It could only happen to the Brits

Who could have predicted that in this modern age Dave and Andy would be fighting jets, artillery, mines, mortars, machine-guns, snipers, and small arms, whilst wearing the same cloth ankle puttees that their grandfathers had worn on the Western Front in 1914? Or go to war in a luxury liner?

On the 2nd of April 1982 roughly 3000 Argentine Troops invaded East Falkland Island and took on 60 Royal Marines. On that day Second Lieutenant Andy Shaw, Five Troop commander in Yankee Company, Four Five Commando, was running out of money, fast, in Hong Kong, after three months intensive jungle training in Brunei. On that same day Marine Dave O’Connor of Two Troop, X-Ray Company, Four Five Commando, was lying in his pit planning his forthcoming R&R, that was due to start that morning.

Thanks to the RAF actually delivering Yankee Company to the airfield of their choice (RAF Leuchars) Andy arrived home after Dave and 500 other commandos had already left. Their reunion came later, on the equatorial volcanic Ascension Island, often described as the biggest ashtray in the world. It was here that all the hastily stowed materiel sufficient to support two fighting brigades conducting the biggest amphibious operation since the 6th of June 1944, over 8000 miles from their bases, was unloaded and re-stowed for war.

On the 21st of May 1982, D-Day, 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines began landing onto the beaches of San Carlos Waters. It had been a carefully constructed plan, defying numerous obstacles, not least being the Argentine Airforce and Navy and the South Atlantic Ocean in wintertime but, as usually happens, it fell over.

Later that morning, in broad daylight, Dave and Andy staggered ashore carrying stupidly enormous loads onto Red Beach, to be greeted by an enemy fighter jet, painted red, streaking low overhead. No one fired at it, and it ignored them. It was a bizarre beginning to what was to become an even more unreal 30 days, in what has been described as “Britain’s Last Colonial War”.

After a week as bystanders, and enthusiastic shots in Dave’s case, to the countless air battles taking place over what was now being called “Bomb Alley”, Four Five Commando was ordered to leave its luxurious trenches and to start yomping towards Port Stanley, over 70 miles away as the crow flies.

The privilege of leading this epic but un-glamourous act of war fell to Five Troop, which meant Andy was now leading 650 commandos carrying well over 100 pounds each, and not keen on walking one step further than was absolutely necessary. Andy had to get this right. Taking dead ground, and numerous rivers and bogs to cross or avoid into account, Andy’s “crow” soon became a meandering slug, with many miles added due to tactical considerations. 

To add to the fun, the MOD also failed to resupply them, due, admittedly, to the enemy destroying the vital Chinook helicopters needed to move the rations and ammo about, and so they went hungry, for three days.

But in the end it was just the cheapest form of transport available, and once they reached the outer ring of mountains guarding Port Stanley the fun stopped, and the real work began.

What happened subsequently in those stark, cold mountains is a tale of heroism, tragedy, loss, pain . . . and glory . . . for some.

But not for Andy. His story is harrowing, and changed the direction of his life, at great cost, forever.

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