Once A Marine Always A Marine

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Falklands Remembered
by Stewart Bratherton

Below is the diary extract from Alpha Company Commander, 40 Cdo RM, from the day of the landings 35 years ago 😥😥

21st MAY 1982

The landing day began early at 2.15 am when we were called to breakfast. By 3.00 the ships broadcast was calling us to Assault Stations. A Company, landing from the four smaller LCVP landing craft, mustered in the main dining hall whilst the remainder of the Commando gathered further aft nearer to the stern ramp. The dining hall was very cramped with over 150 marines all carrying weapons, spare ammunition and large bergans. It was though incredibly quiet. The only noise was the muffled conversation taking place in small groups as last minute messages were being exchanged. Many were smoking one last cigarette.
Adrenaline was beginning to run and then much to the relief of all it was time to be led outside and loaded into the landing craft. These were still high on the davits and yet to be lowered into the water. As soon as we were onboard the winches started and down we went. It was a quite incredible experience. After circling for 5 or 10 minutes the small craft lined up astern of each other and we set off for the two-hour run in to the beach. The passage was a smooth one as mercifully the sea was calm and the weather kind. Landing craft were cramped at the best of times, but that night they were overladen with bodies and, with insufficient space inboard, we over-spilled onto the main deck in front of the conning position.
With 10 minutes to go before landing we slipped out of our assault life jackets and prepared ourselves for whatever was coming next. There was no sign of a promised green light from the SBS to guide us in. We were unsure of the significance of this - did it mean the SBS had not made the rendezvous or was it more sinister. Foremost in our minds was to focus on getting ashore and closing with any waiting enemy. The landing craft made a hash of the next 10 minutes. When still 100 metres short of the beach, our craft suddenly went astern. Either we were about to go aground, or we were heading for the wrong landing point …. then we lined up again and went ahead. We were worried that the extra noise would have been heard and just wanted to get out of the boat as quickly as we could. The wait was driving us mad.

The coxswain gave the order “down ramp and out troops” - however the ramp did not fall! The retaining clips then needed several thumps with a sledge hammer to release them; obviously, they had not been greased and checked beforehand. We could do nothing but wait as this pantomime was played out. Packed in like sardines, no-one could move until the first marine went forward. We held our breath and waited for a burst of gunfire from the shore - but it did not come. After what seemed an age and with considerable relief all round, the ramp finally crashed down in to the sea and we piled forward towards the beach.

Any expectation of a semi-dry landing was extinguished immediately. We plunged into icy cold water up to our waists. The next problem was not to fall over as we were not very stable on our feet. Heavy bergans and full fighting order, as well as being loaded down with ammunition, made movement very difficult in such deep water. Surging forward - instinct took over - we reached the beach in about 20 to 30 paces.

From our beach where we stumbled ashore, the beach exits were non-existent. Instead, resembling something out of a “Keystones Cops Charlie Chaplin” movie, we all crashed into the person immediately in front of us. Our beach assault came to an abrupt halt. Within 15 paces we reached the edge of any so-called beach - what lay ahead was a vertical 6’ high peat wall. Someone took charge and swiftly two marines turned and faced each other with either end of a rifle in their hands. As we stepped forward onto the weapon we were elevated onto the higher ground.

Overjoyed to be free and at last ashore, we swiftly deployed and cleared the nearby area known as White Rincon (our first task). Then at a fast pace we climbed up onto the high ground where we were to occupy a defensive position. I was aware it was not long to daylight and we knew time was of the essence. Further away to our right, but out of sight and hearing, we had no doubt B and C Companies were doing likewise.

Moving over the rough terrain had been painfully slow but as we were to find out it was not much quicker in daylight. There were few tracks or paths on the Falklands and a rough calculation of cross country speed was about one kilometre per hour. Even then it was challenging work avoiding the pools of water lying on the surface of the peat, or at other times trying not to stumble on one of the many rocks strewn about.

As soon as we could do so we furiously began digging even though it was not yet light. Eagerly we sought to get the first stages of some protection around us before the expected Argentine aircraft arrived. Labours were frustrated though within minutes when a very high water table filled our initial holes with water, making them useless.

With a switch of tactics, the men created “sangers” – a low form of walled protection similar to those built of stone in the desert. Cut blocks of peat made an admirable substitute for stone and considerable progress had been made by the time the first air attacks took place.

The first incursion was a Pucara which initially attacked some of the ships out of sight of us in Falkland Sound. This was followed by an Aermacchi MB 339 (from Stanley) firing cannon and rockets at Argonaut which caused some casualties. At about 10.30 by attack aircraft from mainland Argentina arrived. The first strike was by Mirage fighters and with the main attack by Skyhawk and Dagger fighter bomber units of the Argentine Navy and Air Force.

There was a “panache and determination” from the Argentine pilots. They flew in low to avoid early warning radar and often ended up flying below the mast head height of our ships. The consequences of these low-level attacks resulted in ships being hit with bombs that had not had time to arm their fuses, and hence the bombs did not explode on impact. Many more ships would have been lost had the Argentine pilots realised this fusing problem. There was also no real co-ordination in attacks throughout the conflict and had they done so, they might have swamped the naval defences.

Early on that day four Argentine aircraft were shot down: a Mirage from HMS Broadsword; a Pucara by cannon from a Harrier; and 2 Skyhawks by Harrier Sidewinders. Argonaut, Brilliant and Ardent had been hit. Ardent was mortally wounded. The Argentine pilots had concentrated on her and, with a faulty Sea Cat missile system as well as a 4.5mm gun that could not bear on the low flying aircraft, she was virtually defenceless. Hit several times in three separate attacks she caught fire and burned herself out, sinking the next day.

At the end of the first day the RN had sustained damage to all but two ships in Falkland Sound but the all-important landing of 3000 men and 1000 tons of stores had been successfully achieved. As some recompense for the loss of Ardent some 13 enemy aircraft were shot down that day.

 
 
 
 
 
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Another interesting citation which those who served in 'C' Company at that time can relate to.

The Military Cross
Major John Culpeper WESTON, Royal Marines.

On the 12th September a reconnaissance patrol from ?C" Company of 40 Commando discovered a platoon of Indonesians in position on the Sarawak
Border.
Operation ?Stonehouse? was mounted on the 14th September with the aim of destroying this force. After a long and very difficult approach through dense forest and severe hills, Captain (now Major) Weston who had planned the operation in detail successfully positioned his Company near the enemy.
He then led a small patrol to ascertain the enemy's exact dispositions. He placed his subunits for a fire assault. This was less than 70 yards from the enemy.
At this moment two civilians spotted one of our fire groups and gave the alarm.

A very fierce fire fight developed immediately, during which a number of the enemy were hit. The enemy maintained heavy small arms and mortar fire
for some time but were then forced to retreat by " C" Company's accurate fire. Throughout this action Captain Weston who was close to his most forward troops, controlled the fire and the movements of his sub-units with great coolness and disregard for his own safety.

Over a period of four months he has led his Company on a number of operations both on the border and in the rear areas. All these have been
well planned and led.
On three occasions they have disrupted Communist elements and the third resulted in the capture of a group of Communists one of whom had been badly wanted by the Special Branch for several months.

The efficiency and determination displayed by "C" Company on all its operations has very largely resulted from the training and leadership of Captain Weston who although still severely handicapped by an arm badly wounded at
Suez has never spared himself and has set a magnificent example to his men.


"This was less than 70 yards from the enemy." That I for one will agree with!


 

MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
(NAVY DEPARTMENT)
Whitehall, London S.W.I.
24th May 1966.
The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards for distinguished services in support of operations in East and West Malaysia during the period 24th June 1965 to 23rd December1965.
The Military Cross
Major John Culpeper WESTON, Royal Marines. On the 12th September a reconnaissance patrol from " C" Company of 40 Commando discovered a platoon of Indonesians in position on the Sarawak Border. Operation " Stonehouse " was mounted on the 14th September with the aim of destroying this force. After a long and very difficult approach
through dense forest and severe hills, Captain (now Major) Weston who had planned the operation in detail

successfully positioned his Company near the enemy. He then led a small patrol to ascertain the enemy's exact dispositions. He placed his subunits for a fire assault. This was less than 70 yards from the enemy. At this moment two civilians spotted one of our fire groups and gave the alarm. A very fierce fire fight developed immediately, during which a number of the enemy were hit. The enemy maintained heavy small arms and mortar fire for some time but were then forced to retreat by " C" Company's accurate fire. Throughout this action Captain Weston who was close to his most forward troops, controlled the fire and the movements of his sub-units with great coolness and disregard for his own safety.
Over a period of four months he has led his Company on a number of operations both on the border and in the rear areas. All these have been well planned and led. On three occasions they have disrupted Communist elements and the third resulted in the capture of a group of Communists one of whom had been badly wanted by the Special Branch for several months. The efficiency and determination displayed by " C" Company on all its operations
has very largely resulted from the training and leadership of Captain Weston who although still severely handicapped by an arm badly wounded at Suez has never spared himself and has set a magnificent
example to his men.
Major Weston was one I have no hesitation describing as an Officer and Gentleman. A collector of snakes, once cleared a grot in Kalabakan by announcing that he seemed to have 'lost' one of his pets.
His wounded arm I believe was to attributed to supporting fast air at Suez. The first time I have seen the write up for his MC.  A few things missed out but the "less than 70 yards from the enemy" was so true.
Reminds me of the scene at the start of Gladiator. "On my command release hell". Noted that the Russian quad barrelled 14.7mm at less than 70 yards cuts down trees very effectively. So much for they have nothing bigger than an LMG.



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40 COMMANDO MEMORIAL AND GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE

 

The plan is for a granite memorial to be erected at the N edge of the small lake (outside the Main Galley) within Norton Manor Camp (NMC) to act as the centre-piece for the 40 Cdo RM Garden of Remembrance.  The granite memorial is unique to 40 Cdo RM and is being resourced from a local Taunton-based Coy.  The memorial will sit at the head of the lake and will represent a memorial to those that have passed away whilst serving with 40 Cdo RM - past, present and future.  A wicker fence marks the border of the Garden of Remembrance (currently a small area to the N of the lake) and a number of herbaceous border plants have/will be planted inside the fenced area.  The area within the garden already contains a number of slow-growing trees planted by a number of families of deceased ranks in their memory and the intent is to have a path leading from the garden entry points to the memorial and then down to the water's-edge, where there are two benches established to allow people to sit and reflect.  The intent for Ph1 is to have the memorial designed and erected at the N or the lake, have the pathway built leading up to the memorial and down to the water's-edge and have the wicker fencing spread around the whole lake to expand the garden for Ph2.  The cost of the memorial is approx £14k, of which 50% (£7k) has been raised by a mixture of welfare funding, private donations, Mess donations and PRI funding.  A Charity Ball is being run by Nigel and Sarah Hill at Somerset Cricket Club on 25 Sep 10 in order to try and raise the remainder of the cash for the Memorial (a nice local link to the memorial), which I will attend and brief the guests what their money will be going towards.  The plan is to unveil the Memorial in a Unit event, with local VIP attendance, in Nov 10, on the Units return from Op HERRICK 12. 

Ph2 sees the improvement to the Garden of Remembrance, with more herbaceous plants being established inside the wicker fence.  The intent is to cut a walk-way alongside the lake and provide a pathway that allows wheel-chair access to the garden and to establish further areas for visitors to rest and relax in peace and quite.

Any proceeds received for the 40 Cdo Memorial and Garden of Remembrance will go towards: 

1.    The cost of the design and erecting of the Memorial.

2.    The upkeep of the Memorial itself.

3.    Enhancement and upkeep of areas of the Garden of Remembrance, e.g. purchasing of further benches. 

We have set up an account in the Central Bank to receive and manage any funds that are allocated to the Memorial and Garden of Remembrance.  Cheques should be made payable to ?Central Bank 40 Commando? with ?40 Commando Memorial? written on the back of the cheque.

 

 

Chance Meeting:

2-3 yrs ago at the CTCRM Annual Reunion there was a YO Batch new intake with just 1 week in the job.  My brother & I met a guy who was once, I think, Head Boy at our local Brentwood Public School, during the post-Parade drill shed drinks.  Naturally I gave him and his pals a few quick 'tips' on how to get on in The Corps, ha, ha!  Very soon after wards it seemed, I saw him briefly on an active service TV newsflash from Afghanistan, as a subaltern, with my old Unit, 40, CDO RM....the Plot thickens.......

 

Last Sunday on the quite large Brentwood, Essex Remembrance Day Parade & march past etc, I was white gloved 'Escort to the local RNA Branch Standard' for 2nd year running.  I saw an RM Officer in the background, fully booted & spurred & gave him a nod. Later post memorial service and march, we stood with all Standards as a guard of honour for Mayor & Civic Dignitaries, Lord Lieutenant etc as they entered the (St Thomas) huge church.  I was approached by the then-not recognised RM Officer, literally spurred & dress-corded up ......you've guessed it....now Capt RM Tom Williams RM....staff officer at Stonehouse Barracks to the Brigadier!!...What an achiever already!!!  CGRM material?..who knows?

If that's not a modern success story, I don't know what is   !!! 

Cheers  

Mike Hughes

40 Cdo Assoc Member.

 

 

A Poem by Mike Hughes

'SAD FAREWELL TO OUR FALLEN CORPS FAMILY MEMBERS'
 
T
o the haunting notes of 'Band of Brothers'
Stood in the sun by a leafy glade
Played by a Band supreme over others
Overwhelmed by the sacrifice made

Glint of the bugles and countless spurs
Lifted some heaviness from our hearts
Sad, when such devastation occurs
Memory of loved ones never departs

Calling of Roll by Corps RSM
Prompted the Relatives' fall of tears
How proud we all stood so close to them
Helping to soften their life-long fears

The granite towers overlook the Exe
Reflect the heart-felt senses of loss
Felt in so many Marine Messdecks
As Honoured Comrades lie under moss

 

The loud and clear, gentle Chaplain's voice
Unhurriedly focused us as one
Aware of our Brothers' lack of choice
But in our hearts their praise ever sung

A fitting Farewell on Hallowed Ground
Mourning them all - every last brave man
The Last Post's call - with its stirring sound
Tears at our hearts - as only it can

Mike Hughes
RM 16422
Drumhead Memorial Service
RMA Reunion 2009