Afore ye go… what about the rest of the United Kingdom?

Are our flags about to change?

Are our flags about to change?

This time next week we could be living in a very different country.

Maps may have to be redrawn to remove the words ‘United Kingdom’. Certain flags may become obsolete and sporting unions would have to be changed dramatically ahead of, say, the next Olympics in Rio. Currencies would have to be re-thought.

I would suggest the loss of MPs north of the border would also make it far more difficult for Labour to win a General Election when relying on an electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yes, the list of repercussions of a ‘Yes’ vote in next week’s Scottish referendum on independence from the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland goes on and on. And on.

Why anyone would want to carve up our tiny island further is beyond me – particularly as the inevitable consequence will be that each part will have its influence on the world stage diminished as a result.

Having covered General Elections as a journalist since 1992 I’ve developed a healthy disregard for opinion polls.

But it seems that the result of next week’s vote is genuinely too close to call.

To my mind, both sides of the debate are guilty of scaremongering and crass hypocrisy.

I think the truth is neither side fully understands or can predict all the ramifications of Scotland going it alone.

Sadly, the main parties in Westminster give the impression they have only just woken up to the possibility of the ‘Yes’ campaign winning.

The sight of the Prime Minister, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg scurrying north of the border to bolster the ‘No’ campaign smacked of desperation to me and I can’t believe it will have any substantial effect on voters.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond and the nationalists can’t shake off the simple fact that independence is a huge gamble – not just for Scotland, but for the UK as a whole.

Not that the SNP give much of a monkey’s about the rest of us.

A lot of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s rhetoric seems to be based on perceived historical injustices and the fact that the south east of England gets all the money and attention from the powers-that-be at Westminster.

Of course, on that basis, anywhere north of the Watford Gap has a gripe.

Indeed, I eagerly await Stoke-on-Trent’s bid for independence from London and the ‘sarf’ east.

I will, personally, be extremely sad to see a majority of the people in Scotland vote for independence. I love the place. I holiday there most years and I think it has the best landscape in Britain and, perhaps wrongly, I consider it part of ‘my country’.

I’ll be sad because we’ll be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of tradition and ties – involving, for example, the military and the Royal Family.

The Union that survived two world wars will have been undone by the drip, drip effect of devolution.

Even if it’s a ‘No’ vote this is a ‘win-win’ for Mr Salmond and the nationalists because more powers will be ceded north of the border by the main Westminster parties as an incentive to keep the fragile Union together a while longer.

I dare say there are plenty of people here in England who will say, without hesitation: ‘Let them go and have their independence!’.

They will be angry that the constituents of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown continue to enjoy free prescriptions and free university tuition paid for, arguably, by taxpayers in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile, here in England prescriptions cost £8.05 each and a university education is cost-prohibitive for many because it equates to a second mortgage.

I’m not jealous of the Scots. Good on ’em, I say.

In fact, here in England I would suggest we could learn a few lessons from them with regard to their relentless pursuit of equality and fairness for all.

I joked earlier about the Potteries and the north seeking independence from London and the south east. But I believe there is a genuine argument for the rest of the country outside London no longer being treated like second class citizens on account of the capital being ‘the City’ and our ‘financial powerhouse’ – as Boris Johnson and the like constantly to refer to it.

From an English perspective, the Scottish referendum on independence is sort of like watching your brother rail against his parents and threaten to leave home.

What’s worse is that you’re not allowed to have a say in his decision – even though your brother’s departure will have a huge impact on the family as a whole.

Whatever happens, I wish the people of Scotland all the best for the future because I consider them my friends and neighbours – even if they do take the high road.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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Star Wars, The Bill and a landslide for Maggie

Margaret Thatcher celebrated a landslide General Election victory in 1983.

Margaret Thatcher celebrated a landslide General Election victory in 1983.

I was 11 years old in 1983. I hadn’t even started my Sentinel paper round but my world was about to get much bigger with a move to high school.

Trawling through the archives is fascinating but it doesn’t half make you feel old – particularly when you realise how long ago it is that certain people died.

1983 was the year when we lost some stellar names from the world of showbusiness.

Believe it or not it is 30 years since the likes of David Niven, Dick Emery, Billy Fury, John Le Mesurier and Violet Carson passed away.

It was also the year that music mourned the loss of the irreplaceable Karen Carpenter, aged just 32, and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys – along with American heavyweight boxing legend Jack Dempsey.

Closer to home, Sid Daniels – the last surviving crewmember of the RMS Titanic – died at the age of 89.

It is difficult to comprehend now but in 1983 the Cold War was still cropping up on TV news bulletins.

In March of that year U.S. President Ronald Reagan outlined initial proposals for the Strategic Defence Initiative.

The media dubbed the plan to develop technology which could intercept enemy missiles ‘Star Wars’ and it stuck.

In September the Soviet Union admitted shooting down Korean Air Flight 007 which had entered their airspace – claiming that its pilots were unaware it was a civilian aircraft.

Two months later we saw the final scare of the Cold War when Soviet officials misinterpreted a NATO exercise codenamed Able Archer as a nuclear first strike. Thankfully, someone had the gumption to realise it wasn’t.

That same month the first U.S. Cruise Missiles arrived at the Greenham Common Airbase – prompting protests from the likes of CND and other peace protesters.

While managing to keep his finger off the big red button, actor turned U.S. President Reagan proudly watched as the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger set off on its first flight – three years before its final, tragic flight.

The former Hollywood hearthrob also indicated that the Global Positioning System or GPS, which we all now take for granted, would be made available for civilian use.

1983 was the year that the infamous ‘Butcher of Lyon’, Klaus Barbie – who is estimated to have been involved in the murder of 14,000 people – was indicted for war crimes after a lengthy crusade by Nazi hunters.

Of great interest to us here in the UK following the Falklands Conflict, military rule in Argentina ended in 1983 after seven years following democratic elections which resulted in Raúl Alfonsin’s first term as President.

Back home, on a wave of euphoria after the Falklands victory, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was re-elected by a landslide majority in June.

Four months later Neil Kinnock was elected leader of the Labour Party, replacing Michael Foot.

The Northern Ireland troubles made headlines daily in 1983.

In September 38 Irish republican prisoners armed with hand guns hijacked a prison meals lorry and smashed their way out of the Maze Prison.

It was the largest prison escape since World War II and the biggest in British history.

Then in December a Provisional IRA car bomb which exploded outside Harrods killed six Christmas shoppers and injured 90 more.

Another major story from 1983 was the Brink’s–MAT robbery in London.

Around 6,800 gold bars worth an estimated £26 million were stolen from a vault at Heathrow Airport.

In October Scottish entrepreneur Richard Noble set a new land speed record of 633.468 miles per hour by driving the British designed and built Thrust 2 jet propelled car across the Black Rock desert in Nevada. The record stood for 14 years.

In sport the Old Firm’s dominance of Scottish football was broken when Dundee United were crowned champions for the first time in their history.

Meanwhile, in tennis, the legend that is Bjorn Borg retired from the game after winning five consecutive Wimbledon titles.

In entertainment, Rock group Kiss officially appeared in public for the first time without make-up, the final episode of M*A*S*H was screened and UK TV favourite The Bill first aired as one-off drama called Woodentop.

Let’s hope Army bosses use common sense and spare The Staffords

The first paragraph of the correspondence from the nice man at the Metropolitan Police is wonderfully quaint and reassuring.

‘Hello Ma’am, Your application to deliver a petition by hand to the door of number 10 Downing Street has been booked in for Thursday, November 1, at 1.15pm.’

After months of campaigning Sentinel journalists including yours truly together with Staffordshire Regimental Association representatives will be calling in on the Prime Minister later this week.

We will be presenting a 17,000-name petition calling for the name of the name of our county regiment to be preserved amid brutal Army cutbacks.

Our campaign was prompted by the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) decision to remove 3 Mercian (the Staffords) from the Order of Battle (ORBAT) – thus ending the county’s 297-year link with the British Army.

It is part of a huge reduction in the Army which will diminish its fighting strength from 102,000 to just 82,000 over the next few years and place a much heavier reliance on the Territorial Army.

Of course, it isn’t just the Staffords who have the axe hanging over them and other proud units are facing oblivion too.

But here in North Staffordshire feelings are running high and veterans and their relatives, serving soldiers and their families and the general public have united to oppose the MoD’s proposal.

We can’t speak for other areas or other units, but what can definitely say is that the Staffords are hugely important to local people.

Since the beginning of July The Sentinel has published more than 100 stories detailing the courage and selflessness of those who have served with the Staffordshire Regiment from the Great War to the present day.

Of course, this newspaper has been able to trawl its archives for reports on the breaching of the Hindenberg Line in 1918, the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 and the infamous raid on the Al Jameat Police Station in Iraq on Christmas Day in 2006.

But the vast majority of the articles The Sentinel has published in recent months have been prompted by readers who have written in with personal stories to tell of their association with the Staffordshire Regiment.

Some were former Staffords telling of their service during WWII, in Northern Ireland or more recent conflicts.

But many more were relatives of those who wore the cap badge and distinguished themselves all over the world.

These tales have shown just how proud the people of North Staffordshire are of their links with the military and of the Staffordshire Regiment’s battle honours.

That’s why they were sending goodwill parcels to Our Boys out in Iraq as part of this newspaper’s Operation Christmas Cheer campaign a full 12 months before General Sir Richard Dannatt was asking the British public to better support our Armed Forces personnel.

We don’t need to be told around here, you see. We’ve been doing it for years.

It was one thing to have the North and South Staffords merged. It was one thing for the regiment to become known as 3 Mercian (Staffords).

It is another thing entirely for the name ‘The Staffords’ be scrubbed from ORBAT altogether.

No-one involved with our campaign realistically expects the MoD to do a complete about-face and retain 3 Mercian.

But by the same token they have shown that the name The Mercian Regiment, derived from an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, means little or nothing to the people of Staffordshire.

It is a convenient construct which allowed Army chiefs to mash together the Staffordshire Regiment, Cheshire Regiment and Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters under one banner.

The truth is the people of Staffordshire and those with links to the Staffords have no great affiliation with the other counties or their respective regiments – and vice versa.

Any sense of pride for the Mercian Regiment relates instead to its antecedents, such as the Staffords, and their roles in various wars and conflicts over the centuries.

It is to be hoped that Army chiefs, when considering whether or not to retain the name The Staffords, and indeed the antecedents of The Mercian Regiment’s 1st and 2nd battalions, think long and hard about the consequences of making a clean break with tradition.

Let’s hope that common sense prevails and that future generations of young recruits from our neck of the woods will continue to want to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers and serve with The Staffords – rather than opting instead for another unit with no links to our patch but equally good or perhaps better prospects.

Readers have until tomorrow (October 31) to sign our petition by logging on to: http://www.saveourstaffords.com or calling in at The Sentinel’s HQ in Etruria to sign the forms.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Our proud links with the Staffords must never be severed

In September of 1918 another stalemate loomed in the War To End All Wars.

The German Army had retreated behind the Hindenberg Line – a vast system of defences in Northeastern France stretching from Lens to Verdun.

Fortifications included concrete bunkers and machine gun emplacements, masses of barbed wire, tunnels, deep trenches, dug-outs and command posts.

Built by Russian prisoners of war, it was considered nigh on impregnable by the German commanding officer – General Ludendorff.

However, he hadn’t factored in the men of the British 46th (North Midland) Division.

On the morning of September 29, under the cover of a dense blanket of fog, the men of the North and South Staffords – together with their brothers in arms from Leicestershire and Derbyshire – formed up and fixed bayonets for what seemed to many to be an attack that couldn’t possibly succeed.

They had to wade across a wide waterway – the St. Quentin Canal – and faced 5,300 Germans in heavily fortified positions.

But just over three hours later the Staffords and their comrades had completed all their objectives – smashing a hole in Hindenberg Line and ultimately penetrating 6,000 yards into enemy territory.

On that day the 46th Division captured 4,200 prisoners and around 70 guns and suffered less than 600 casualties which, given the enormity of the achievement, could be classed as nothing short of miraculous.

This spectacular success, the breaching of the German Army’s last line of defence on the Western Front, undoubtedly shortened the Great War and saved countless lives.

What’s more, it was potters and miners from our neck of the woods who were instrumental in that decisive blow.

Men of the Staffords.

Fast forward now a quarter of a century and the 2nd Battalion (South Staffords) is part of the 1st Airlanding Brigade which arrives in North Africa and routes a battalion of crack German paratroopers.

Two years later, in September 1944, a butcher from Burslem by the name of John ‘Jack’ Baskeyfield wins a Victoria Cross for his actions in the Battle of Arnhem.

While defending the Oosterbeek perimeter three days into the battle, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield commanded a pair of anti tank guns that destroyed several enemy tanks before their crews were killed.

Despite being badly wounded himself he crawled from one destroyed gun to another and continued to fire upon the advancing German armour before he was killed. His body was never found.

Jack Baskeyfield VC served with the 2nd Battalion, the South Staffordshire Regiment.

His comrades in the 1st Battalion, South Staffords, formed part of the Chindit Force which flew into Burma in 1944 and were never defeated in a series of battles against the fearless Japanese.

Some 30 years later, at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Staffords establish for themselves a reputation as firm but fair peace-keepers. It leads one veteran helicopter pilot to describe them as ‘better than the Marines and the Paras’ at the difficult helicopter missions around Armagh where road travel was impossible.

More recently, during the Iraq War the Staffordshire Regiment was posted to the hot spots of Al Amarah and Basra where the lads were attacked, as their C.O. told me, ‘on an almost daily basis’ by insurgents.

Their textbook Christmas Day raid on the infamous Al Jameat Police Station on Christmas Day 2006 made headlines across the world.

That year the regiment was voted BBC Midlander of the Year by television viewers and in 2007 the Staffords picked up The Sentinel Editor’s Award just months before they became part of the Mercian Regiment.

These are mere glimpses into the long and distinguished history of our local regiment.

However, they perhaps go some way to explaining the response of the people of North Staffordshire to the Ministry of Defence’s decision to disband 3Mercian.

Most people in the Potteries know someone, a relative or a friend, who has served or is currently serving with the Staffords.

This has been a fertile recruiting ground for the Army and North Staffordshire has a proud history of producing fighting men.

In September 2007 General Sir Richard Dannatt was espousing the need for the British public to better support our Armed Forces personnel.

What perhaps he didn’t know was that 12 months earlier the people of North Staffordshire, through The Sentinel newspaper, were sending boxes of treats to Staffordshire Regiment soldiers on the frontline in Iraq as part of our Operation Christmas Cheer campaign.

On their return from operations, Staffordshire Regiment soldiers were invited to watch Stoke City and Port Vale matches free of charge – long before it became commonplace for football clubs to show their appreciation of what our Armed Forces were doing for us overseas.

Our current campaign – entitled ‘Save Our Staffords’ – has attracted more than 10,000 signatures in less than two weeks.

It has touched a chord with young and old alike and not simply ex-service personnel or people who have direct links with 3Mercian.

So we have a rich heritage and hopefully that will count for something in the coming weeks as Army top brass sit down to plan the reorganisation of the Mercian Regiment.

But if it doesn’t then I would just ask the powers-that-be the following questions:

Why should an 18-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle or the Staffordshire Moorlands in the coming years choose to join the Mercian Regiment over say The Rifles or any other another unit which seems to offer greater possibilities?

If our proud local links with the military are severed why should young recruits from our patch or the people of North Staffordshire consider what’s left of the Mercian Regiment as their local unit?

I would suggest those charged with reorganising the Mercian Regiment don’t put themselves into a position where these questions need answering.

The Staffords are our boys and that precious name must be saved.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Staffords’ proud record echoes through the ages

The Sentinel’s campaign to save the name of the Staffords is going from strength to strength and it has prompted me to delve into the archives.

I was proud to discover that this newspaper’s association with the Staffordshire Regiment goes back a long, long way.

In actual fact, Sentinel writers were reporting on the exploits of soldiers from our neck of the woods as far back as the Zulu War of 1879.

At the time it was known as the 80th Regiment of Foot (the Staffordshire Volunteers).

Our lads formed the front of the British square at the decisive Battle of Ulundi – with two of its soldiers, Private S. Wassall and Colour Sergeant A. Booth winning Victoria Crosses during the campaign.

Fast forward 100 years because I was particularly interested in what the Staffords were up to during the Eighties.

At the decade came to a close the 1st Battalion, The Staffordshire Regiment, as it was, was described ‘as a standard infantry unit of 650 men’.

Within the British Army in Germany it was known as an Armoured Infantry Battalion as every soldier was part of the crew of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

They completed two tours of Northern during the 1980s.

Indeed, that is how the decade began for the boys with the Staffordshire knot on their cap badges.

In September 1979 the First Battalion moved to Londonderry for sixteen months, accompanied by their families.

It was during this tour, on January 20, 1981, that Private Christopher Shenton was killed by an IRA sniper in the Bogside area of Londonderry.

In July of that year the Battalion and its families moved to Gibraltar for a two year tour which had to be reduced to 20 months because the Falklands Crisis and the Spanish elections limited the training opportunities.

The highlight of the tour to The Rock was the role played by the Battalion in the evacuation of British nationals from The Gambia.

After receiving new colours from the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 1983, the Battalion went on a training exercise to Canada to make up for training lost in Gibraltar.

The Battalion then returned to Northern Ireland in February 1984 and was deployed in South Armagh until June and during that time suffered another tragic loss.

On May 29, 1984, Lance Corporal Stephen Anderson was killed by an IRA landmine in Crossmaglen.

It was then off to Germany for our boys in the autumn for Exercise Lionheart – the biggest post-war exercise undertaken by the British Army.

The following year saw the Battalion deploy to Seattle in the U.S. for training and, on its return, it received the new Saxon Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).

The autumn of that year was dominated by exercises; Exercise Brave Defender saw the Battalion deployed to northern Scotland and this was followed by Exercise Purple Warrior when the Battalion played enemy to 5 Airborne Brigade at Otterburn in Northumberland.

In January 1987, the Battalion deployed to Fallingbostel, West Germany as part of 7 Armoured Brigade. During the first three years of its tour, it repeatedly trained at BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Alberta, Canada.

By late 1988 the Staffords had been re-equipped as an Armoured Infantry Battalion using the new Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle.

In April 1988, the 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment was formed from the 1 Mercian Volunteers who were disbanded.

They were the direct descendant of the old 5 South and 5 North Territorial Army battalions who were disbanded in the 1960s to form the Mercian Volunteers.

1988 was also the year that the 1st Battalion were named the Army’s Grade 3 boxing champions.

In April of 1989, Her Majesty The Queen appointed her second son, His Royal Highness The Duke of York, as Colonel in Chief of the Regiment.

He visited the Battalion in Fallingbostel in Germany in July of that year.

Whatever decade I researched the stories were the same – reflecting gallantry and unstinting service which echoed the Staffords’ motto of ‘Stand Firm, Strike Hard’.

I would suggest the lads currently serving with 3 Mercian and the thousands who went before them, many of whom gave their lives for this country, deserve better than to be wiped from history at the stroke of a civil servant’s pen.

*If you agree with Martin you can sign our petition to save the name of the Staffords by logging on to: http://www.saveourstaffords.com

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

We must stop tinkering with our Armed Forces right now

The injuries suffered by Staffordshire Moorlands soldier Anthony Lownds are a grim reminder that, on a daily basis, somewhere in a foreign field there is generally a British serviceman or woman risking life and limb for Queen and country.

The 24-year-old Grenadier Guard was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Taliban.

He is currently receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has so far had four operations for injuries to his right hand and legs.

My thoughts are with Anthony and his family and friends and I wish him a speedy recovery.

While most of us have been enjoying the patriotic fervour generated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and, to a lesser extent, the Olympic Torch Relay, Anthony and his comrades have been unable to relax and join in the celebrations.

As we settle down to watch England’s exploits in Euro 2012, spare a thought for the almost 10,000 members of the British Armed Forces who are demonstrating incredible bravery and commitment day-in, day-out in Afghanistan.

To date, since 2001, 417 British personnel have been killed in operations in the place they called the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.

It is a total that, heart-breakingly, is as sure to rise as the sun over that troubled land.

There are, of course, some who would argue that we should never have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place – in the same way that we should have kept our noses out of Iraq’s business.

But Britain’s Services personnel don’t have that luxury and always deploy and do their duty, regardless of any personal misgivings they may have, which is what makes them such remarkable people.

That is exactly what they are doing right now in Afghanistan and we should be immensely proud of their efforts in the most difficult of circumstances.

But I wonder how Anthony Lownds and his mates felt when they learned a few days ago of more proposed cutbacks to the regular Army?

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of ‘difficult decisions’ ahead as the standing Army is reduced from 102,000 personnel to just 82,000.

If you know your military history then you will know that this is significant because an Army used to be defined as being 100,000 strong. Anything less than that figure wasn’t considered an Army.

While the regimental system will not be abolished, Mr Hammond said it was inevitable that some units would be lost or forced to merge.

If the national papers are to believed, one of those units could be our own 3 Mercian – or the Staffordshire Regiment in old money – along with such prestigious names as The Coldstream Guards.

I have to say that, for me, enough really is enough.

For years now I have watched Defence Secretaries slash and burn as they have wittered on about making our Armed Forces more ‘mobile’ and ‘adaptable’.

Always the end result is the same: Fewer boots on the ground; Less hardware; More reliance on reservists or other nations; And, ultimately, less ability to react to crises around the world.

Britannia once ruled the waves. Now we will have to hope we don’t need an aircraft carrier until 2020.

The RAF was once the only thing preventing the whole of Europe from falling under Nazi occupation.

But in Afghanistan it was a chronic shortage of helicopters which actually added to the number of UK casualties.

I could go on. The bottom line is that penny-pinching at the MoD over the last two decades, at the behest of various administrations, has significantly undermined the ability of the UK’s Armed Forces to do its job.

This has happened at a time when the actual number of global conflicts involving British Services personnel has risen.

Where is the logic in that?

Whatever we think of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, there is no denying the world is becoming a more dangerous place – with revolutions and the rise of extremism fanning the flames of conflict.

Add to this the ever-increasing economic uncertainty and inevitable shortage of natural resources such as fuel, food and water in the coming years, and you have a recipe for decades of instability.

So what does Whitehall do? Continue to reduce the number of Army, Navy and RAF personnel.

This is madness.

I believe caution should be the watch-word with regard to the future of our military. We only have to look to history for guidance.

Infantry battalions that were mothballed after the end of the Cold War had to be reconstituted for service in Northern Ireland.

Having scrapped Harrier Jump Jets and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal we realised both would actually have been quite handy for the Libyan crisis.

Yes, times are tough and each Government department has to make savings and each will plead it deserves protection.

But the MoD really is a special case involving tens of thousands of special people who do a very special and specialised job.

The UK’s Armed Forces personnel are our ‘go-to’ guys and gals at home and overseas for everything from industrial unrest and disaster relief to frontline warfare and their importance simply cannot be over-stated.

I firmly believe that for Britain to remain safe and secure and for our country to retain its position as an effective, relevant and respected player on the global stage then we must stop tinkering with our Armed Forces right now.

Falklands veteran: ‘We had to show the world what we were made of…’

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.”



Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia