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

by David Flin

In the previous episode, Our Hero and his comrades assailed Mount Kent.

Chapter the Sixth. Our Hero participates in night patrols preparatory to the assault on Mount Harriet.

Gentle Reader, it was thus that we continued with our adventure, and the events on Mount Kent had brought home to us that this was an earnest matter, and not a mere game in which those who erred could rise to their feet at the end with a jest. We were all sobered by the sights that we had seen on Mount Kent, and our resolve was even stronger, were that possible. But the nature of Marines is not to display concern or show emotion, but rather to present to the outside world a merry quip and, of course, a continual stream of complaining of things over which no mortal has any control.

And thus it was that we rejoined our comrades from the rest of 42 Commando, and we jocularly made fun of the fact that while they had walked some 15 miles in inclement weather carrying heavy packs, we had been wise enough to prevail upon a fleet of luxury carriers to transport us and our equipment that distance in comfort. In return, they pointed out that they had received the benefit of being able to breathe clean air in the open, and hadn’t been squeezed into a noisy, noisome metal box and sent on a fool’s errand.

With honour thus satisfied on both sides, my comrades returned to complaining about the absence of female companionship and the weather, and roundly abused all faults upon the head of the unfortunate Prince Charles. (1).

We arrived on the ground facing Mount Harriet, and waited for everything to be ready for the next phase of our enterprise. You might think that this waiting would be a quiet time, with little to do save prepare. If those were indeed your thoughts, then I am afraid you know little of the life that we live out in the field.

We did not pass the time idly in our posts. Rather, we would go out in small groups, to ambush and waylay the enemy, discover their hidden defences, and probe to locate their weaknesses. Like bandits preying on the unsuspecting, we would steal out unobserved, and return later, with fantastical tales to tell our comrades, although we told the truth of our endeavours to our Lieutenant. (3).

One evening, we spied an Argentine patrol returning to their positions on Mount Harriet. We were about to engage them, when it was observed that they were passing through a known minefield. (4). We observed them and noted the route that they took, and marked the clear pathway. We remained in concealment, and waited for another Argentine patrol to depart. It was uncomfortable waiting in the biting rain, lying in a peat bog with noisome smells, freezing quietly and scarce daring to even chatter our teeth lest we give away our position.

In due course, after maybe two hours, our patience was rewarded, and an enemy patrol emerged. They clearly had no desire to be out in this weather, for they made no pretence of concealment, or looking around, but just swiftly made their way through the minefield, and when through, headed towards their destination, looking neither to left nor right.

We followed carefully as a discrete distance, ensuring – without too much difficulty – that we were not ourselves observed. When they were a sufficient distance from their base, out of sight and earshot, we carried out our primary function. Then we returned to base and made our report.

Our Lieutenant was vexed with us, and expressed himself in forthright terms that we had started well, and then erred. He pointed out in a few words that we had acquired valuable information, and then risked being unable to return with that information because we had decided to “play silly buggers”. His comments made sense when we explained them, but we simply had not considered the enemy patrol to be a threat. Gentle Reader, if you come into possession of important information that your superiors might greatly desire, it is wise not to get distracted by other tasks.

Nonetheless, we had determined a route by which we could pass to the southeast of the mountain, enabling us to assail it from an unexpected direction. The plans were made, and we were advised that it would be the task of 42 Commando to capture Mount Harriet. 45 Commando would capture Twin Sisters just to the north, and 3 Para would capture Mount Longdon just to the north of that.

K and L companies were instructed to make their way to the start line, which was being guarded by elements of the Welsh Guards. K Company were to be on the right, and we would thus be the first to move, as well as being the closest British ground forces to Stanley. No 2 Troop was the right-hand Troop of the Company, and I was on the far right of the line, so at this moment, I was the closest to Stanley. The intention was to get as far forward as we could before being noticed. To aid us, J Company were firing weapons to the west of the mountain, in the direction that an attack on the mountain might be expected.

There was a delay on reaching the start line, because the Welsh Guardsmen protecting it could not be found. They were finally located, drinking tea and keeping warm by an open fire. Our Lieutenant chided them for having an open fire near the start line in direct sight of our objective. (5).

Before we started off, a couple of my comrades and our Lieutenant advanced ahead of us briefly, and returned moments later, saying that the Argentine sentries had been taken care of. I had heard nothing, but my attention had been on making sure that I was ready.

“What will be the signal for our advance?” I asked Sergeant Stone.

“Listen carefully Burns. If you’re lucky, you might just hear it.”

A moment later, the mountain seemed to catch fire in a series of shattering explosions, and we began our advance into the smoke and smell of cordite.

Gentle Reader, one often wonders what one thinks about at such times, and whether one will have the courage to do what is required. But at el momento de verdad, or, as the Spanish might say, the moment of truth, one finds oneself focused on one’s own small part, and the higher philosophies are pushed into the background. One just gets on with the job at hand. Maybe it is different for others; for me it turned out that there was neither bravery or cowardice, just doing your bit, and knowing that your comrades are doing their bit, and that you were looking out for each other. The Norse warriors had a saying: “Bare is Brotherless Back”, and we 36 members of my troop each knew that we had 35 brothers guarding our backs.

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

1. I really have no idea why Prince Charles came to figure as such an evil and all-powerful figure, intent on depriving 42 Commando of all comforts. I guess it would be a strange timeline in which this were true, and he really did have control of the weather, and was intent on seducing the wives and sweethearts of everyone involved in Operation Corporate. What can I say? On behalf of 42 Commando, I’m sorry, Your Highness. (2). 2. Actually, I have a suspicion that he would find it vastly amusing, and would play along with the joke. 3. I should bloody well hope so. 4. One of the very few that were marked as a minefield. I understand that unmarked mines still create problems, and the idiot penguins don’t set them off. 5. Chided is not strictly accurate. I was not pleased with them compromising the integrity of the start line, and we had a brief discussion about it. The details of the discussion are best left to the imagination, but there was a brief decline in feelings of inter-service goodwill. Their comment that they had been out in the cold for hours was not well received.

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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