When one speaks of a veteran, most assume it's someone who fought in one of the two world wars. Georgetown resident Don Marshall is a veteran, yet he never saw action in either of the two world wars. In fact he wasn't even born at the time. Marshall is a veteran of a much more recent conflict. He fought in the Falklands. The Falkland Island conflict was a relatively short war, triggered by the occupation of the island of South Georgia by Argentina March 19, 1982, followed closely by occupation of the Falkland Islands (off the coast of Argentina) shortly after. After almost three months, it ended with Argentina surrendering, June 14, 1982. War was not declared by either side. In fact, the initial invasion was considered by Argentina as reoccupation of its own territory, but Britain saw it as an invasion of a British dependency. But whether war was officially declared or not, for Don Marshall, the Falklands conflict was certainly a war. At the age of 22, Marshall was an air engineer mechanic (AEM) aboard the frigate HMS Antelope, a 10 year-old, 384 foot long warship in the British navy. She was sailing off the coast of England when Argentina invaded the Falklands April 2. "We were doing exercises when we were deployed. As soon as the Argentines invaded the Falklands we got a message out of the blue," said Marshall, "We were told to drop everything, and stop playing war games-- we may have to do real war games." "We immediately headed to Plymouth and spent the whole weekend taking on stores, round the clock, storing for war-- everything, food, weapons, everything to deploy the ship for war." The ship sailed for the Ascension Islands and her main job was patrol, establishing a staging point at Ascension for the rest of the British navy and troop ships to catch up, and then work from. See CHESS, pg. 3
`Chess game' soon turned very real
Continued from pg. 1 The trip was very slow, as the British government was engaged in a political chess game, allowing the Argentine government the opportunity to pull out, and in doing so, save face. But Argentina never took advantage of that ploy and the British navy continued on its way. Two separate British naval task forces and the Argentine fleet were operating in the neighbourhood of the Falklands, and soon came into conflict. The first naval loss was the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk May 2, 1982 by the British submarine HMS Conqueror, killing 323 members of Belgrano's crew. Losses from Belgrano totaled just over half of Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict. Two days after the sinking of Belgrano, the British lost the destroyer HMS Sheffield following an Exocet missile strike on May 4.. The chess game had now become very real. On May 21, HMS Antelope moved into San Carlos Water (Bay), on the northwest corner of the East Falklands Island. It was where the British troops and assault vehicles were unloaded. Ships in that area were the targets of numerous air attacks from the Argentine air force, with most of the attacks coming in at very low altitudes. "We were there for essentially one day," said Marshall, "We relieved a sister ship that was `goalkeeping' (aerial defense) to stop any Argentine aircraft from entering the area. Us, and other frigates-- as many as four, were protecting that area." The bay was bordered on each side by high mountains- a perfect natural defense for unloading troops and supplies, as the Argentine aircraft had to attack through the entrance, not over the mountains, and come in over the ships at a low angle approach. "The day we were hit, (May 23) we were in the bay around 6 a.m., and the attacks started at 8 a.m.," said Marshall, "The Argentine aircraft weren't very good at night flying, so most of their attacks were daytime attacks. We had relieved our sister ship, the HMS Ardent, (which had been sunk) two days before, and we sustained about eight or 10 bombing raids that day. We were very fortunate, the ship was only hit twice with 1,000 lb. bombs, and fortunately, the bombs didn't explode, as they were not properly armed-- the Argentineans were using high altitude fuses, for low altitude bombing runs." "The Argentinean air force pilots have my greatest respect," said Marshall, "They
were very brave and risked their lives, as they came in really, really low to attack-- very dangerous. They will always have my respect." Marshall is quick to add that day had its light moments too. "There were some funny times too," added Marshall, "That day I was on the back of the ship-- no aircraft in sight, and I was eating my lunch-- no air raid eminent, but obviously someone made a mistake. A bomb hit the water no more than 15 metres from me. I was taking a washroom break when it hit. My lunch and tea were knocked into the sea, and I leapt onto the flight deck to one of the machine guns mounted there, and started shooting at this aircraft, complete with expletives, you know, those normal things that come out of your mouth in the fog of war. "I was firing at this aircraft, and it was disappearing off in the distance, there was no way I was ever going to hit it-- it was my only way to react to the fact he'd bombed us. "The most amusing thing-- I had peed myself in the middle of this battle." Around noon, two Argentinean Skyhawk fighters came over the ship from the north off the ship's starboard side. The first passed by, but the second was skimming the waves. The Antelope opened fire on the aircraft with 20 mm machine guns and hit it in the wing. The pilot pulled the aircraft up over the ship, but clipped the aerial on the ship at 400 mph. The plane disintegrated and tumbled into the water, but at the same time, the ship lurched as one of the bombs from that same aircraft entered its hull on the starboard side. The unexploded bomb punched a onemetre hole through the side of the ship above the waterline, and sat in the air-conditioning unit near the ship's control centre. See `IT', pg. 4
`It was like watching your house catch fire'
Continued from pg. 3 Soon after, a single aircraft appeared and closed in on the port side of the ship. As the aircraft passed the ship took another 1,000 lb. bomb in the port side just below the bridge, opening up another hole in the hull, again, above the waterline. Unbelievably, that bomb didn't explode either. The first bomb cost one sailor his life, and another was seriously injured. Other members of the ship's company had minor injuries, like twisted ankles, and cuts, scrapes and bruises The second bomb had come to rest in the engine room without injuring anyone. The ship was attacked a few more times during the next two hours as the crew maneuvered up the San Carlos Water to find a place of safety to assess the damage. By 1830 (6:30 p.m.) HMS Antelope anchored in the safety of the protection of the HMS Argonaut, and transferred the seriously injured off the ship. Most of the ship's company were moved to emergency stations, away from the areas around the two bombs as crews dealt with them. "Later in the evening, experts from the British army, a warrant officer and sergeant, came on board to defuse the bombs. They spent their time working on the one in the engine room. Unfortunately, as they worked to defuse it, it exploded. The sergeant was killed outright and the warrant officer lost his arm. "The shock of the explosion lifted us right off the deck-- the whole ship shook, and jumped about a foot or 18 inches in the water," said Marshall, "We spent hours, firefighting to try to save the ship, and we had to rig emergency fire mains, and use flexible hoses, as the rigid ones (on the ship) were ruptured by the explosion." While that was happening others on the ship were quickly unloading weapons, ammunition and anything that would be volatile, and loaded them onto small craft which took them to other ships nearby. The fire escalated and the deck became engulfed in heavy black smoke. At 2210 hours, (10:10 p.m.) the order was given by the commander to abandon ship. Landing craft approached the Antelope and in an orderly style, the ship's company were evacuated onto the landing craft- in minutes. Shortly after the landing craft moved away from the Antelope, there was a huge explosion-- the sky was filled with a fireworks display like no other as the magazine on board exploded. In 10 minutes, another explosion followed, sending missiles searing into the night sky.
"We were only a half mile away when it blew," said Marshall, "The sky was filled with a pyrotechnics display like we'd never seen before." The fires continued through the night, with occasional explosions. By early morning (May 24), a final explosion erupted-- it's thought to have been the first bomb that entered the ship's hull-- and with that explosion, the ship's back was broken. The bow and stern rose up into a V formation, the photo which went around the world, as a sign of the V for victory defiance against Argentina. "I felt quite sad, seeing her burn," said Marshall, "It was like watching your house catch fire-- your whole world and your whole life is burning in front of you. That was your home-- I'd served nine months on that ship-- it was my home. I saw grown men crying-- part of their love for the navy was right there, in front of them, sinking into the sea." "The fear factor didn't really sink in during the height of battle," said Marshall. "I think when the raids were happening, we simply fell back on all that exercise and training and react. It was after there was a lull between the air raids, when you actually had time to think about what happened-- that was when the fear hit you." Following abandoning ship, the ship's company were ferried to the shore or other ships on the landing craft, and were eventually billeted on other ships. Marshall was placed on the MV (Merchant Vessel) Norland, a ferry that normally operated the Hull to Belgium ferry run back home-- and still does. Three days later, the ship's company were all transferred to the Queen Elizabeth II in South Georgia, and returned to the UK. See TROOPS, pg. 5
Troops `hit the deck' in front of Queen Mum when spooked by air force squadron's fly-past
Continued from pg. 4 "When we sailed into Southampton on the QE II, the Queen Mother was on the Royal yacht Britannia to greet us, and welcome us home," said Marshall, "We were supposed to do a `wave' to her-- at the same time, all the other ships had their big plumes of water flowing in the air, celebrating the troops coming home, even though the war was not even over. "There was all sorts of yachts in the area, and they also did a fly past to honour us- except they didn't inform any of the guys. The Queen Mother was expecting us to be all prim and proper on the upper deck, saluting and waving back to her, and the air force squadron did a fly pastand everybody hit the deck." "We were all bibbed and tuckered with brand new clothes to meet the Queen Mum, and everyone there thought it was great to see a fly past-- but you had 500 guys who had just gone through numerous air bombing raids- we were all a bit rattled-- we all literally `hit the deck'." Marshall told how arriving at Southampton was like walking into a sea of faces. His mother, his sister and her husband and his fiancé Jane Moore (now his wife) were waiting to meet him. It was an emotional meeting-- every troop was given a red rose to give to their mother or girlfriend, a bottle of perfume and a bottle of spirits-- there were many tearful reunions. "We were placed on open leave, usually called survivor's leave, a leave pass without a return date on it," said Marshall. "We were contacted for the Board of Inquiry, and to debrief us. I tell you, I was young, I was 22 years-old, being interviewed by admirals and like, and by the time I finished talking to them, I felt like it was my fault the ship had sunk." For about a month, the ship's company would be called in to be interviewed, to `put together the pieces of the puzzle' aid Marshall, as well as check on the wellbeing of the troops. "It was early days back then, but they were realizing the affect of post battle syndrome, and starting to look out for the troops," said Marshall, "They've come a long way in that area since then, but once a week they'd talk to us and make sure we were okay." Marshall would return to the Falklands later that same year as he was assigned to another flight the end of August. He served in the Falkland Islands area until he returned in December of 1982. He and Jane were married a couple years later, and he continued his navy career until 1993, when he took the step to immigrate to Canada. Don arrived in 1993, and Jane and their daughter Holly followed the next year, purchasing a home in Georgetown. Marshall worked for both the private sector and the government with his air engineering expertise, and currently holds the rank of Lieutenant with the Canadian Naval Reserve. Next spring will mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, and Don and Jane have plans to attend a reunion, back on the Queen Elizabeth II, the ship that brought him back home. He looks forward to that event, and considers himself fortunate that he came through the conflict virtually unscathed. "I didn't suffer any injuries, and the only thing I can say was that incoming aircraft thing-- at one time it was thrilling-- after the Falklands, it makes me flinch every time. I still do, probably will until the day I die." "Everyone who experiences combat is that way I think, "he concludes, "I can shut out the gruesome things I saw- my mates being seriously injured or killed- all that stuff, but I know that I'll flinch every time a low flying aircraft comes in. I can't help it."