Serial Saturday: Down South in the Service of the Queen (Chapter the First)

By David Flin

Back in the 1880s, the publication of serial stories in magazines such as The Strand were very popular. Indeed, Conan Doyle published many of his Sherlock Holmes stories in this manner. SLP is picking up the concept of the Serial Story, a tale told in several parts.

The author of this story was a Royal Marine who somehow neglected to be out of sight when the Falklands War came around in 1982, and he was graciously given not one, but two cruises along the entire length of the Atlantic - paid for courtesy of the British tax payer. His recollections of the trip are presented. In honour of the style of The Strand, the story has been written in a style that might have been appropriate for 1882, at a time when Conan Doyle was penning his yarns for the reading public.

The author wishes to say that the events described are as he recollects them. He was the Lieutenant so mentioned.

Down South In The Service of the Queen.

Chapter the First: In Which Our Hero Learns of an Untoward Incident on a Small Island in the South Atlantic, and Duty Calls Him to the Colours

It was on a grey afternoon in March 1982 that I received an urgent telephonic communication from my commanding officer. He had the grace to apologise for interrupting my leave, but that an event had started to unfold, and my presence was required at the base immediately.

Perhaps I should explain my situation to the gentle reader. My name is Andrew Burns (1), a newly joined member of Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Commando. I was a lowly Marine, as it is the family tradition to start with service in the ranks. As the family motto has it: “Before commanding them, first understand them.” My father had joined the Royal Marines as a lowly Marine, like myself, and had risen to Sergeant, and was then commissioned as an Officer. The same was true of his father, and of his father.

I was a little saddened to end my leave almost before it had begun, but this was tempered by the knowledge and the hope that some great adventure awaited me. I bade farewell to the young lady with whom I had been in conversation. She expressed sadness at my early departure, and requested that I be careful.

I assured her that I would come to no harm, and that I would return safely to continue our discussion. She asked if I could tarry a little longer, and spoke longingly about this, and I will confess to temptation, but I explained that I could not delay to answer the call of Duty.

I was sad on taking my leave of her, but it is not to be expected that a young man would be sad for long when ahead of him lay a stirring adventure. Soon, my mind was looking forward to rejoining my comrades, stalwart fellows all. Rough diamonds, who live in a lusty, cheery fashion. Rough and rude, but honest, kindly, brave and loyal. Let us pray to God that we ever hold true to their virtues, while we outgrow their vices.

But I digress. When I arrived at my base in Plymouth, my sergeant greeted me with the warmth and welcoming countenance for which he is renowned, (2) and he gently requested that I join my comrades with alacrity, and we would be addressed by Colonel Vaux, who was the CO of my Commando. (3).

I greeted my fellows, and I observed that some seemed to have a slight headache, but everyone was confident that the ailment would pass. (4) Our Lieutenant gave us a preliminary talk, explaining that we were about to be deployed, and that this was what our training had been for. He expressed sympathy with Marine Jackson, who had married the previous day, and was unhappy at the thought of being parted from his young bride. All credit must go to Marine Jackson for understanding that Duty can be a harsh mistress, and he was uncomplaining about the situation throughout the adventure. (5).

The whole Commando, 600 brave and stalwart men, listened to Colonel Vaux as he explained the position. “The situation is this. Argentine forces have just completed an invasion of the Falkland Islands, and are claiming these British islands for their own. The fish-heads (Gentle Reader, much terminology used is so technical as to practically make it a different language. In Marine terminology, a fish-head is a sailor in the Royal Navy, of which the Marines are a part. Fish-heads, in this context, meant Royal Navy) are taking a Task Force to the Islands, and we’ll be taking the islands back. We’ll have a long sea voyage, a bit of exercise, and then a long sea voyage back again. I’ve been advised that we’ll be travelling Down South on a luxury liner, the Canberra. You’ll collect your kit and muster ready to leave. We’ll be gone some time, so make sure you’ve got everything you need. Troop Leaders, take care of your Troops.”

And thus is was that we came to board the Canberra on this great adventure. We all wondered what might befall, but none of us knew for certain what Fate and Duty might have in store for us.

Chapter Two will see Our Hero travel southwards in the company of his comrades.

1. Fictitious name. 2. Anyone who has ever been spoken to by a sergeant will recognise the tone. 3. Colonel Nick Vaux, later Major-General, commander of 42 Commando during the Conflict. 4. Royal Marines called back unexpectedly from leave may not always be 100% sober. 5. This is an outright, 100%, stone-cold lie. Marine Jackson whinged about it from start to finish, suggesting that he could think of better things to be doing on his honeymoon. His comrades were about as sympathetic as you might expect.

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