By Peter Taylor
I HAVE SERVED in the Falklands three times, each time lasting four months. My first trip was on the merchant vessel St Edmund, later re-named H.M.S. Kerren, a converted ferry which was being used as a troop carrier. We had on board 1,000 troops mainly from 1 Squadron R.A.F., but there were also Royal Marines and some Gurkhas.
We were accompanied on the journey across the South Atlantic by the container ship, Bezant, which held the aircraft - five Harriers for 1 Squadron R.A.F.
The ships' only defence were six general purpose machine guns and the "blowpipe" which was meant to knock out any Exocet missiles targeted for the ship. However, the "blowpipe" wasn't the most reassuring of weapons since, after the loud explosion which accompanied it being fired, there would be a splash in the sea only about fifty yards from the ship!
We reached the total exclusion zone which was an imaginary line 200 miles around the Falklands brought about by our forces to keep any unwanted visitors away. We would wait for days in the tug relief and logistics area waiting for the next move.
I was especially proud when we first arrived in the area and all the Royal Navy ships closed in on us because we had mail for them. There we were all steaming along together united in the task ahead.
We finally received word to steam in and drop our troops off as quickly as possible. We went in under escort of HMS Brilliant but had to return shortly after as news had come in about what was to be the last Argentine air attack when Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram were hit.
We heard about the troops moving in on Port Stanley with great satisfaction and relief that it would soon be over. It was only after the Argentine surrender that we found out that our troops could not have sustained the pressure on Stanley for much longer because supplies were running short.
The Argentinians surrendered and our ship moved into Port Stanley waters three days after. It was a strange experience being there. It was still dark and I could just recognise all the ships in the distance and make out the form of Port Stanley as fires blazed on the horizon.
Argentine uniforms were burned and the prisoners were like ants being marched towards the centre of Stanley. The ships' horns were being blown as if in respect for the dead.
It took me around a week to get into Port Stanley for a look around as only very few were allowed ashore due to the large number of mines which the Argentinians had laid.
We had a look around the buildings first. The police station had been ripped in half by a shell and a pub had been burnt down. The streets were full of troops while the houses were full of Union Jacks proudly displayed in the windows.
After a while a friend and I decided to have a look around the outskirts for souvenirs. We found some Argentine dug-outs and collected helmets, bayonets, belts and boots in Argentine kit-bags. Everything was just as they had left it and the dug-outs were strewn with cartridges and hand grenades still hung up to the roof. We found some books with details on the conscripts and decided it was time to go.
On the way back we came across a barbed wire fence which we thought was stopping us entering a mined area. It was only when we had returned to the ship and handed the books to the intelligence officer that we found out that it had been a mined area we were rooting in.
As time went on we waited for a decision on the last five hundred Argentine prisoners. The Argentinians would not say that hostilities had ended so we did not know whether the prisoners should be taken to Argentina or Uruguay.
Our ship received the last five hundred prisoners and they struggled off from the helicopters, slipping on the ice on the flight deck. They were exhausted but still a few of them had defiant expressions. They all slept on the car deck, except General Menendez who got a cabin.
Eventually we got a decision that the prisoners were to go to Montevideo in Uruguay.
Our tour of duty was soon over but before long I was back again, this time on the R.F.A. Fort Grange.
While I was on this trip I decided to go on a walk from San Carlos to Port Stanley across East Falkland. This took four days and was the original route taken by our troops on their march to Stanley.
It was a rough walk as the grass was in clumps and there were no tracks. Every so often ankles would get twisted. This sort of terrain persisted all the way and the climate changed so often with hailstones and howling winds one minute and sunshine the next. The closer we got to Stanley the more numerous the war wreckage and we looked around tanks and the remains of crashed aircraft.
It came as a great relief when we finally reached Stanley and it made me realise how tough it had been for our troops to do the same and know there was a battle at the end of it instead of a warm bed.
My third and final trip was on the R.A.F. Reliant and this time I had the chance to walk across West Falkland. This trip also took four days. We were dropped off near Port Howard and ended up at Roy Cove settlement. This time there were tracks to follow and this expedition was made in the Falklands summer which surprisingly seemed even hotter than our own.
Everyone seems to think of the Falklands as cold (probably because the conflict took place in the winter) but it can get very hot as their weather is extreme compared to ours.
We also had the chance to stop at a shanty on this trip, which is an unoccupied building used by the Falklands Islanders when moving their sheep from one place to another. Anyone may use them and they offer the comfort of a bed for the night and good shelter. Best night's sleep I've ever had!
We found the wreckage of an enemy plane on this walk which had thrown pieces of the aircraft as far as a mile away. On finding the main wreckage we saw a Star of David underneath the paintwork (say no more!)
When we reached our destination at Roy Cove we were greeted by one of the islanders on a horse. He offered to have us all put up for the night and his family put me up. They made an excellent lamb stew. They spoke about the conflict and said the Argentinians had been good to them, offering them all a television service. They also told us that the Argentinians were very frightened when they first heard about the Task Force departing. They told me they had nothing against the Argentinians but, above all, they were certainly proud to be British.