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

By David Flin

In the previous episode, Our Hero answered the Call of Duty, and, with his comrades, set off to rescue the Islanders of the Falklands from their captivity at the hands of Argentine forces, who had taken the islands by force.

Chapter the Second: In which Our Hero travels Southwards in the Company of his Comrades.

Gentle Reader, imagine the frustration of my comrades and myself as we journeyed southwards. British territory had been invaded, and noble British subjects despoiled, and it was our duty to rectify this situation. We were eager to put the situation to rights, but alas! 8000 miles is a long distance to travel, and even in the swiftest vessels, the journey was a long one.

I understand that a representative of Cousin Jonathon (1) attempted to find a diplomatic solution to the situation. While this was a worthy aim, any of my comrades could have told him it was doomed to failure. It was not to be thought that the Argentine forces, having invaded and secured a strong position and present in numbers greatly exceeding our own, would meekly withdraw because we asked them to. Even less credible was that the Royal Marines (2) would fail to exact stern vengeance for this slight. We were well aware of the dangers involved, but Duty and Honour would not countenance any backward step. A writer of some note from America had, only a couple of years previous to this, penned a work that he had called “The Empire Strikes Back”, and the title captured our mood perfectly. (3)

But, Gentle Reader, consider our frustration. We were keen to start the action, we were on the edge of a great adventure, but we were cooped up on a ship, unable even to go for a ramble amidst the green hills of home. The older hands explained the situation: “Hurry Up and Wait.” I suspect that the archers at Agincourt, awaiting the French advance, had hastened to their posts, only to find that they were left frustrated, waiting for the next move.

Many noted the presence in the Task Force of Prince Andrew, nicknamed Randy, in honour of Randolph Churchill (5). I regret that we were never on the same ship, so I never got to meet the Prince. I am reliably informed that he was a Naval Officer of some significant reputation and well-known among the officers on his ship. (6)

We reached Ascension Island, which, while lacking many of the amenities my comrades desired, it did allow us to reorder the storage of our equipment. In the haste to leave England, equipment had been stored as soon as it arrived. The older hands advised me that ideally, we would have the items that we would need first near the top of the storage. It was pointed out that struggling to find equipment at the bottom of the heap while taking fire was not considered to be ideal.

Luckily, our Sergeant requested that we take the opportunity to rectify the situation, which we did with cheerfulness and alacrity. Labouring for the good of all is a virtue, and in my innocence, I believed that this was the attitude of my comrades.

Alas for my shattered innocence. Afterwards, I discovered that my comrades had, during the restocking of the equipment, had availed themselves of the opportunity to store discovered nutty (7) about their person. Justice, in the form of our Sergeant and Lieutenant, arrived on our mess deck. The Lieutenant, on observing the miscreants caught red-handed – or perhaps that should be chocolate-handed – like guilty children would suggest that they reconsider their ways. Or so I thought. But alas for my innocence. The Lieutenant merely said that he expected to receive his fair share. I suspect that the Sergeant would not have been so generous.

We continued southwards, leaving the warmth and stillness of the Tropics, and the weather became inclement. It was not a voyage for those with sensitive stomachs, for the ships were driving through stormy seas. Gentle Reader, the seas were terrible to behold. I could talk in poetical terms of waves rolling like angry mountains, forty feet high and more, and how the ships were tossed about like so many matchsticks in a bath made turbulent by the splashing feet of a giant, and how water swept through doors opened even for an instant, and how every surface inside the ship became covered with damp. I could wax lyrical about the biting wind and the rain lashing horizontally across the deck, and that the rain turned to snow as we went further southwards, into the domain of Shackleton and Scott and those intrepid explorers. But I shall leave the details to your imagination, Gentle Reader. (8)

Finally, a little over a month after we had left England, our destination hove into view and we began to make preparations to, in the immortal words of the greatest of Naval Officers, “Engage the Enemy More Closely.”

My close comrade, Marine Tucker, was more succinct. “We’ve found them, but blow me down, the officers don’t know what to do with them.”

Chapter the Third will see Our Hero land, and discover that the land was scarcely much drier than the sea. We shall discover the nature of the true enemy.

1. USA. Our Hero is referring to Haig’s attempt to achieve a diplomatic solution. 2. Neatly ignoring the contributions of the RN, Army, RAF, and civilians involved in all this. But they (and most of the Marines, in fact) were just supporting characters to the important people, namely No 2 Troop, K Company, 42 Commando. Not that I’m biased, you understand. 3. You wouldn’t believe how many cartoons (4) were produced on this theme. 4. It was more than that number you just thought of. 5. Wrong. The nickname “Randy” had a more obvious source. 6. Note that the author doesn’t say if Prince Andrew was a good officer. 7. Sweets, usually chocolate bars. Called nutty because it rarely contains nuts. 8. I’m so glad he didn’t describe what he spent so long describing.

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