without doubt the birth of my children and grand children, all of whom I’m extremely proud of. The next line down, are professional events. A good handful stand out from my military career, and from my civilian career afterwards. But given that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War…without doubt for me personally, the stand out military event is something that I took part in while down south that never got to reach it’s conclusion.
At the kick off to the Falklands War my squadron was the stand by squadron. Great, so we’ll be straight into it then.
Wrong! We’re being held back to train for a special mission. While that went on, both G and D squadrons were deployed, and boy didn’t they do well overall. We were deployed forward onto the Ascension Islands, the roughly half way point in the Atlantic Ocean to the Falklands. While there, our Regt down south had it’s worst disaster in modern SAS history…the loss of 20 lads inside a Sea King helicopter as it dropped into the sea during a cross decking from ship to ship. I’ll never ever forget the names of great mates and individuals who were mentors to me being read out. Around the same time, our ships were being sunk or damaged by Argentinian aircraft’s bombs and missiles at an alarming rate.
An SF mission to get eyes on the Argentinian aircraft on the mainland was compromised as they flew in by heli. The mission was scrubbed, and the lads moved on foot to an RV in Chile. Our overall mission to carry out an Entebbe type raid on the mainland was therefore also scrubbed…dubbed “Mission Certain Death.”
At this point, 8 of us from boat troop were given a mission to recce, get eyes on, and report back or seek and destroy the aircraft firing missiles at our ships. Time was running out, and so was the options to turn this war around, we’re close to losing.
HMS Onyx, an O class submarine had moved into the area of the Falkland Islands. We joined it with 2 SBS lads and 2 inflatable engine powered boats. We spent days with the submarine building up to an eventual drop off on the coastline of the Argentinian mainland. We would float on and off the submarine casing and land on islands within the Falklands until we were ready to move onto the mainland.
The reason that this particular mission stands out for me, is because it was headed up by a sergeant, a middle ranker. Every single one of us were totally up for the task. We had limited kit, limited mapping, and limited intelligence…It was also a huge ask, the last throw of the dice, but it didn’t matter. That’s what we do…we go with what we’ve got, and we give it 100%! We were ALL like minded, and we were working as one small cog in a very large military wheel.
After the build up training inside a war zone, we were dropped off alongside a ship and we joined back with D squadron. We did some small ops with them, then from the PM back home, we got the order to move off by sub to the mainland of Argentina.
After a periscope recce of the shoreline, we pulled back and sat near the bottom of the ocean waiting for the signal from the PM to go ahead…it came and now we’re moving in.
Extremely close to drop off, the submarine captain got the order to pull back immediately. The Argentinians on the Falkland Islands had surrendered.
They must have heard that we were coming to their country, ha ha…
It was tough to take. We had been treated by the crew of the small O Class submarine HMS Onyx like lords. With barely any room to move, we wanted for nothing. I would sleep in the forward torpedo hold, as it was the coolest area on the sub. We had boats, engines, our kit for the operation, all tucked away in nooks and crannies within the submarine. It wasn’t just our operation, not just an SF operation…it was HMS Onyx’s operation too.
When the captain reported of the surrender to the crew everyone was cheering, hugging and shaking hands…the war’s over. We on the other hand were gutted. Our adrenalin levels were coming out of our ears. And now, just how do we release those levels without going onto the mainland? We were the only one’s on the submarine not in the mood to celebrate. To be fair to the submariners they’d had a helluva journey. They’d broke all sorts of records for duration at sea for that particular type of submarine. Just before we boarded they had hit a rock, flotsam…or a whale…and 2 torpedo’s were trapped inside their tubes.
So for me, if we had gone ashore…it would have been the smallest invasion in military history…we were ALL up for it. However, fortune favours the brave as they say.
I’ve spent decades reading and listening to what the Argentinians and others have had to say about it. They had 3000 Marine types protecting their airfield and shoreline. Their overall commander was trained by the Brits back home, how ironic…he had guessed the types of SF operations likely to take place.
Even so, sitting here at home about to celebrate 40 years since those days…I would have liked to have had the chance to see just how successful we would have been.
Here’s to those from both sides of the war who were cut off in their prime and never made it back home.
“Born to die” sadly for some it comes early…far too early.