IT TOOK place 30 years ago, but former WO2 Sergeant Major Mike (George) Mechen can still remember the Falklands War as if it were yesterday.
Mike, known as George because of his Newcastle Geordie connections. He was the Sergeant Major of Yankee Company of 45 Royal Marine Commando based in Arbroath. He recalls that the lead up to Yankee Company’s part in the Falklands War was somewhat unusual.
George explained that the company had been deployed in Belfast for a six-month tour of duty which ended in January, 1982. They then went on a three-month deployment to Borneo and afterwards received some well earned leave in and around Hong Kong.
On April 1 an urgent telex from RM Condor stated all leave was cancelled and everyone was to return to Condor as soon as possible. However, as it was April Fools Day some of the lads thought this was a joke. When confirmation was asked for, the message was repeated with a red star signifying that this was no exercise and the unit was to return to the Arbroath base on the next possible flight.
Unfortunately the troops of Yankee Company were scattered all over Hong Kong. Local police, Military Police and various methods were used to round up the troops and two Royal Air Force VC10 aircraft brought them back to the UK. By the time Yankee Company got back to Condor it was virtually deserted with almost all the troops deployed with the task force which had already sailed for the South Atlantic.
At Condor important decisions had to be made, like what equipment to take with them. After some thought on the Falklands terrain it was decided the lads should take their Arctic kit. Another flight was organised from RAF Leuchars in Fife and Yankee Company overtook the British task force and landed in Ascension Island in mid-Atlantic, where they trained vigorously until the task force appeared on the horizon 10 days later. The single airstrip at Ascension Island was at the height of the conflict the busiest airport in the world.
Yankee Company boarded the fleet auxiliary ship ‘Stromness’ which had recently been re-fitted to a high standard as she was to be sold to the American Navy. This sale and others were cancelled, while further ships were commandeered and allocated to the task force under the command of Admiral Sandy Woodward.
Yankee and other companies of 45 Commando landed at Ajax Bay where they were informed the transport helicopters had been lost with the ‘Atlantic Conveyor’ when she was sunk by an Exocet missile. The Royal Marines proceeded to ‘yomp’ towards Port Stanley but encountered heavy fire fights at The Two Sisters mountain. As they approached Stanley they got the word that the white flag of surrender was flying from the Falklands capital and the official Argentine surrender was accepted that night.
In all, 13 men of 45 Commando Group Royal Marines were killed during the campaign, with many more wounded. George Mechen is now retired from the Royal Marines, but has organised the 30th anniversary Falklands War Reunion, which takes place this weekend at Condor.
George commented: “It will be great for the lads to meet up again. There will be a Royal Marine Band, fireworks, displays from serving Marines, and a Sunday Remembrance Service where the guest of honour will be 45 Commando’s commanding officer during the conflict, General Andrew Whitehead, who will be taking the salute.”
George still has his company nominal list which he used in 1982, reading out the names as his men disembarked from the ship at the Falkland Islands. He said he will use it again tomorrow (Saturday) when he meets up with his former Yankee Company colleagues.