Eric Barbour remembers exactly where he was when he got the call. It was five to nine on Friday, April 2, 1982 and Eric was at home in Biddulph.
His dad answered the telephone: It was Army. The Falklands Conflict had begun and Eric’s leave was abruptly cancelled.
The 26-year-old packed his gear and travelled back to Seaton Barracks in Plymouth to rejoin his unit – 42 Commando Royal Marines.
A week later, on Friday, April 9, Eric and his comrades from the Marines and Paras set sail from Southampton onboard the SS Canberra which had been requisitioned by the Government and refitted as a troop ship.
Eric, now aged 56 and living in Waterhayes, said: “Previous to the Falklands, British troops hadn’t really been involved in a major conflict for many years. The nearest we had come to proper combat was tours to Northern Ireland and the Cyprus Emergency.
“In all honesty I think we were hoping that the Falklands crisis would be solved by the politicians before we arrived. Then news filtered through that the Argentine flagship The General Belgrano had been sunk. Then we heard HMS Sheffield had gone down a couple of days later and we realised we would be needed after all.”
Indeed the brutality of the conflict was brought home to Eric when the body of a former commanding officer of his from 41 Commando Royal Marines was returned to the Canberra for burial at sea.
As Eric sailed south, the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano by the submarine HMS Conqueror, with the loss of more than 320 lives, proved hugely controversial. But it was also to have a dramatic impact on the conflict – forcing all Argentine naval vessels to return to port and take no further part in the hostilities.
The troop ship Canberra anchored in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. This area was to become known as ‘Bomb Alley’ to British forces because of incessant attacks by low-flying Argentinian aircraft.
Although her size and colour made the ‘White Whale’ a soft target, the Argentine Air Force concentrated their efforts on Royal Navy vessels.
Eric was ferried to the Falklands via a landing craft similar to the doomed RFA Sir Galahad which was destroyed by the Argentine Airforce on June 8.
Forty eight British servicemen died in the attack and pictures of the smouldering wreck were beamed around the world.
Eric and his team watched helpless as the jets which caused the carnage flew overhead – so close to his mountain position that he could see into the cockpits.
Eric, who now works as a health and safety adviser, was a corporal at the time and led a Milan Missile troop.
On the night of June 11 it was he and his mates who provided vital covering fire with his anti-tank weapons to suppress the Argentines who were strafing Eric’s fellow marines as they tried to climb Mount Harriet.
Without night vision technology, Eric had to rely on the sight from his SLR to target Argentine positions 800 or so metres away – with the tracer bullet from his rifle making his team an immediate target.
That night Eric and his comrades took more than 1,000 Argentine soldiers prisoner.
Eric said: “One of my abiding memories is walking across the frost-covered terrain the following morning and seeing a boot print on an anti-personnel mine poking through the soil. The ground must have frozen so hard that one of our lads had a very lucky escape.”
The Falklands Conflict lasted just 74 days but cost the lives of 907 soldiers, sailors and airmen – including 258 British personnel. UK forces had won a spectacular victory in very difficult circumstances. The Argentinian military junta was finished and the Falkland Islanders celebrated their liberation.
Eric, who eventually left the Army after more than 17 years – having achieved the rank of Senior NCO – is in no doubt that the UK’s response to the invasion of the Falkland Islands was appropriate.
He said: “We saw it very much as our country protecting what was ours and protecting people who did not want their home to become part of Argentina.”
Thirty years on and tensions are again rising in the South Atlantic as Argentina begins once more to talk up its claim to the ‘Malvinas’.
But Eric, who is married with two sons and two grandchildren, is in no doubt that the UK’s cause was just.
He said: “Looking back, I think we did the right thing. It was a British territory and we had to show the world what we were made of.
“If there was another invasion I think we would be totally justified in defending the islands again.”