Dawn arrived, for the third time, unexpectedly. It was freezing, but a beautiful snow-covered winter scene on the summit of Sapper Hill, as I stretched my aching, whippet-like ancient body in the weak sunlight, and looked back over the smoky distant hills which had been a literal barrier to not only forward progress but actual life. Mount William, Tumbledown, Two Sisters, and in the far distance, Mount Kent. These were granite milestones on an epic scale that had dominated all our waking thoughts and actions for the past months and had just been fought for at the cost of many good men. Now they were behind us, and I was still alive, staring at a sun I did not think I would ever see again.
What a transformation from yesterday; the fourteenth, the day we had expected to lose more comrades attacking this bare feature, with no covered approaches, in broad daylight. But mercifully the enemy had surrendered on the way in to start the assault, and as we finally reached the barren summit the Antarctic winter, that had been threatening us for weeks, suddenly arrived in a complete horizontal white-out driven by an icy screaming gale.
Our first night of relative freedom was spent without our sleeping bags and basic survival kit, again, huddled under an overhanging rock that the enemy had turned into a crude shelter, as the blizzard raged outside. I had sat hunched over our cooker as Robbie, my radio operator, and I knocked up a monster scran. As I dipped my wooden spoon into our shared grenade tin and savoured the awful mix I looked around at my troop in this gloomy, but strangely cheery, feral cave and realised that this was probably my last night in the field with them.
I would have felt nostalgia, briefly, after the countless miles yomped in Belfast’s war-torn streets of high danger, the sweaty humid isolation of the Borneo jungle, and now the empty miles with impossible weights here, ‘Down South’, with this magnificent band of brothers.
But I didn’t feel it. I, like probably all of us, was numb with relief, sadness and shock, still living the horrendous moments only very recently experienced, and thinking of the latest four comrades we had just lost in the battle for Two Sisters.
The sound of a Seaking helicopter reached me and looking up from my internal view of death I saw it approach with our bergans underslung. Then, as relief flooded through me, the unmistakable stench of human waste hit my olfactory nerve and looking down at my jacket I saw on my body evidence of the enemies’ appalling hygiene habits. We had all been lying in his toilet for a night, and unbeknowns to me then, we had another night to endure up here before we could enter Port Stanley and finally get cleaned up.
Up to this point I was quite happy with the fact that I had not had a proper wash, let alone a full shower, for over a month. From this point onwards I felt filthy, which is how we came to steal the Landing Ship Logistic (LSL) Sir Percivale off a sister company . . . but that is another story . . .
To hear this yarn, and everything else that we experienced in the rifle companies of Four Five Commando Royal Marines in the brief but bloody war against the Argentines in 1982, why not come and have a real taste of being a “yomper” this summer (covid permitting) with Dave, Rayson and me, all veterans who were there. Just click on the “East to Port Stanley” banner at the top of every webpage for details, or go to: