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One Soldier’s Falkland’s War

by Roger Field

Roger Field was a young captain in The Blues and Royals in April 1982, when the Argentinians invaded The Falklands, and possibly the only person alive to have witnessed, first-hand, the special debate that took place in the House of Commons on Saturday 3rd April 1982, and then, two months later, the victorious entry of the Task Force to Port Stanley. The author certainly makes the claim, and it seems probable that he is right.

Scimitar into Stanley is very much a personal account of the Falklands War, written many years after the events described here, drawing on a diary that the author started while sailing to the South Atlantic on the QE2.  Not someone who hitherto had been inclined to keep a diary, Roger Field found himself both surprised and at times alarmed by events going on around him on that journey. As he says ‘I needed to get my experiences on paper before they dimmed or became confused by time; or, given some of what I witnessed, that I later got to wondering whether I had imagined things’. The chapters that cover this part of his story, the journey by sea to South Georgia, where the troops transferred to the SS Canberra, provide some interesting and at times amusing insights into what it must have been like to go to war on a luxury cruise ship. And when they are finally on Canberra, not quite as comfortable as QE2, for the final approach to the Falklands, Field and his watchkeepers colleagues ‘listen aghast as the BBC announce over the radio that …….we will be landing at San Carlos tomorrow. If we are listening to this, then so are the Argies’.

The book is written in an eclectic style, sometimes direct, often caustic, with earthy expressions and military jargon along the way. There are also plenty of funny moments in the book, and there were times when I thought I was re-reading Catch 22 or Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall. The story of the trench-digging saga at San Carlos is on a par with Spike Milligan’s description of him and his father watching his mother digging their air-raid shelter on the outbreak of war. ‘She’s a great little woman ….. and getting smaller all the time’. For Field and the other watchkeepers, the Brigade defensive position at San Carlos looked to him like a ‘come as you please hole digging party’, but Roger has a cunning plan: there must be a pre-dug British four-man trench somewhere here, recently vacated by the Commando Brigade. Ignoring Brigade SOPS on trenches, the watchkeepers quietly slope off to a perfect trench, both ‘turd’ and ‘IED’ free, ‘neatly dug to ‘Stage 2’ (with overhead cover)’, while everyone else keeps digging.

The failures of HQ 5 Infantry Brigade and criticisms of individuals, particularly Brigadier Tony Wilson (no longer alive to defend himself) have been well-rehearsed over the years, and particularly in recent documentaries. Roger Field pulls no punches here, and it’s clear from the outset that he is unimpressed with the headquarters, the staff, and indeed the Brigadier himself. As a watchkeeper posted-in on deployment, no one was particularly interested in what this young captain might have to offer, specifically as an adviser on the use of tracked armoured cars: Scimitars and Scorpions. The Brigadier began by sounding enthusiastic: ‘Excellent’ was his response to Field’s suggestion that he should put together a presentation; another topic added to the Brigade Major’s long list of ‘Action Points’. It seems extraordinary that during all those days at sea (some three weeks), time was never found for that presentation; Field kept pushing for it, but it never happened. Ignorance, resentment, suspicion of the cavalry, whatever it was, it was pretty inexcusable. Just a 30-min presentation, and Roger Field blames Brigadier Wilson entirely for squandering the opportunity: ‘a number of infantry lives could have been saved’ had the Brigadier fully appreciated, from the outset, the potency of a 30mm Raden cannon in support of an infantry attack.  

What, precisely, HQ 5 Brigade was doing most of the time during that three weeks at sea is not easy to ascertain, but from Roger Field’s perspective, not much was happening, and the Brigadier was rarely seen. If the course of wars are determined, in part, by the periods of activity and preparation before the troops are committed to action, then Scimitar into Stanley really does have some fascinating insights. There are, however, occasions when, it seems, Brigadier Wilson’s judgement may have been right. Roger Field does not, for example, share the view that the so-called ‘right-hand hook’, most likely dreamed-up by Wilson, was wrong. 

Roger Field does finally escape from the Brigade HQ. A chance meeting with Major Chris Keeble of 2 Para, and then an opportunity to brief the newly arrived Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel David Chaundler, on the use of armoured cars, is a turning point. What he doesn’t realise at the time is that he is ‘pushing at an already open door’. Chaundler had studied what went wrong at Goose Green and was determined to acquire some armoured cars. Soon, Field became 2 Para’s armoured adviser, staying close to the Commanding Officer during the opening moves of the Battle of Wireless Ridge. Then, the commander of one of the attached Scimitars was injured and following a hair-raising trek back to the Regimental Air Post, Field assumed command of the vehicle. The following day, 2 Para and The Blues and Royals entered Port Stanley, and the war was over. One of his abiding memories during that attack at Wireless Ridge was to see how 2 Para handled the prospect of another battle. Having fought at Goose Green, they knew what to expect, and that for him was real courage.

Scimitar into Stanley is a fascinating book which begins by displaying all the frustrations of a staff officer in a rather dysfunctional headquarters, with no proper role, and no one listening to him; and it ends with the author in the frontline. Roger Field also concedes that the Falklands changed his life; war has an indelible effect on people. Nothing is ever quite the same again.

The Editor


Pen & Sword



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