Monday, 19 November 2007

Pilgrimage 2007/Fitzroy.

Hillside Camp

Due to our PTSD myself and Eddie Denmark decided that we would rather stay in the military accommodation rather than with a Falklands family, so we were placed in a portacabin at hillside camp. It was clean and tidy and had a shower and good heating. We had both decided that we were not going to follow the fully packed schedule of events. It was a pilgrimage after all and everyone wanted to visit places that were personal to them, plus we were no longer in the army and I had done enough of the `On the bus off the bus` stuff when I was wearing green. The best decision we made was to hire a 4x4 a must in the Falklands due to the rough terrain. It was money well spent and gave us mobility and independence. The two main places in my pilgrimage I wanted to visit again was Fitzroy and San Carlos. I really did not know how I would react when I returned to Fitzroy and the scene of so much death and destruction and the place that is burnt in to my mind and caused me so much personal suffering but I had to go. So we set off out of Stanley and were soon alone on the vast expanses of gravel road , it seemed like driving on Mars or somewhere totally barren and empty.

Behind wheel of 4x4.

I remember feeling my stomach churning as the road signs told us we were nearing Fitzroy, it was similar to the feeling I had when I looked out of the aircraft window as we were about to land at Mount Pleasant. But I knew I could not go back, I had brought my cross and a letter attached about Mickey Quinn who was with me at Fitzroy and was killed by his PTSD last year. I parked the 4x4 up and looked out at the bay and thought how peaceful and beautiful it looked as it should. There was another group of Pilgrims at the monument to the Galahad and I walked up and stood at the rear and tried to remember that awful day in June 1982 (How could I forget) that was the problem. There was several Welsh Guards and one of the sons of a Welsh Guard who’s Father was killed on the Galahad. I felt almost embarrassed at being there, the guilt steaming back, foolishly blaming myself for depriving the young man of his Father. They were talking amongst themselves about those awful events when Eddy said “Mack was on the Galahad” and they all turned and looked at me. I explained that I was the Rapier missile operator that day and told them how they had sent us around on board even though senior officers new our Rapier had a fault with the tracker head. One of the soldiers who had lost both of his legs grasped both of my hands in his hands and told me if was not my fault, this had my eyes filling with tears and was the most emotional I was the whole trip. I fought back the tears, perhaps I should have let them flow freely? I told them that I was placing a cross on the monument for Mickey Quinn and they agreed with me that it was the right thing to do. Mickey was onboard that ship that day with myself and those guys, Mickey was stood next to me as my missiles failed to fire and he watched in horror as I did as those men were killed and horrifically burnt the single worse loss of life since WW2. Mickey did not die that day but he was mentally wounded as we all were and I was going to pay my respects to my mate. After the other group left I placed my cross on the monument and poured a glass of wine onto it. I then stood and placed my beret on my head and saluted. I then walked up on to the hill to try and find my position of my Rapier. I think I was pretty accurate although there was no markings on the ground as we did not have time to dig trenches. I worked out were I thought I was by turning my head to the right and not being able to see the houses in the settlement, I just knew this was the place. I crouched down on my knees and looked out to sea and recalled as I saw the first Argentinean aircraft.

The cross I dedicated to Mickey Quinn.

Monument to those killed on the RFA Sir Galahad

The position of my Rapier 32 Alpha on that fateful day in 1982.

Taken From Watching Men Burn.

The sky was clear and the weak, wintry sun was hanging by a thread somewhere above the horizon. Off in the distance, there would have been the noise of the ongoing battle, but I didn’t really notice it: the only sound was the low chat of the nearby Paras and, closer, the other members of 32 Alpha, the keening of seabirds wheeling overhead and the flap and slap of my smock as the wind tugged at it.
Around 1400hrs, I was tracking visually around the valleys, then out to sea, looking for any enemy activity, when my heart missed a beat.
I could clearly see a Sky Hawk heading right for the ships. Then I saw more.
‘Bogies, incoming,’ I yelled, and all hell broke loose as the lads around me sprang into action.
At this point, I could not hear the noise of the jet engines. Usually we’d receive the urgent message ‘Air Raid Warning Red’ sent by Battery command post on the radio, although on this occasion I don’t remember hearing it. It later transpired that a vital radar system operated for us by Chile was down for essential maintenance work: just another dodgy roll of the dice for the lads aboard the Galahad.
The five A4B Skyhawks were making their way at low level to the large, grey sitting ducks wallowing in the sound below me; the other lads had sprung into action, Bob by my side, more missiles being readied. The Paras were starting to stand up and a few had already begun firing their rifles and machine guns.
I concentrated on the lead jet; I had the crosshairs smack bang in the middle of him.
‘Target, tracking, in cover.’
Bob screamed ‘Engage!’
I pressed the fire button with my left-hand index-finger.
Except that horrible, familiar woodpecker, tapping on a tree in my bone-dome.
I pressed again, and again, and again.
All I got was that tap, tap, tap, drowned out, now, by the screech of their engines, rolling over the water and off the hills towards us.
The attack came and went in the blink of an eye.
The lead Skyhawk’s two 250kg high explosive bombs hit the Sir Galahad and exploded with devastating effect. The second pilot missed, his bombs sending huge fountains of water crashing over the flames as they detonated in the sea, but the third A4 hit the target, adding to the inferno. The air was full of the sound of ear-piercing explosions, jet engines and the unearthly howling of the nearby Paras, screaming in fury at the Argentineans and unloading thousands of rounds of GMPG and rifle fire in their wake.
By the grace of God, the bombs that had hit the Tristram had failed to explode, though two men were killed by them, but the Galahad was already well ablaze; in a twisted irony, she was carrying a large quantity of petrol for Rapier generators and this and the ammunition aboard were a lethal combination.
Soldiers were jumping into the water, their clothes on fire, as others ran around on the deck trying to get off. As the carnage unfolded in front of me, I could do nothing but stand there, watching men burn.
It was unreal, somehow, as though I was at the cinema, watching a war film. I remember looking at Bob, standing up helplessly by the tracker, as the Paras turned their anger on us, screaming and shouting obscenities.
‘You fucking crap hat bastards, why didn’t you fire your fucking missiles?’
‘Twats… why didn’t you shoot the fuckers down?’
How do you explain that it wasn’t our fault? That a fuse had blown, or the computer had crashed, or some 50p pin had got bent out of shape somewhere – that 32 Alpha should never have been here in the first place, and that the boys should never have been left their sitting on the boats anyway? Seven hours spent playing cards and watching cartoons, as they waited to die.
The Paras, and the Scots Guards who were not far away, had run down to the water line to help with the casualties who were starting to come ashore in lifeboats. Many of them were obviously terribly injured. We couldn’t go; we had to stay with our useless sodding Rapier and its pointless bloody missiles and, anyway, I didn’t want to go. I felt awful. I’d been in the hot seat but had been unable to do anything to stop the attack.

© Mack (RG) The thoughts of a Falklands War Veteran.

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  1. Mack..........I can only repeat what you were told...........This wasn't your fault x

  2. Mack.......i know its easy for someone like me to say that......I can't begin to understand how you feel but I can feel the pain and my heart goes out to you, this is an awful thing to have happened to you.
    Sometimes your blog, as well as your pain is so raw........sometimes its helps me put things into perspective...

  3. I know you mean it when you say it and I apreaciate it, you are a good person its only when we grow older that we realise that War is futile.

  4. mack, Nothing I can say will make you feel better. Time does that and in many cases it's much time. I was in Vietnam Thailand Cambodia and Laos. I can't know what you are feeling, but I can empathize with you. Stay well.....

  5. Thanks for the support Tapline.


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