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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Friday, 22 July 2011

In a Flap about Flapper! - 1984

During our tour of duty, we regularly carried out tests (exercises) on our readiness to repel enemy forces, (sounds exciting but isn’t).  At the Combat Support Boat office this meant ensuring our kit and ourselves was up to task and involved inspections of the boats and only once, (thank god), an inspection of our porta cabin by a senior officer and in that instance, a Colonel.  Our cabin consisted of a general area, comprising, desks, seats, a settee, kettle etc.  A door off this room led to the equipment storage room, where floats, life jackets, fenders, ropes, chains, CSB Engine and Hydro-jet  spares on shelves, the usual stuff.  Most was actually on shelving, except for the life jackets which were strewn across the floor.
As with all inspections, a “pre-inspection” was carried out by our SSM and our troop commander (a lieutenant).  We passed with flying colours and that night had a “few” beers to celebrate.  My recall of the inspection was that I and the other 3 guys in our team were all up and about the day of the inspection none the worse for wear.  The same could not be said for Flapper, who had actually gone into town that night and was nowhere to be found the following morning.  He was not in his pit (bed) and no one had seen him. 
The flap was on (we flapped he never did, hence his nickname) as we searched high and low for our Corporal in charge.  Eventually we gave up looking and while we waited for the inspection to commence, one of the guys entered the store room to tidy up the life jackets and discovered Flapper, lying amongst them sound asleep.  He woke momentarily, to tell us to fuck off, but that was it and no amount of coffee or shouting was going to change that.  He was out of it and we were then tasked with creating a diversion to manage the situation and save Flapper from a major kicking and charges.
First off we concocted a cover story, whilst one of us nipped down to the boats and removed various mechanical bits from one of them, the others contacted the stores based in Stanley at the docks to request the same parts saying they were broken/missing.  The story would be that “Flapper had gone to collect parts” and was therefore “not about sir”!  Secondly, we collected all spare life jackets from the jetty by the boats and carried them back to the office and laid them all over Flapper.  This he appeared to approve of, as he snuggled up quite nicely and let out a voluminous and hearty fart and belch combination, which required the windows to be opened and left ajar.
So our story was set and we were soon welcoming the inspection party, accompanied by the SSM.  “Where is Corporal Farmer” asked the SSM and we relayed the story regarding boat parts to him.  “He knew there was an inspection, why not send one of you” (I paraphrase here, but this was the general conversation taking place).  “Flapper, sorry Cpl Famer, said he needed to go as he was getting crap from the stores, sir”.  “Ok” he said and we looked at one another relieved, stage one worked a treat.
“The office is just an office sir, would you care to inspect the boats?” we enquired of the Colonel.  “Certainly” he said, so we all wandered down to the boats, he looked at them, commented on how sparkly they were and we wandered back to the office again.  “That just leaves the office then” said the SSM, the twat.  We all entered and he looked at the radio, kettle, chairs, settee and bits of paper and then said, “What is in there?”  “Stores” was the universal reply.  With that he walked forward and opened the door and went in, we followed and held our breath.
The SSM looked at the heap of life jackets and looked at us, “tidy that lot up” he said, followed by the Colonel who said “right, all in order” and out he went.  We saluted and that was it, they went out, got in their jeep and went onto the next poor sods to be inspected.  As for Flapper, he slept most of that day, appearing only to wander off down the bridge the Coastel, his bunk and more sleep.  I never knew a more lucky bloke than Flapper, but the SSM did let slip later on that he knew Flapper was in there but could hardly say anything then, as it would reflect badly on him and Flapper and probably forgave the incident as we did such a good job in covering for him.
The best part of the trips out and about to the Merchant ships was the fact that they had great cooks and free bars on board and we were regularly invited on board to eat and drink taking turns as designated CSB drivers.  No matter the weather, or the swell in the ocean we turned out and we were welcomed aboard like long standing friends of those merchantmen.  The “fuel tanker” crew were mainly from the UK, but had a Chinese cook and some crew from the Philippines.  They also had the obligatory homosexual/cross dresser, who whenever not on duty, would glam up and entertain anyone in their mess with songs and stories. 

An obvious physics fact about a fuel tanker or any ship for that matter is that as she off-loads her cargo, she rises higher in the water.  When she had arrived fully laden, it was possible to step from the deck of the CSB straight onto the deck of the tanker, in a flat sea, as she was so low in the water.  After five months at anchor pumping jet fuel ashore, the side of the tanker now rose some thirty or forty feet above our deck, in a flat sea, and access to the deck was achieved by climbing a ladder dropped over the side.  If I was required to tie up alongside and go onboard, I would leave a large amount of slack on the ropes to take account of the swell and movement of my boat against the tankers side.
On one occasion, I was duty driver and was taking a number of the tanker crew back out to the ship.  The weather was awful, and that’s an understatement.  As we came about to head into the swell and edge alongside, a feat of some skill I might add (!!), it was clear that this was going to be a difficult drop off for the crew.  Such was the swell that once almost alongside, (maybe ten feet apart), we’d be level with the deck one second, then lower by some fifty feet.  I was dropping off crew and provisions, the crew had life vests on and I edged as close as possible and they threw the stores onto the deck and to the guys stood there, ready to pull their mates aboard.
The idea was that as we lifted up on the swell, and drew level with the deck, the crewman would jump across the gap and his mates would grab his arms and heave him aboard.  The number of times we had to come about and take up station alongside the tanker were numerous as the wind and rain lashed into us and the waves crashed over the front of the boat.  None the less, we succeeded and headed back into Port Stanley harbour, proud to have delivered everyone safe and sound.
There was soon another exercise to test our readiness and this time we were required to simulate an invasion coming across the outer harbour, a helicopter crash at sea (in the port) and to assist the Port Naval authority with crew recovery.  However, the exercise was to take place at night, in a storm of probably close to hurricane proportions (I shit you not), and we were to be prepared to go out whatever the weather.  The CSB is a very robust craft and could stay above most swells and waves; so we motored from our base to the docks at Stanley and tied up the two CSB’s.  Flapper and I were on one and the other CSB was manned by the 3 other guys in our team.  There were a number of naval tenders (launches) tied up at the end of the dock, side onto one another and we tied ourselves on to them.
It was pitch-black, no moon, and we scrambled across the decks of the launches and onto the floating dock and into the offices, to get a brew and warm up.  We were to await orders from there; my mates in our squadron were apparently out on a hillside, firing blanks at non-existent enemies, soaked through and pissed off.  After sometime, a call came through that we had to carry out a patrol of the harbour heading west away from the docks, north toward to the RAF accommodation, East towards the entrance to Port Stanley and across the harbour entrance and on towards the Airfield, then south towards our Coastel and back west again to the docks.  Flapper and I again skidded across the decks of the naval launches and I started the CSB up as he untied us.  Protected as we were by the dockside and launches, it was only as we turned into the full force of the storm that we both considered the sanity of this situation.
The waves were so numerous and high that the CSB was not able to climb them.  We could not put on power to gain speed enough to get up a wave.  As soon as we’d do that, we’d get swamped by the next wave.  We did persevere and without actually making any forward progress bar fifty metres or so, we were soon realising this was not a healthy place to be.  Flapper was calm as usual and as a Cornishman, his West Country accent added an air of confidence, “Fuck this”, said Flaps.  I concurred and we then realised we had to turn around and ride the waves back to dock.  I threw on the power and we shot across the tops of the waves towards the dockside.  As soon as we slowed again, the waves crashed across our stern and into the open cabin.  I spun the wheel and brought us alongside a launch, Flapper tied her up and I closed down the engines and made her safe in the storm.  I turned round for an instant and Flapper was gone!
I stood on the mast supports and shouted out his name, only the sound of the storm came back.  There were plenty of opportunities to slip between the CSB and the launch we’d tied ourselves against, or between the four or five launches between ourselves and the dockside.  I clambered and skidded across them towards the dock, shouting out his name and becoming ever more concerned; he was nowhere to be seen.  He was not a runner and there was no way he could have covered the distance across the dock to the offices in the time it had taken for me to close the boat down.  I turned back to the launches and decided to look around each side of every boat, shouting out his name and worrying myself sick.  Nothing!
I turned back to the docks and then noticed a small light appearing and then disappearing again in the wheel house of the middle launch.  I slipped my way across to the doorway and opened the door.  I heard voices coming from below and went across the wheel house and opened the door to the room below.  There, brandy (large one) in hand, laughing his bollocks off and jollying it up with the crew of the launch was Flapper.  “You prick” I shouted, “I was worried sick that you’d fallen in, and have spent the last fifteen minutes looking for you overboard”!  “Sit down and have a drink” said Flapper, totally oblivious to the worry he’d caused.  He had no concept of worry, haste, angst, concern, in fact any feeling or emotion apart from happiness, idleness, and contentedness and was most at home with a beer and his mates talking shit.  Now I am in my late forties, I can see his point.
The exercise was cancelled sometime later that night, too dangerous and not worth the potential loss of life.  I continued to work in the CSB team until my tour was over and when everyone’s, “Days to do are getting few” calendars arrived at zero, we boarded our troop ship home via the Ascension Islands, remarking to the newly arrived squadrons in the same way we’d been greeted by those we’d replaced.  Generally, “good luck twats”!  The nice thing was that my troop ship turned out to be the SS Uganda, the very same ship I had travelled on when 14 years old and on my School Cruise around the Mediterranean (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2010/08/is-that-rifle-i-see-before-me.html).  I even took the chance to go down to the dormitory I had slept in some six years or so earlier, Magellan Dormitory, and sat on the same bunk, the bottom one, next to the bulkhead .  The further we went north, the more the sun shone and the happier we became.  A quick hop across to the Airport and we flew home, again via Dakar, and this time had a few hours to kill in the airport itself before flying onto Brize Norton and then onto RAF Gutersloh on Germany.

As soon as I was back I looked up Honk (Mark Cameron) and we hit Hannover like it was going out of fashion.  I then had two weeks leave and spent a few nights out with Julian (my brother) succeeding in getting into another fight/mass brawl with some wanker’s who had decided they did not like Jules.  Only one prat was involved initially and once I had told him he was only being the big man because he had ten mates behind him, he soon shut up, until they came over and he then said I had gone quiet.  So I smacked him in the mouth and then took a good kicking, leaning against a Jewellers window outside the Samson and Hercules nightclub in Norwich.  Ho hum! 
I no doubt spent time with Helen and David, going on runs with David and babysitting Claire and Katie.  Mum had a new boyfriend, Fred, a nice guy whose son Tony got on well with Jules, too well as they got into the shit a number of time, but hey, that’s his story.
Leave over, it was back to Germany, early 1985, I was the proverbial party boy, girl after girl after girl.  I was happy so why not.  By March 1985 I was having back pain when I ran in the morning runs as a group and could only go at my own pace.  In fact the low back pain was such that I ended up on light duties, no running for me.  I took a lot of shit for that and ended up going out on my own runs in the evening.  Lynsey Horten saw me and cried and bleated to the SSM that if I was fit enough to run on my own I was fit enough to run in the group.  The SSM called me into the office and tore me up about it, but I showed him the sick note from the Dr and it noted I should try and run alone to keep up my general fitness.  I found Lynsey and told him to fuck off, although I did so quietly, as he was a nutter and as hard as fuck.
However, my back problems had started and would come to be the major contributing factor in my life and its course from then on.  Bollocks..................................................................................

Friday, 8 July 2011

Playing Skittles with a General - 1984

Mark (Flapper) Farmer was not your typical Corporal, in that it seemed apparent to me that whilst he wore two stripes on his arm they were of no particular importance other than they attracted a higher pay packet. He told me that he had been bust (demoted) a number of times for what we shall call errant behaviour, but as he was such a good guy (everyone got on with Flapper), the powers that be could not avoid promoting him back to his last rank. I was, as noted in the last blog (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2011/06/falkland-islands-bennys-and-more.html ), sent to join the Combat Support Boat (CSB) section, after a rigorous game of indoor rugby ended my playing career early, and so sporting a pair of crutches I pitched up to the Porta Cabin on the landward side of the bridge to our Coastel. I found Flapper and two other guys drinking coffee and Flapper welcomed me to the team. Without further ado, set out test my skills using the CSB and made our way across the bridge to the boats, moored against a pontoon alongside the Coastel. The picture below shows me in my shitty pancake beret (for which I took a ton of crap daily), stood at the controls of my CSB.

My Boat

CSB’s, in fact any piece of military kit beyond underpants required an intensive inspection before you even dared turn the key to start the engines (actually underpants were inspected should they be inadvertently left lying around the sick bastards). The large covers over the Sabre Marine engines were lifted and engine oil checked and water levels noted, along with checks to the various hoses and other technical bits, I’ll not bore you with. Then the heavy steel covers over the Hydro jets were lifted and the lids on the hydro jets themselves were unscrewed and the insides were checked for reeds and obstructions. The boats is propelled by sucking water into the hydro jets, huge amounts of water, then expelling it out the back at a rapid rate. The direction of the boat was controlled by use of two throttles and large levers that operated the buckets (or scoops) that sat in front of the water exhausts. Levers forwards, you went forwards, levers back, you went backwards! There was also a wheel to control the horizontal angle of the scoops that allowed one to turn left or right (port or starboard me ‘hearty’s).

CSB Controls and Hydro Jets

Once all checks were complete, I started her up, dropped the lines and gently edged away from the Coastel and out into Port Stanley Harbour. When we were some one hundred feet away from the Coastel, I gradually opened her up, until we were shooting across the harbour and towards the natural opening that lead out into Stanley Sound. As one exits the harbour, to the left are a number of inlets and lagoons and to the right the South Atlantic Ocean. The boat itself could manage a very heavy swell and being so manoeuvrable easily sliced through or over the high swells that came in off the ocean. As one heads out towards the ocean, to the right, on land was Stanley airfield, so memorably bombed to shit by the RAF during the Conflict and now being so memorably repaired by the Royal Engineers. Anchored just off the headland that was an airfuel tanker, this pumped, by way of a heavy hose laid between ship and shore, airfuel for the jets and other aircraft stationed there which included Hercules transporters and Phantom jet fighters.

CSB Half Speed

I put the CSB through its paces, much to Flappers enjoyment, including going from full speed to dead stop within the length of the craft, achieved by killing the throttles, reversing the scoops over the water jets and going back to full throttle in one smooth motion. The CSB would stop dead and such was the effect that the whole craft would dip down nose first into the sea and then bob back out of the water. Anything not tied down and strapped in place on deck would shoot forward into the cabin at a rapid rate of knots, including people who were not expecting the stop. And we took much enjoyment from demonstrating this particular capability of the craft to unsuspecting passengers using the CSB, read on for a very real example of this!!

Test over, we shot back to base and had a well earned cuppa. The practice was that anyone needing a CSB would radio the office, book a craft and we’d be ready to go. Just some of the regular tasks we undertook, were;

• Taxi for RAF Pilots from accommodation on the other side of Stanley Harbour to our base, where they’d then jump in their Merc Jeeps to the airfield.

• Security checks of the area inside and outside Stanley Harbour.

• Running merchant sailors and supplies to and fro between the Fuel Tanker and Port Stanley town. At night this usually involved a group of very drunk merchant sailors.

• Taking parties of men and officers out to the lagoons and inlets on fishing parties.

• Taking the Officer Commanding the Falklands Garrison out to arriving and departing troop ships (such as the Keren) to welcome/thank incoming and outgoing troops.

• Acting as an ambulance for ship’s crew injured aboard and requiring transfer to shore.

• Ferrying men and kit between Royal Navy frigates and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.

It’s difficult to know which escapade to relate first, due to their number, so I am going to simply go with the flow and write as they come into my mind! And it’s going to take a few blogs to do it justice!!

Flapper was in charge and was easy going as regards what we did and how we did it, all he asked was that we turn up on time and did not attract unwanted attention from the higher ups! Knowing me as you do, this attention was likely to come our way sooner rather than later. The Officer Commanding the Falklands Garrison whilst I was there, was (or now is) General Sir Peter de la Billière (General Sir Peter Edgar de la Cour de la Billière, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC & Bar, MSC to give him his full name and titles). With a list like that after your name you deserve and get respect, from everyone, unless you are me and manage to piss off one of the most decorated soldiers of our time.

As noted, every time a new batch of soldiers, a ships company or aircrew arrived or departed, Sir Peter made it his mission to wish them au revoir. This meant getting out to the transport ship and back again. Co-incidentally, Sir Peter was accompanied down South by his family, for the whole year he was on station. I had managed, without incident to take him and his adjutant out to a number of farewells. Of critical importance, when carrying Sir Peter the CSB would obviously be gleaming and would have, clipped to the front of the cabin, a plaque with his regimental colours and 3 stars attached and we flew his colours as a flag from the mast. I was again on call for this particular trip and trimmed the boat, cleaned the windows and washed the decks. Sir Peter pitched up with his Adjutant, his wife Bridget and son Edward (14) and once they had stepped onto the boat we set off.

CSB at Coastel Dock

Young Edward sat with his Mum on the engine covers, as I’d advised them that it was where they were least likely to get splashed, Sir Peter and his adjutant stood holding the mast. We set off across the harbour towards the ship, a ten minute journey. Edward stood and asked his Dad if he could come into the cabin, to which Sir Peter, asked me if this was ok. I said it was and Edward walked forwards. Typically of me (talk to anyone) I asked him “did he fancy joining the army like his dad?” and some general chit chat about the islands. I then asked him whether he fancied driving the boat (having a cabby), to which he said yes. I turned to Sir Peter and asked if this was fine and he agreed. Edward took over and I showed him how to operate the wheel and throttles, pointed out the various gauges and buttons and the scoop controls. We approached the ship and I took over, bringing us alongside, I tied her up and off they all got. Half an hour later, they were back and we set off, young Edward stood next to me so let him have a cabby again and he was soon swooping across the waves in wide arcs. I told him about the ability of the craft to stop dead in the water and he wanted to see it happen. I told everyone to hold tight and threw the craft into a dead stop as it buried itself into the water nose first.

I did tell everyone to hold tight, but as we stopped, Lady Bridget, Sir Peter and the Adjutant came flying across the decks, slamming into the cabin, with Lady Bridget taking young Edward out at the knees! I was trying to act nonchalant and helped everyone up, their hair, caps and berets askew. “What do you think of that then”? I asked young Edward, “That was great!” he said. Sir Peter and Lady Bridget gave me a look that suggested something rather the opposite! Once everyone had recovered their composure we shot back to the Coastel dock and I dropped them off. Sir Peter could hardly complain as his son had asked for the demo, he had agreed to it and they had been told to hold tight.

I guess that would have been the end of it had one of my mates not been waiting for me to return. As soon as the top brass had wandered off, he jumped in and asked for a cabby. I had no more trips on, so off we went. We shot across the harbour towards Port Stanley, pulling wide arcs, sending huge plumes of water up into the air in our wake. We performed loads of dead stops, and I even made the thing turn circles on its circumference like a hackney cab. After about half an hour of pissing about, in particular parading up and down in front of Port Stanley, passing the Governor Generals house a number of times and generally having fun, we headed back to the dock, locked her down for the night and I signed out at the office. I grabbed my crutches and hobbled back to the Coastel for some food, and a movie, my post and a long and relaxing Barclays no doubt.

The following day, I signed in at the office and a call came from the Squadron Sergeant Major’s office, my presence was required (about half a mile away) double quick. I jumped a lift with a passing jeep and hobbled my way into his Porta Cabin. To say he was angry, (the fucker did not like me anyway due to my extracurricular activities back in Germany) would be a colossal understatement. He was incandescent. With a pause between words he said “What, The fuck, were you, doing yesterday, tell me, about, your day?” he screamed, a tinge of sarcasm edging his insanity and the pause after each word was to summon up the strength to scream out the next. My Spidey Sense was tingling; I expected danger, so I smiled my nicest smile, (mistake) and said I had been on my boat most of the day. “Too fuckin right you was, and did you have any special trips or passengers?” (If you want to picture his rant, this clip of Michael Palin playing a Sergeant Major serves the purpose http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLJ8ILIE780.) I told him about the General and his kid and the cabby he’d had and said they’d quite enjoyed the trip and thanked me as they disembarked. “I know, all about that, put Mrs De La Billière on her arse that’s what you did, but what about after that, you moron?” “I took Andy Orton out for a cabby” I said. “I fackin know that too, prick, what did you not do, that you should have done, but didn’t?” his voice had reached a pitch quite unheard of before, in a male anyway, and I was frankly becoming concerned for his health.

Clang!!! The realisation hit me like a hammer blow to the head. I had not taken off the Generals Pips and colours nor lowered the Generals flag.............. By now a small gathering had appeared in the doorway. He told me (screamed) that the General had been driving back towards Port Stanley, when his wife had pointed out that the boat they had just gotten off, was prancing around the harbour again and wasn’t that his flag? The General had told his Adjutant, he, once they had arrived back at base, had called upon our Commanding Officer, a Major, who had grabbed his Adjutant, who in turn kicked the bollocks of our Platoon Lieutenant, who had then castrated the Squadron Sergeant Major. Hence my taking the full effect of a Force 9 gale blowing across his porta cabin. Corporal Farmer (Flapper) appeared in the doorway and entered to a verbal lashing. The SSM then turned to punishment, what to do? “I can’t throw you in nick, because your legs fucked, I can’t give you restriction of privileges, because your legs fucked, so, much as it pisses me off to do it, the only sanction I have is to make run as fast as you can back to the CSB Porta Cabin!” That was it! “I am going to watch you from here, because I can see the CSB office, and if I see you walking, I’ll sign a rifle out of the armoury and fucking shoot you!” I looked at Flapper and he was trying to hide the smirk on his face, “Fuck off Corporal Farmer” said the SSM. We left his office and walked away, “fuckin run you arse!” came the CSM’s voice.

For some reason Flapper ran alongside, as I struggled to move faster than a slow walk, every now and then the SSM shouted profanities in our direction, to keep us moving and we eventually arrived back at the CSB office, laughing ourselves silly. More Flapper and JW escapades to come!