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.

Monday 7 May 2018

What has happened to our great Party, how have we let it become a home to anti-Semitism

Even some on the left, such as Owen Jones are now admitting that our party, the Labour Party has an anti-Semitism problem and as Owen sates maybe a bigger problem is that many on the left will accuse those of standing up to the anti-Semites as 'exaggerating' the problem, 'making it up' or it is being weaponised as a tool to defeat Corbyn.

2 weeks before the election, I accompanied over 200 young people from the East of England on a one day trip to Poland, to visit Auschwitz.

The visit is moving, emotional, thought provoking - but it also made me very angry - anger at that our party has become a safe haven for holocaust deniers and Jew haters. It was sad that I could not even write this post till after the local election as I would have been accused by some in my own party of harming our election chances, of making a slur against the peace loving, friendly uncle Jeremy Corbyn.

In Poland, it was also interesting to visit the town of Oswiecim, to learn how the non Jews of the town reacted when their neighbours and friends were rounded up by the  Germans in 1939, and also to see how the Poles are dealing with their party in the holocaust - and I would say, they are not dealing with it very well. Auschwitz is the name that we may remember but the camp of that name was the place that many Poles were murdered, priests, homosexuals, communists, freedom fighters as well as Jews. Our Polish guide made sure we learnt that but of course most of the Jews killed in that camp were also Polish, but it was shocking to see that Poles and Polish Jews were spoken about as two different sets of victims.

Many visiting Auschwitz, often with relatives who were murdered here are also not ahppy that the Polish Government charge for entry to the camp and that a tourist trade has grown up around the site. However the same could be said of the 'Killing Field's' in Cambodia or even the 9/11 site.

It was in the next village in the camp of Birkenau that the worst crimes against the Jewish population occurred, the murder of millions of innocent people, their only crime in being they were different to others. To visit with so many young people was moving but also gives one hope, and to be selfish, I hope some of those young people become members of our party as I am sure they will have little time for the likes of Livingstone or Walker.

What has this to do with Corbyn, you may ask? Because it is under his leadership that we have become a home for some of those anti- Semites. I am no fan of the current Israeli Government, their treatment of the Palestine people can not be excused, but we seem to have a large number of members whose belief in the Palestine cause makes them unable to accept we have an anti-Semitism problem in the party. Corbyn has always been a supporter of the Palestine people and that is not a problem, however his willingness to listen to those in Hamas at times will always make some feel unhappy with his leadership and as with his other friends at 'Stop the War', support of Palestine and being anti-Israel is just another way of being anti-west, anti-America.

Corbyn is the one person who can put a stop to this problem, not for one second do I believe Jeremy is anti-Semitic , but it his silence that is damaging the party, Marc Wadsworth, in my opinion was rightfully thrown out of the party, but we have had no comment from our leader. It understandable that it will be hard for him as he ahs known Marc for may years. But just a short statement supporting the panel decision to expel him would have sent a clear message to both members and to the Jewish community but instead we have nothing from him and then we have one of his cronies, Chris Williamson promoting a campaign to raise funds so Wadsworth can sue his own party.

Corbyn could also be truthful in saying where the blame really lies with the delay in implementing the Chakrabarti report - instead of blaming the former General Secretary, admit the delay lies in his own office.

Our European MEPs organise and run trips to the European Parliament, might be an idea with a similar scheme from the party, subsidised trips to Auschwitz - each one accompanied by MPs, members of the Front Bench - a reminder (one that should not be needed) of what happens when you let people in your own party turn against others, just because they are different.

I am not a fan of Corbyn and do worry if he would be an effective Prime Minister, but I will still be out campaigning every weekend for a future Labour Government but I will also call him and his supporters out if they do nothing about the growing problem of anti-Semitism in our great party.

Abuse of moderate MPs, threats of de-selection, attacks on Jewish members, trolling by so called left win news sites - all could be stopped straight away if he spoke up - was forceful but by his silence it makes many think this about turning the party into a cult, becoming a middle class protest party not a party wishing to govern for all.

It would be easy to walk away but that is not what I an many others will do, we need to stay in this party and act as a voice of reason or we could be stuck with a Tory Government for ever.

" we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us" Jo Cox MP

Sunday 6 May 2018

Pride in our town

We're on the march with Robson's army,
We're all going to Wembley,
And we're really shake them up,
When we win the FA Cup,
Cause Ipswich are the greatest football team!!

Sunday 29 April 2018

Vote for Sandra Gage - Thursday 3rd May 2018

If you want a hard working councillor who sticks up for her residents - then Vote Sandra Gage on Thursday  3rd May

Rushmere Ward, Ipswich

Saturday 3 March 2018

Have your say on Orwell Crossings project

As the snow started to melt a large team of Ipswich Labour activists were out today delivering an information leaflet to Bridge, Holywells and Gainsborough Ward residents.

The information was not just about the proposed Orwell Crossing but about a public information day that the Tory run County Council are hosting.

It is good news that the County are hosting such an event but you would think they would make more effort to inform residents that are holding such an event, it is as if they do not really want to hear what residents think about the crossing!

Many of us still have questions to be answered till we can fully back the scheme, questions such as:

  • What will this do for pollution and air quality?
  • Will our journey times to work, really be any quicker?
  • Without bus priority measures, what will be the effect on the reliability of bus services held up in extra traffic?
  • Will the new bridge be used by heavy vehicles?
  • Would the money be spent on bringing forward plans for a Northern link road?

I am sure you have many questions on the crossing yourself - if you do, then get along to Dance East on the Waterfront on Tuesday 6 March, the information event will run from noon to 7pm.

Our Labour candidate for Holywells Ward, Ruman Muhith has set up a facebook page for the event, where you can find out more details -

Thursday 15 February 2018

No defence to 'ignoring defence'

Last night the Labour Party launched a brilliant Party Political Broadcast , focusing on the Tories failure to deal with crime in this country, the unacceptable cuts to police numbers. A brilliant bit of the work by the Labour team followed up with similar messages from Jeremy Corbyn and the Front Bench team.

Also this week the party have announced some policies about pets- a popular campaign issue, that all local councillors could tell you - and important to many residents , so understandable why Labour would come out with a policy that makes it easier for tenants to keep pets in their houses and flats. But I do wonder if they consulted any Labour run authorities to ask about the problems that we often have with pets and their owners.

Good to see policies coming out and often as with the campaign on police numbers with good use of newspapers, TV and social media. But there are some topics we just seem to want to ignore.

BREXIT - I wish we would be more Pro EU, or just make our position clear - but I understand why it is difficult and not just because in the past Corbyn has been seen to be anti the EU. Many of our voters, particularly in the Midlands and the North voted to leave, if we came out pushing for a second referendum we would probably lose any hope of winning back seats like Mansfield.

However, there is no excuse for the silence on defence issues from Corbyn and his Front Bench team, again, defence is a difficult issue for Jeremy, he in the past ( and a not too distant past) has been very anti NATO, critical of both defence policy and the British Army and that is without even mentioning Northern Ireland.

 But defence is a big issue, the armed Forces are facing savage cuts from this Tory Government, people are losing jobs and this country is not being protected like it should be. Defence is an Achilles heel for Corbyn, speaking up on it now may help people change their mind on if he could be a good PM - but it seems he would rather stay silent, and not upset his friends in organisations like 'Stop the War.

This is a mistake not only if he wishes to win the next General Election but if he  wants to be seen as a statesmen that people respect, trust and can get things done - not just in the UK but internationally.

Cuurently over 1,000 British troops are deployed to the Baltic states to help defend them from the Russian threat, a threat that is probably more severe now than it was during most of the Cold War. British troops are still in Iraq, helping training the Iraq armed Forces and the Kurds, so they can continue the fight against ISIS. British servicemen and women are also deployed in a number of African countries, helping those countries fight back again the rise of Islamic terrorist groups.

And if that was not enough, Afghanistan is close to losing a large percentage of it's land back to Taliban control - but what do we get from Corbyn?? A policy that will allow people in flats have the right to own a dog!

I understand that his principles and his association with certain groups make talking about defence a difficult situation but if wants to lead a Labour Government into power, he needs to start talking about defence and that does not just mean criticising American foreign policy or talking about the conflicts that Tony Blair took us into.

He rightfully attacked the Tory Government for their handling of the Carillion collapse but he could have highlighted the fact that the Tories gave Carillion control of Armed Forces housing,  so now soldiers, sailors and airmen are not even sure who their landlords are - they are more worried about who will fix a leaky pipe when they are away on operations rather than can they keep a pet budgie.

There is no defence for Corbyn not talking about 'defence'