The Glorious 74th Entry RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices (The Coronation Entry).

Stan Norris Remembers.

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6. Falklands: It Was My Turn To Go.

Photograph: Soldiers standing behind Land Rover.

Photograph: Men at work.

During the 1980's a detachment to the Falkland Islands at sometime or other was a certainty and I was quite philosophical about it. Nothing happened while I was a Flt Sgt but about six weeks after I was promoted to Warrant Officer I suddenly found I was top of the list. The person I was replacing at Mount Pleasant wrote and told me all about it and was very helpful. Until I received his letter I had no idea that I was to be OC Engineering Wing Headquarters Flight. (EWHQ)

My predecessor met me off the aircraft and my introduction to the Falklands and our handover could not have been easier or more amicable. I settled into the detachment and reviewed the overall scenario. What had I inherited? Primarily the day to day management of the administration of EWHQ. As you would expect, there was an Eng Ops, Eng records and a small team to operate them. I also had an itinerant Non Destructive Testing technician who had a roving commission from a desk in Eng records. OC Eng Wing (Wg Cdr), a Sqn Ldr (OC Engineering Wing Sqn) and a cat called Shallows. My primary duty during a time of increased security was to lead a small team of aircraft engineers to do something potentially dangerous. As a secondary duty I was Chairman of the Junior Ranks Committee for the two NAAFI clubs. Now that was dangerous!

The normal daily routine was to get to Eng Ops first thing in the morning before the Wg Cdr. Vet the overnight signals traffic before he did and have the answer to his questions before he went to the daily briefing. Well that was the theory. Once that was over I could return to my office area, make a fuss of the cat (that was non-negotiable) and then visit the staff and jolly them along to keep the morale high. At other times during the day I used to visit the various engineering flights and sections mainly to escape the over possessive pussy in my office. So by and large it was quite a mundane existence - if you wanted it that way. Which I didn't. Fortunately, I had a great team of SNCO's to the lowest airman. Two of the NCO's took on the job of maintaining our two 'bimble' wagons, (Land Rovers). A bimble wagon was a vehicle recycled from a number of war damaged vehicles and used for recreational purposes. When we had a day off, as many of us that could, would pile into the wagons and off we would go and explore the islands. For all our social events we combined with Aircraft Servicing Flight and were members of their Tea bar/Social Club (Timmy's). Even combined we were not a big crowd but there was a great spirit of 'can do' about our two teams.

Other off duty diversions was to tour the battlefields. There was still plenty of war debris laying around and each one of us marvelled at the skill and bravery of the British forces who had to dislodge the Argentinians from their formidable defensive positions. One Sunday we explored Mount Harriet, there was a lot of debris laying around at that time but the following day it was closed off. Mines had been found close to one of the routes up to the top! Wild life was a key interest to most of us and with that in mind we managed to get a lift on a Chinook helicopter to Sea Lion Island one Sunday and that is a tale on its own.

Our newly arrived Sqn Ldr Steve Burry came with us and we were due to dine him in the following week. Welcoming or departure speeches etc were always made as poems and it was my task to write the welcome speech for his dining in. The Sea Lion Island excursion provided the ammunition! The island lies to the south of the main Falkland Islands. It is very small in area, there was only one family living there and we were not to disturb them. Small as it was, wild life abounded. Seals, elephant seals, penguins galore, cormorants, Caracaras, tussock birds, dolphins and at the right time of year you might be lucky enough to catch sight of Killer Whales. There was also a memorial to the fallen. We were well prepared for a long day in whatever weather we encountered. The helicopter pick-up time was 'as and when' it would be around that way! Let the dining-in speech of welcome for Steve Burry tell the story of that Sunday outing.

A Bimble in the Falkland Islands.

Our acquaintanceships been very brief, I refer of course to our new 'chief'.
He told me he was lion hearted as on our bimble we departed.
En route to Sea Lion he showed no fear, heli rides are quite small beer,
knuckles showing no sign of white, when arriving at our island site.
"Ok, lead on", he says to me, as though he was some VIP. ***

The mighty Elephant seal we viewed and clearly chief's no naturalist dude,
his camera shutter discreetly clicking, to the country code he kept sticking.
Next we braved the tussock grass, the sleepy sea lions we tried to pass
and one let out an ominous noise; but chief, he showed no loss of poise,
his face screwed up to show disdain for us who felt a nervous pain. ***

Out in front, the lead he took, over land and bubbling brook.
He led us to the war memorial and stood there posing - the guide sartorial!
Among the penguins we had our lunch, my coffee strengthened with rum punch,
he had no need of an extra boost and calmly watched the penguins roost.
"Time to go, let's see the whales" and on he bounded o'er rocks and shale. ***

More tussock grass we spied ahead, no wild life there, the game had fled.
This grass was tall and of great height, each other we could barely sight.
I was leading out in front (because I'm tall and not a runt.)
When suddenly a might ROAR, right close by - in fact next door!
Anxious now to leave this place I leapt the grass with amazing grace. ***

The chief I did my best to pass, but he was gone, back pedalling fast!
No poise now, he'd had a fright and cleared the tussock grass in flight.
Eventually we made clear ground, breathless but alive we found.
New knowledge from this tale I tell? Adrenalin is brown and smells! ***


Photograph: Man standing in minefield.

Photograph: Penguins in a mine field.

On another occasion, Steve Burry, myself and ASF's WO (Chris Harrison) took a bimble wagon out. It was a very dull day and by mid afternoon the weather was even less promising so we headed in the general direction of Mount Pleasant by way of Estancia House, a very small settlement. Previous tyre tracks petered out and instead we were confronted by a flat area that somehow didn't look as solid as it should. After a brief recce Steve and Chris advised me the way I should proceed. Gingerly edging my way through - well to halfway - the beast stuck and sank up to the sills. All the usual driving techniques were tried to no avail, we would have to dig it out. Fortunately there was loads of war debris which we dragged and carried to fill in the two trenches we were digging. By now a light rain was turning to sleet and visibility was fading fast. Not a sign of life anywhere, no habitation, nothing! After several desperate attempts we managed to extricate the bimble and ourselves from the predicament. The vehicle and us were covered in mud and the light was completely gone but we managed to get back to Mount Pleasant. But before we could call it a day we had to completely clean the bimble wagon with a cold water hose, not the perfect ending.

Information came to me quite by chance, that an ex Royal Marine who had retired some twenty years previously, was reviving or re-creating a Falklands Islands Museum. I made inquiries and eventually made contact with him. It was not completely ready to be open to the general public but he invited us down to Port Stanley to have a look. The Museum was located in a large villa that was previously occupied by the Argentinian Air Commander. Our host had done a marvellous job and had some wonderful and interesting relics on show including some really up to date exhibits from the conflict.

At the end of our visit he presented me with a Falklands Island Museum tie which I wear still, with great pride. Many people have voiced their curiosity about it.

Approximately half way through the detachment everyone is entitled to four days 'R and R'. There are various ways to do this ranging from remaining on the base, staying with a family at one of the settlements around the islands, or go to an outdoor centre. I chose to go to Pebble Island which lies to the north of the main Falkland Islands and stay with Farmer John Reid.

John Reid had a Chilean housekeeper/cook and her husband who did all sorts of jobs around the place. John was a taciturn, elderly man with lots of energy and a very able host. My visit started off with a beach landing by the local air service (FIGAS ?), because the normal landing strip was still unfit for use. As soon as I had put my holdall in the house John took me round the island showing me the places of interest and the wild life. He told me that I was to be joined by two other guests in the house the next day. My companions turned out to be two young WRAC privates. When they arrived I was relaxing in the lounge, they burst through the door, both talking at once and waving two video cassettes. They stopped dead, looked around and said "Where's the TV?" John told them he didn't have one and they were really disappointed. There was another settler not too far away who loaned John a TV and video player. It was a blessing because the weather really closed in with high winds and horizontal sleet persisting for a couple of days and Pebble Island was isolated, no flights in or out. The videos were played endlessly and only given a rest at mealtimes. On their return to Mount Pleasant, the girls were going to a fancy dress party and their plan was to make their costumes whilst on R and R. Every now and then, one or the other or both would come giggling down the stairs saying "Do you think this will be ok Mr Norris"? "Shall I change this or that etc". The last day of my R and R arrived but there was no getting off the island so I contacted base and told them of my plight. I was speaking to Steve Burry and he said to me "let me get this straight, you are marooned on Pebble Island with two young WRAC girls and you cant get back to base"? "You say you have blizzards and goodness knows what and that's stopping you from getting back"? "It's excellent visibility and good weather here, you don't expect OC Eng Wing will swallow that one do you"? It turned out that the pair of them were determined to tease me as long as possible and make the most of my discomfort. I got back a day or so late and they ribbed me for days afterwards.


Photograph: Landrover over rough ground.

Photograph: Bimble wagon on the way to Goose Green.

As my tour covered the Falklands winter season there was quite a few 'indoor hours'. Letter writing, quizzes, CSE shows, film shows, and darts all helped to pass the hours. I had taken a guitar with me, determined to expand my folk song repertoire. In no time at all I found another guitarist, a mandolin player and a tin whistle player. Two of my SNCO's were pretty good at repartee, one liners and ad libs so we set up a folk entertainment group. We tried it out in Timmy's bar one evening and we had two or three guests in from the dental section as well, they were a good audience and it was a good night. That gave us the idea of performing at some of the other bars for just a drink and our supper and apart from one club we were well received. Unfortunately we were all tour-ex within a few weeks of each other and there was no-one to take it on when we left.

I knew that I was highly unlikely to be going to the Falklands again so I saw as much of the place as was possible,

made the most of what was available and I have to be honest, I enjoyed my tour there. The one thing that kept most of us going was the 'blueys' - our mail from home. I received a regular supply of those, I was fortunate to have a great bunch of men and women on my team and I had two excellent officers above me. I am extremely grateful to all of them for their perseverance and positive attitudes.


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