Serial Saturday: Down South in the Service of the Queen - Chapter the Seventh

By David Flin

In the previous episode, Our Hero and his comrades carry out night patrols preparatory to assaulting Mount Harriet.

Chapter the Seventh. In which Our Hero recounts his experiences during the assault on Mount Harriet, and the events of the immediate aftermath.

Gentle Reader, I am not going to tire you with all the details of the assault on Mount Harriet. For one thing, I only saw a small part of it, and you would learn more from reading the memoirs of those with a more dispassionate and objective viewpoint.

For a second thing, one’s memory of events is often very disjointed, like asking a blind-side flanker to recall all the details of a particularly hard-fought game of rugby. He will remember key moments, but might mistake the order of events. One rarely has time to make copious notes during the event, and memorising details for later recall is not uppermost in one’s thinking.

And finally, such details become tedious, and oft-times may cause distress to those of a more sensitive nature.

We advanced, taking our foes by surprise as they were not expecting the direction from which our attack came. However, the had had ample time to prepare, and their strong-points were well-covered bunkers, and we needed to deal with each in turn. We worked in our individual units, and while one fire team would deal with a position, we would be in cover, briefly taking a smoke of a cigarette while planning our approach to our next target.

It is with some embarrassment that I have to confess to the immoral vice of smoking. I never smoked before or since, and it was a brief lapse, for our planning rarely took long. I know that many regard smoking as an indication of low moral values, and attribute to it many of the ills of society, and that those who indulge are weak-willed characters who are not to be trusted with, as grandfather said: “His Money, his Malt, or his Maidservant.” Although as I recall, grandfather was often in debt, few people had the chance to drink his whisky before he did, and the less said about the maidservant, the better.

But I digress. (1).

Typically, the plan we would come up with would involve either firing a 66 at the bunker, or requesting that the naval gunfire support might care, if they would be so kind, to send three shells at a specific location that we gave them. This would raise dust and little pebbles, and while the dust and little pebbles were still going up, we would announce our presence at the bunker in the customary manner.

Despite many later reports, the Argentine forces fought bravely, although in a disjointed, uncoordinated manner, and their training was not good. The advance demonstrated that a well-trained team is stronger than a much larger group of individuals. Bare is Brotherless Back holds as true now as it did in days gone by.

The assault lasted many hours, and was tiring on both the body and the nerves, but as dawn began to make its appearance, it was clear that we had emerged victorious. (1).

I record that, despite being in the southern hemisphere, the sun still rose in the east. I had been under the misapprehension that everything in the antipodes was the other way around; summer is winter, and so on. But by some quirk, the sun still rises in the east. The young lady I was courting in England teaches young children, and doubtless she will be able to explain. (2).

We were clearing the ground, and preparing for daylight, when our officers and NCOs suggested that we would be well advised to ensure that we were well under cover. Our Lieutenant was dealing with one of our wounded, patching him up and telling him to make his way to the start line, where he would be treated. It wasn’t a severe wound, but sufficient to render him hors de combat for a time. The fellow was leaving, and our Lieutenant shouted at us to make sure we stayed under cover. I pondered this for a moment, wondering why he should be so concerned.

I discovered why a moment later, when Argentine artillery shells began landing. They knew our position to the inch, for only an hour ago, it was their position. When the first shell landed, our Lieutenant had not yet reached cover, and by great misfortune, the first shell landed close to him. As the shell exploded, it sent rock fragments in all directions. I saw our Lieutenant flung through the air, as though an invisible giant had picked him up and hurled him across the open space. (5). By chance, he ended up near my position, and I dragged him into cover as quickly as I could. As I did so, I myself received a blow to my leg, and I could feel a bone break as a lump of rock struck it.

Our Lieutenant was sorely wounded, so much so that I doubted he would survive. I staunched his wounds as best I could, and advised my sergeant of the situation.

Within moments, a helicopter appeared to carry off the wounded post haste to the aid station (6), and the Sergeant, on seeing my injury, instructed me to ride with the Lieutenant, and make sure I kept his bleeding under control until we reached the medics.

I was loathe to leave my comrades, but our Lieutenant needed my assistance were he to stand a chance of survival, and with a broken leg, my active role in this adventure was at an end.

And thus it came to pass that we were transported to the aid station. As we travelled, I enumerated the wounds of the Lieutenant to the pilot, so that he could give advance warning to the aid station. It was less than an hour before we arrived at the aid station, covering a journey that had taken us the best part of a month going in the other direction.

We landed, and our Lieutenant was carried out, and I turned to explain his injuries to the waiting medic. And then I gaped in astonishment, for the medic, although wearing a Marine combat jacket against the cold and rain, was a woman. Gentle Reader, I could not explain this, but I realised that Marine Cledwyn had not been misleading us. (7). She was not a delicate flower or an ethereal angel, but was brisk and quick and business-like. She asked me, in a strong accent of the Scottish borderlands, if I would kindly mind giving her room to see to the urgent case.

She was clearly nigh-on exhausted, and her face was all smeared with mud. Her hair, which may have been a deep red, looked like it had not seen a brush for a month.

Our Lieutenant was trying to speak as I held his stomach together, and although he was barely conscious, he was telling the young lady about dry socks in his pockets, and that she was to make sure they got to his men, who were in sore need of them.

In Chapter the Eighth, Our Hero and the Lieutenant are transported to the hospital ship Uganda, and those that survive make the long journey home.

1. Well, there’s a surprise. 2. As seen in Chapter the First. (3). 3. Curiously, a very high proportion of Marines marry teachers or nurses. I have no convincing explanation for this, but it is a noted fact, and has been for as long as I can remember. (4). 4. And that’s a long time, provided you don’t worry about accuracy of recall. 5. So I’m told. 6. Writing this, I notice that despite the desperate shortage of helicopters throughout the campaign, I seem to have encountered far more than my fair share. I’m not complaining. 7. See Chapter the Third.

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David Flin is the author of the SLP books Six East End Boys, Tales from Section D, The Return of King Arthur and Other Alternate Myths, and Bring Me My Bow