‘Didn’t feel like we were winning’ Falkland veteran describes his first hours in war

Cpl Paul Moore with .50 calibre ammo belt

Cpl Paul Moore with .50 calibre ammo belt (Image: Derek Broadbent)

A bitter 10-week conflict would finally see the British overseas territory liberated. But that victory seemed far from secure when Paul Moore, an airborne engineer attached to 3 Para, gazed down into Falkland Sound on May 22, barely 24 hours after he had landed in Port San Carlos.

Below him, the frigate HMS Ardent was sinking, and HMS Antelope would soon be gone, attacked by heavy Argentine air power in what become known as bomb alley.

“We’d already lost HMS Sheffield, the first capital ship lost by the Royal Navy since the Second World War. It was a real sobering moment. It got very real very quickly,”  said Paul, 61, from his home in County Durham.

“And there we were watching Ardent burning up and Antelope coming into the bay with a hole on its side. It certainly didn’t feel like we were winning at that point.”

But Paul’s war was yet to begin – and he would have to take part in one of the toughest engagements of all, the battle of Mount Longdon, before Port Stanley, to the east, could be “invested”.

Troop 9 Para Sqn RE on entering Stanley. Paul is in front centre, sat with rifle between his legs

Troop 9 Para Sqn RE on entering Stanley. Paul is in front centre, sat with rifle between his legs (Image: Derek Broadbent)

And before any battle, he and the other members of 3 Para would have to face an unexpected challenge caused by the sinking of Atlantic Conveyor, which was carrying  three of the task force’s four Chinook helicopters: a 56-miles “tab” over harsh and open terrain just to reach the start line.

“The long tab across the Falklands was horrendous, I remember it today and still shiver. We were constantly wet for ten days and, by the time we got to Mount Estancia, our feet were falling to bits,” he said.

By June 11, the plan was hatched for a broad assault to gain the upper ground around Port Stanley.  For those forces controlled by 3 Commando, it meant three simultaneous night attacks  on Mount Harriet, Two Sisters and Mount Longdon.

Longdon proved to be the most horrific.

“It was  part of (Brig) Julian Thompson’s encirclement plan to take several hill positions to surround Port Stanley,’ he said.

“We knew, from ten days of patrols, that there were minefields. There’s nothing like a minefield to concentrate the mind.

“We were ordered to go up the Western side, a long steady slope which was very open and very exposed.  

“The Sergeant Major told us to have a word with the man upstairs because, for some of us, it would be our last chance. The word went down the line to fix bayonets and we started forwards.”

Wellwishers waving British flags as they bid farewell to troops sailing on QE2

Wellwishers waving British flags as they bid farewell to troops sailing on QE2 (Image: GETTY)

They began their attack, with orders for silence to maintain the element of surprise.

“Then one of the lads from 3 Para stood on a mine.  It all went noisy after that,“ he said.

“The Argentinians had placed 18-year-old conscripts in the first lines. 3 Para went through them like a hot knife through butter.

“But then we came up against the regulars – 7 Marines, engineers, special forces – and we really had a fight on our hands.

“It lasted until the next morning. It was often hand-to hand. “

By daylight they had taken the hill, But then the bombardment began.

“Most of our casualties happened from mortars and artillery that morning,” he said.

That battle resulted in 23 casualties and 47 wounded.

“Three of the lads were just 17, One lad died on his 18th birthday,” Paul recalled.

The fatalities included two brothers-in-law, Scott Wilson and Keith McCArthy, “I knew them well, and I knew the sisters, Jean and Linda,” he said.

Two months after he landed, Paul set sail for home. It was his 22nd birthday.

But while the nation rejoiced, many of those who had fought found they could not leave the horror of their experiences on those islands, 8,000 miles away.

“A few of us lived in Consett, and they decided to throw us a street party.  We just couldn’t face it. We didn’t want the attention,” he said.

Though he and his wife, Lesley, would soon be blessed with their first daughter, Leanne, nothing was the same for the career soldier.
“PTSD started affecting me in the late 1980s,’ he said. 

“I started to be irritable, angry, and tense. I couldn’t relax. I was always hyper-vigilant.I was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. 

“In 1988, I was in a deep sleep and Lesley woke me up as I was dreaming  – I thought I was fighting another soldier and assaulted her. It’s something I’m still deeply embarrassed about.”By the mid 1990s he was a Warrant Officer serving in Germany, but things were getting worse.

“I was like a swan – seemingly calm on the surface, doing my job well, but under the surface my life was falling apart.

“One day I was on the ranges I suddenly realised  I could take my own life  – that no one would care.

“I stopped everyone firing.  I handed my pistol  to a mate and went home. I knew that If I’d gone to see the Medical Officer, my career would be over.”

Paul Moore last year during his Ride of Remembrance (he visits all the graves of the Falklands fallen across the UK every year)

Paul Moore last year during his Ride of Remembrance (Image: Paul Moore)

It was only after Paul, by then a major with two tours of Iraq under his belt, left the army in 2010 that he felt he could seek real help.

Now, with an MA in veterans mental health and well-being to his name, he chairs the Durham branch of the armed forces charity, SSAFA.

“I speak to young soldiers now, and I know the culture has completely changed. They are encouraged to speak about mental health issues. I wanted to be part of that,“ he said.

Next month, the keen motorcyclist will make his annual pilgrimage to visit the graves of British soldiers who died in the conflict.

“Very few under the age of 30 know much about the Falklands conflict. But they should,” he said.

“We now have a war in Ukraine where people are dying to defend their freedom and their sovereignty.

“The men who died in the Falklands 40 years ago gave their lives for their country and for others.

“And it’s just as important we remember there are families who have lived the last 40 years without husbands or sons. “

Source link

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.