Thursday, 27 December 2018

A sort of Christmas story - Falkland Islands Christmas 1987

I recently tweeted, wishing all soldiers deployed a 'Happy Christmas' but added , even though they were missing their friends and families, they would always remember with fondness the Christmas times spent away with their Regimental 'family', so here is  tale of one Christmas I spent away from home:

In 1987, I deployed to the Falklands with 'B' Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets, we left our Colchester Barracks knowing we would be spending Christmas, far from home in the South Atlantic.

Do not feel sorry for us, the war was long over, it was their (sort of) summer and the troops were now stationed in shiny new accommodation at Mount Pleasant.

I say shiny, most of it was but the Infantry Company and the Engineers were still at the far end of the camp in what the RAF still termed temporary accommodation, (for most of us it was the most luxurious thing we had lived in!)

Not that we were ever in camp long, spending most of our time either in portacabins at Mare Harbour, living in old containers at Onion Range or on week long patrols across the Islands.

Somehow my section used to get the longest patrols and to add to that we found out that our platoon would be out on patrol on Christmas Day, a 6 day patrol finishing on Boxing Day with a Chinook pick up from Ajax Bay, the site of the Field Hospital from the conflict. The patrol would see us finish at a Royal Signals Re-broadcasting station (Rebro) at Look Out Hill ( just above Ajax Bay) late on the Christmas Day afternoon.

With our whole platoon out over Christmas, many Rifleman decided to carry one can of beer each, to have on Christmas day along with their Army ration (compo) Chicken Curry and bacon grill.

However I hatched a plan, if we were to finish at the  Rebro station, I could contact them and ask them to order a crate a beer extra for the 8 men in my section, it would be delivered along with their weekly rations by helicopter and we would pay them when we arrived. Luckily I knew a Yeoman of Signals from our time in Germany and he put me in contact with the 3 men who lived at the Rebro station, but unfortunately it all seemed too difficult for them and the only beer they had would be a case for the 3 of them.

Not to be put off, I then took walk down to the helicopter squadron, and after a bit of blagging, I returned an hour later with 3 crates of beer, that they had agreed they would drop off at the Rebro station on the 23rd December. Not bad 9 cans a man!

I then went back to our lines, and along with my 2ic, Colin Harlow, we undertook a further study of our patrol route, it was long, over difficult terrain, but we decided to walk a bit further each day so we would arrive at Look Out Hill late on Christmas Eve, a day early.

Completing the patrol a day earlier was more difficult than we thought after our radio operator fell on a rock scree field and had to be picked up by helicopter, he was joined on the Chinook by the local Catholic Priest who has spent the first 3 days on patrol with us, I think he was glad to go as the pace of the patrol had not been easy and our Scouse Rifleman, Billy Foy had many bible questions to ask him each night as the rest of us attempted to get to sleep in our hooped bivy bags.

We now had 6 hours to catch up after waiting fro the helicopter plus the HF radio now had to be carried by the patrol members, but we managed it, arriving at the Rebro station just as the sun was setting on Christmas Eve, We thought the 3 signallers would welcome us with open arms, we may not have been the wise men or even a bunch of shepherds however we thought after spending 10 weeks living in the middle of nowhere and hardly seeing another human, you thought they would have been more welcoming when 7 soldiers arrived. We were wrong- they seemed quite happy just the 3 of them living on their own, they had their Christmas planned and suddenly we turned up!

Ajax Bay

Good news, the beer had arrived and we took over their rest room and made ourselves at home - we even had TV to watch, just videos but they had the complete BBC schedule from the previous Christmas Day, so it was almost like being at home. One of the signallers even offered to cook us fish pie, something he had perfected over the last 8 weeks and with so much fish to be easily caught at Ajax Bay they had been eating his fish pie, twice a week, we decided to pass and stick to our compo Chicken Curry with baked beans and bacon grill.

Christmas cake (carried by me) not fish pie!

We sorted out all our equipment on Christmas Even and then spent Christmas Day watching last years Christmas programmes whilst making sure we got through all 3 crates of beer, the 3 signallers soon disappeared to their small radio room to have their own two beers plus eat their fish pie.

We went to bed happy, knowing that the next morning we would have the small walk down to Ajax Bay and a helicopter pick up to be flown back to Mount Pleasant for Christmas Dinner a cracker and one free beer.

We got up in the morning and said goodbye to our hosts, I am sure as I looked back to the Rebro station as we walked down the hill, I could see the 3 signallers doing some sort of celebratory May Pole dance round the 10 metre radio mast.

For once, the RAF was on time and we arrived back at the airfield to be met by the Company Commander and quickly whizzed away to have Christmas lunch, then it all started to fall apart!

Returning from an earlier patrol - Port Howard Airport

We might have looked a bit smug when we were given our free beer (after having 9 cans the previous day)  but people seemed to be pointing at our section, we wondered why we seemed to be the centre of attention - we soon found out. On the 23rd December our crates of beer (with Cpl Ross written all over them) had been delivered by helicopter to Look Out Hill along with their Christmas rations, what the signallers had failed to mention was that the rations (and our beer) had been unloaded by the General, commander of all forces in the Falklands, as he visited all the distant outposts to wish the soldiers 'Happy Christmas', he was quick to mention that night in the  Officers Mess, to our Company Commander that he had delivered a number of crates of beer ( and had to carry them the 600 metres up the hill from the helipad) to one of his sections!

There are now two schools of thought what was actually said between the two officers, I tend to believe the General was impressed by our ingenuity and Major Balfour, our Company Commander did mention it a number of times afterwards however our Company Sergeant Major, may not have been so impressed ( we had always had a love/hate relationship) as he decided to ban me from every bar in the Falklands exclusion zone, this meant my nearest bar was now on the seafront in Montevideo, and as there was no regular bus/boat/plane to the Uruguayan capital. it did look like I was going to be seeing the New Year in 'dry'.

I did mention that I thought our Company Commander was actually quite impressed in what we had done and this may have been the reason that he selected my section to see the New Year in at the Falklands Adventure Training Centre at Shag Cove. So we spent the end of 1987 and the start of 1988  enjoying ourselves, rock climbing and sea kayaking plus having a few beers, because even if our Sergeant Major was an amazing soldier ( who would reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel ) we knew he had little chance of making it to Shag Cove unannounced. It was as if Major Balfour actually knew that!

Shag Cove was great for us, as the Green Jacket instructor at the centre was good friend of mine Scoobs Ubhi, so he ensured we had a good time. Scoobs was in a select gang of three corporals who had upset some of the hierarchy in Germany, Scoobs had been moved from 'B' Company to 'R' Company, Taff Addison had moved from 'R' to 'I' Company and I had completed the circle and moved from 'I' to 'B' Company. Sadly since that time in the Falklands, Scoobs had died on a climbing accident on Mount Kenya and Taff had been murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I returned to Mount Pleasant after a week, got back in the Sergeant Major's good books and had by drinking ban removed.

So for many reasons, I will never forget that Christmas away from my family.

Of course not all Christmases away were that exciting however I may in the future tell you about the one in South Armagh with the mountain bikes and smuggled biscuits or of Christmas 1999 in Kosovo and the tree lights that caused a power cut to whole of Pristina!

Monday, 24 December 2018

Happy Christmas - 2018

Hope you all have a great Christmas, almost certainly with Brexit, 2019 is going to be a bumpy ride


As we finish 2018, my father in law is being looked after by the NHS - and no surprise, they are doing a brilliant job - seeing how they operate close hand, has made me more determined than ever to keep fighting for what I think is right.

See you all in 2019.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Freedom Poem

At the Remembrance day service in Ipswich today, a number of veterans mentioned a poem, read by a student from the University. For many it was the first time they had heard it however for many it described best what they felt their service in the forces was all about.

Freedom poem
by Charles Province
It is the soldier, not the reporter
who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet
who has given us the freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the peace cam organiser
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
it is the soldier, not the politician
who has given his blood, his body, his life.
The Soldier, who has given us these freedoms.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Our Regiment, our Rifleman, we will not forget them

Belgium and Northern France - 1914 - 1918 - many Rifleman lost their lives, some were never found - we must never forget them, they are part of our Rifles family

We are still losing Rifleman now - not just in combat but afterwards - veterans for World War II, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, N Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan - some from injuries they received both physical and mental - suicide is now one of the biggest killers of veterans - I am not sure any Government will do enough for our veterans, so it is up to us, the Rifles family to look after our own.

Our young people get it

Last week, I took a group of 43 young pupils to Belgium and Northern France, to learn about the sacrifices made by many during World War I, and the simple fact is that these young people get it - they see that war is futile, but for what ever reason when we get older - we seem to forget it - and we learn to hate- as seen by the tragic events in Pittsburgh yesterday.

We are quick to say - 'we will remember' - we now need to act rather than just say those words. the young get it, so should we.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Still behind in the polls- why?

Today the Tory Party seem to be in self destruct mode however they increase their lead over the Labour Party in the polls - why?

Theresa may is also still ahead - by a long in the polls, when asked who would make a better Prime Minister.

So many would then deduce the only problem labour has - is to dump Corbyn as leader - but that is not the solution.

A new leader would almost certainly be one appointed by Corbyn and they would win any leadership election at a canter - the Corbyn support is solid and organised and it may be childish to call it a 'cult' but their behaviour at times does make it seem almost cultish.

Brexit is difficult for  both Labour and the Tories, but Labour are more united on Europe - the PLP, MPs, the membership, activists are mainly very keen on remaining in Europe however many of our voters do want us to leave and voted to do so and Jeremey has in the past been a prominent Euro sceptic so for many of us it is hard to believe he has suddenly changed his views.

On Saturday, almost 700,000 people marched through London demanding a second vote on Europe, a number of MPs attended, thousands of members and many Corbyn supporters attended but Jeremy himself was in Switzerland.

What ever he did, he would have been criticised, however a more sensible course of action would have been just to have a day off in his constituency, but he chose to go to Switzerland and then get the party to promote the visit and his part in the campaign to get Pinochet sent back to Chile. His other action was also to pressurise the Shadow Cabinet not to attend the march.

I fear for the party, not just because of Corbyn, Brexit or even the poor polls but because the way many of Corbyn's loudest supporters used social media to attack those who went on the march, often taking their lead from George Galloway!

Hypocrisy, seems to be the key word when talking about Corbyn and his followers, they attacked the marchers because they were white middle class - I suggest they take a closer look at the majority of our new Labour Party members - white middle class.

They just do not seem to get it, many are new to the party but when you look at many of those close to Corbyn and in lead roles with Momentum, you see the same people who have been hanging round the far left fringes of the Labour Party for years.

Even with may hanging on, Tory Brexit chaos, I can't see us closing the gap in the polls - a General Election would see a closing of the polls but we would probably see the return of a Tory Government. That would be a disaster for the British people, however another coup in the party would only see Corbyn get stronger- so what do we do? We now have to rely on the Shadow Cabinet, John McDonnell and the unions - they are the only ones who can say it can't go on like this - this is not a cult, this is not just about one person - it should all be about electing a Labour Government.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Time for Ipswich to stay strong

"We must all share our responsibility to stop the knife violence- parents, schools, police, councils. Young people need to know that carrying a knife makes them MORE likely to be a victim- we need zero tolerance of knives and maximum support for vulnerable young people"

This was a tweet from our Labour MP for Ipswich, Sandy Martin after the fatal stabbing of Tavis, a young lad from the Racecourse Estate in Ipswich.

Just over 2 weeks ago Tavis was murdered in South East Ipswich and since then the town has seen two further stabbings with the latest incident also in South East Ipswich when a young lad was stabbed in front of diners at a McDonald's.

We have known for a while that we had young people involved in the drug trade that was helping fuel a gang war between at least two groups of teenagers, we had seen the warning signs and we knew action was needed to be taken. Some may say we must have failed after the murder of Tavis and the two further stabbings but the plan we have put into practice is no short term fix, it will take more than a few months to solve the drug fuelled problems that our town is experiencing. It may take years.

The problems we suffer from are not just an Ipswich problem, towns all over the county are experiencing the same issues, villages to cities, all over the UK are seeing an increase in youth violence related to the selling of drugs.

That does not mean Tavis and his friends have not been let down by many of us, education standards in Suffolk are not good enough, aspiration seems a dirty word for many of our younger residents. Academies have worked in some places and failed in others however what is certain is the increase in the amount of academies has seen the County Council lose any close links they had with many in he education system.

But we can't just turn this into a blame game, that wail not help the people of Ipswich, as Sandy stated we all have a responsibility and it has been good to see the Police, the County Council and ourselves at the Borough work together to help in the short term make our residents feel safer but also to put into action plans that will see our communities build up their own resilience and enable them to run schemes that they want which will help them, their children and their neighbours.

Some will see this as an opportunity to score cheap political points or push forward their own agendas, every day I hear people calling for the scrapping of 'Stop and search' whilst others are calling for an increase in it, both should leave the operational decisions on the use of 'Stop and search' to the police, they know more than any of us that in the past it has not worked and that it can alienate a community and that if you do need to use it, must be backed up by very good intelligence.

I am the portfolio holder for community safety so I am very concerned with the situation , I have been working hard to push forward our action plan to combat gang violence however I do ask myself if I could have done more, was I taking it for granted that the problem would not escalate out of control? One local Tory did accuse me of being in control of a 'crumbling' portfolio, the comment was not unexpected, but I was disappointed for our Council staff who have been working hard for a long time to improve community safety and for the last two weeks have been putting in very long hours to help our communities. Most of them are Ipswich residents, fellow parents who are also worried about their own families and friends. I have total faith in them to continue their good work, which will help make our residents safer. they certainly are no part of a crumbling 'portfolio'.

I of course wonder how we have got into a position where young people feel they have no future, I remember joining the army and watching a lad from Priory winning  the Army boxing championship, in the seventies many young lads (and to a lesser extent girls) left Ipswich to join the forces, spending from 3 to 22 years away from the town but returning in most cases a better person and in most cases then setting a great example to their friends and siblings  of what you can do if you get the chance and if you put your mind to it. Unfortunately the forces recruiting is down, the process is too long and minimum educational requirement's means that many of our young people who would most benefit from time in the army will never get that opportunity.

The last two weeks have been hard for our town, but we must stay strong, for each other and for all Ipswich residents, there is an obvious desire for all groups to work together, to regain the trust of our constituents and make sure we ensure Ipswich is a safe place to live a place where aspiration should be something all our youngsters have rather than a word to describe others.