Serial Saturday: Down South In the Service of the Queen - Chapter The Fourth

by David Flin

In the previous episode, Our Hero and his comrades landed on the Islands.

Chapter the Fourth. In which Our Hero commences his journey across the island, we learn of Sports Pages, and of the journey to Mount Kent

Gentle Reader, I regret to inform you that in an earlier chapter, I inadvertently misled you. I implied that my comrades had been complaining in San Carlos. At the time, I thought this was the case, but I was in error.

I discovered my error as we commenced our stroll eastwards. We had no sooner settled our packs upon our backs, when my comrades started complaining in earnest. They complained about the weather, and the terrain, and the absence of female companionship, and the shortage of welcoming taverns in which to spend the money that they didn’t have. The complained about the lack of alcoholic refreshment, the absence of pretty barmaids, the low quality of the cuisine, and the fact that there were no fond ladies to cook for them. They complained about the ground and their poor pay, the dismal terrain, and the absence of the fairer sex. One suggested that Prince Charles should be here with us, rather than back in England with his new wife. One fellow volunteered to exchange places with the Prince and, in the line of duty and with no thought of self, instruct Princess Diana in the marital arts, which I took to mean sewing and cooking.

This led to Marine Jackson complaining that he should be on his honeymoon, and that he would prefer to be with his new wife than 8000 miles away from her and in our company. Fortunately, his comrades assured him that there were many honourable gentlemen in England who would see to the well-being of his wife during his absence.

My comrades complained about the poor state of the England football team, and when Marine McAdam commented on this, they complained about the poor state of the Scottish football team, just to keep him happy.

They blamed an individual they called “Jug Ears” for the fact that we were walking uphill. They complained about the lack of intelligence of the penguins. Later that evening, they complained about how poorly penguins tasted, and on this, I am forced to concur with them. Gentle Reader, if you are ever given the chance to dine on penguin, I would advise you most heartily to decline (1).

They complained about the lack of mail, the dreadful weather, their wet socks, the absence of young ladies with whom they could converse, and the fact that it was June and winter. Marine Winters complained that because we were in the southern hemisphere, we were upside down, and all the blood was rushing to his head, giving him a headache (2). Corporal Brown reminded him that this would require him to have a brain, and according to Marine records, he hadn’t been issued with one.

To cut a long story short (3) Gentle Reader, they complained. Napoleon called his Old Guard the Grognards, the Grumblers, but I can assure you, they had nothing on my comrades, who would yield to none in the fluency of their complaining. Indeed, my comrades were veritable Grande Grognards. Do not think, Gentle Reader, that my comrades were dispirited. Far from it. It is the natural right of a Marine to complain (4) from time immemorial, and as my comrades were Marines par excellence, it stands to reason that they would complain more.

One evening, two helicopters flew – unaccountably – to our position, bringing with them additional supplies and – astonishingly – mail from home. Despite all the difficulties, the Navy makes every effort to ensure mail from home gets through quickly. You need to be far from home, cold, wet, hungry, tired, and a little nervous to realise just how much a few words from loved ones at home can mean.

We settled down to read our letters, and the grim faces of these stern warriors, grubby and care-worn, relaxed into smiles on reading notes of affection from their wives and sweethearts, as the mess toast has it. The usual answering call to the toast “Wives and Sweethearts” is “May they never meet”, but I confess that I am at a loss to understand this. I can only conclude that it is an old service custom, the explanation of which is lost in the mists of time.

The affection expressed in the Sports Pages, as mail from loved ones was called, was greatly moving, many detailing how fondly the Marines would be greeted on their safe return. The messages were treasured, and comrades would share these treasures with each other, but I shall draw a discreet veil over the content. (5).

All the time, our Lieutenant had been fussing over us, like an unobtrusive mother hen. Never overbearing, and always with a ready quip or jest, and reassuring us that he understood our concerns, and that however confusing the situation appeared, he had everything under control.

We heard from the helicopter crew that the Paratroopers had captured Goose Green, and this puzzled us. The army was heading eastwards, to Stanley, and yet Goose Green was far off to the south, and of no relevance to the campaign. We discussed this confusing news, until Sergeant Stone came up with the only explanation that made sense.

“They gave the Pongoes (6) a compass. It’s got a moving part. They got lost. We’re lucky they didn’t attack New York.”

Satisfied with this explanation, we prepared to move on. Our Lieutenant had been talking with the helicopter pilots, and had held discourse with his superiors through the radio communication, and he came to us with the news.

“Good news, people. The SAS report that Mount Kent is empty, and we’re being given a lift in these helicopters to grab it. So, we’ve got a lift for the next 15 miles, rather than having to walk.”

“And what if it isn’t empty, Sir?”

“Why, Corporal Barry, then we will persuade anyone there to vacate the premises. But the SAS have checked it out, and say that it’s empty.”

And thus it was we loaded – indeed, overloaded – the two helicopters, and flew towards Mount Kent in the dark, stormy night.

In Chapter the Fifth, Our Hero will describe the taking of the “undefended” Mount Kent, the Lieutenant’s signal on the taking of Mount Kent, and preparations for the assault on Mount Harriet.

1. Damn right. Pretty much entirely fat tasting strongly of fish oil, and words cannot describe how vile a food it is. Disgusting is too kind a word. 2. Imagine how much of a headache all this grumbling gave me. 3. Too late. 4. Generally called dripping. 5. The word “graphic” doesn’t even begin to cover the descriptions of some of the Sports Pages. Reading them is something of an education. Sports Pages are so-called after the Daily Sport, a newspaper well-known for its copious use of pictures of attractive young ladies with minimal clothing. 6. Pongoes: Army personnel. So called because wherever the Army goes, that’s where the pong goes

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