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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, 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!

1 comment:

  1. jesus,JW only you could of been the one to try and kill the general, his wife and heir,lol. garry judd