The Falklands Ceasefire Plus 60 - The First Penguin Movers
In early August 1982 I was detached from Lyneham to RAF Stanley for 60 days, with Sgt Al Scarisbrick. Our task was to carry on the 'empire building' of the Joint Services Booking Centre HQ Falkland Islands. It was initially created by the ﬁrst UKMAMS team and the Royal Navy and Army movements elements.
We left Brize Norton on a VCIO to Ascension and joined the ﬁrst Airbridge Flight (called 'Angel') for Stanley. The team in situ arranged our accommodation at Port Stanley in a 3 bedroomed (des res) house next to the Kelper Store. Flight Lieutenants Pat McDonald, Nigel Moore and Corporal Mick (porridge fingers) Jennings also arrived around this time. In all there were 15 RAF Movers, including MAMS, and with the 2 Hercules ground engineers life was a bit cramped at 'Ascot Cottage' as it was known, but it was more spacious and convenient than tentage. I shared a room with Brian McVeigh, Jim Rice, John Kilpatrick and Tony Price. Accommodation aboard the Hotel Ships was in its early stages and if I recall correctly, none was available at the time, so it was better to make the best of a bad situation. Apart from the weather, which was the worst I had ever experienced, life at Ascot Cottage was fairly good domestically and evenings were always in-house social events. Maybe we were fortunate with all the different personalities thrown together because the atmosphere was generally very good.
All junior ranks were rostered daily with 'spud bashing' duties and preparing the evening meal from the vast selection of compo and other acquired rations. One of our 'sporting' achievements was to win the Falkland Islands Darts Championships Shield 1982!!
About 6-7 weeks into the detachment, Al and myself were told that our 60 days would be extended to 90 days, and maybe longer. About this time, at a Booking Centre Beer Call, I was discussing the merits of movements with a RCT Cpl who had recently sailed from Port Stanley to Ascension and back on board the troopship MV NORLAND, which had been requisitioned from its normal North Sea ferry runs. He was going on about his experiences and I pointed out "a piece of cake, do it standing on my head, etc ...". The Lt Col of the Booking Centre overheard all this, and in typical fashion bellowed "Cpl Q, you will be taking up Sea Movements duties on the next schedule from Port Stanley to Ascension" !!
A few weeks later l started 4 days of offloading and backloading the troopship, then it was 10 days sailing to Ascension. There were only about I00 or so passengers and very little freight, so it was a relatively easy passage. I was attached to Naval Party 1850 which consisted of about I2 RN tradesmen, an Army RSM and a RCT Staff Sergeant. They all worked alongside the permanent Merchant crewmen. The one thing that puzzled me was the fact that the Naval Party was commanded by a Major of the Household Cavalry.
Initially, it was a bit odd gaining my 'ship's feet' and also getting to grips with a 6K Forklift around the car deck of the ferry, but the bonus for me was having my own cabin, ensuite! Back at Ascot Cottage the one bind for everybody was the use of the one bathroom, where I recall the hot water system could only manage sufﬁcient hot water for 3-4 hot baths a day. On board the NORLAND I was now washing myself silly!
At Ascension it was a very busy time. Somewhere in the region of 700 or so troops were arriving by VC10s from UK. This roulement were to travel to Stanley on the NORLAND. The passengers presented no real problem, once on board the ship they basically looked after themselves. The amount of air freight for the Falklands was stacked all over the edge of the pan adjacent to the Movements section. Due to the small payloads of Airbridge out of Ascension to Stanley, and the demands being met in UK, Ascension was sinking with all this freight piling up, and it was all palletised and still netted!
The Master of the NORLAND was quite happy to take as much of the freight as possible, providing it was non-hazardous. The Heli-lifts were arranged, and over the next 2 days we managed to ﬁll the car deck of the ferry completely. We then returned to Port Stanley. The banter between the Merchant crew and Naval Party 1850 was good fun. After all we were all in the same boat – literally. The ship's Storeman, who was called 'Sooty', was an angler when he took his shore leave. He expressed an interest in my cold weather clothing - in fact, he was desperate to get a set. He swore 'this MOD kit is the best money can buy!' (I'm not an angler so l wouldn't know). He kept badgering me to barter my cold weather clothing for anything I could lay my hands on in the ship's galley or stores. Boxes of frozen chicken, joints of beef, legs of lamb, a crate of wine, 'whatever you can carry off when we get to Stanley is yours, all I want is 2 sets of cold weather kit, one for me and one for my teenage son'. Somehow I managed to persuade the RN storeman to issue 2 sets of cold weather kit to Sooty. When we arrived at Stanley, Sooty was true to his word and allowed me the freedom of the freezer in the galley. I wouldn't say how much we had, but the small Gemini dinghy which took me from the NORLAND to the Stanley jetty nearly sunk. We didn't have a freezer at Ascot Cottage but we managed to get one of the Hercules crew to persuade the proprietor of 'The Upland Goose' to store it for us. We ate quite well over the next few weeks, bountiful treasures.
The weather when we arrived back was warm and sunny. Nearly everyone was in short sleeves. All the original team had by now returned to Lyneham and my date of return had come through - 28 November - and Keith Parker was to replace me. With all the good weather we decided to hold a barbeque in the back yard of Ascot Cottage for my farewell bash. All went well on that night until the weather dropped and we had a snowstorm, and the parachute we had rigged up crashed on top of a few of us and the barbeque.