A Good Man

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I note from posts on the Facebook that one of the great heroes of the Falklands War, Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly has passed away. 

Rick Jolly arrived in the Falklands in May 1982 where he was Officer Commanding Medical Squadron of the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines. As such he was Senior Medical Officer of 3 Commando Brigade RM and commanded the field hospital at Ajax Bay. Jolly wore the green beret, having passed the Royal Marine Commando course and while offered a weapon, chose not to carry one on the basis he was there to save lives. At the hastily set up ‘MASH” style field hospital, in a disused slaughterhouse in Ajax Bay, he did just that. 

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The hospital was situated next to an ammunition dump, as those were the only roofed buildings available of any size fit for purpose. Therefore, due to its position, Brigadier Julian Thompson ordered they were not to paint a Red Cross on the buildings to highlight the hospital due to the terms of the Geneva Convention. At the height of the battle of Goose Green four bombs were dropped in the area, killing five people as the hospital was swamped with severely injured soldiers. Two of the bombs actually got stuck in the ­hospital roof, but failed to ­detonate. Yet Dr Jolly and his team continued to operate despite fears that they could have gone off at any moment. “Then the casualties from Goose Green started streaming in. We treated 47 casualties, some with terrible injuries, but they all survived. After most had been treated I said, ‘By the way, we’ve got two unexploded bombs in the back. They could be on 37-hour timers, but we’re on 46 hours now so we’re all right’. Everybody roared with laughter.” Should you feel some frustration next time you find yourself sitting waiting in the local A&E for four hours you may care to reflect on that story. 

Rick Jolly interviewed

The conditions in the field hospital were poor and despite the dirt, poor lighting, air attacks and the presence of two unexploded bombs, only 3 of the 580 British soldiers and marines wounded in action were to die of their wounds and none while under the care of Dr Jolly. Days after it opened an Argentine Sky Hawk aircraft scored a direct hit with two bombs, which failed to go off and remained partially exposed in the building throughout his time there. To save lives the 120 military medical staff at the field hospital knew they had to act fast, cleaning wounds, amputating limbs, treating dreadful burns, removing bullets and patching up the walking wounded before they were transferred to a hospital ship, the SS Uganda. After the Sir Galahad was hit, killing 48 soldiers and crewmen, the tiny field hospital was deluged with more than 120 injured men.

“I was very proud to work with a great team I had trained," said Commander Jolly. “We lifted morale among the fighting soldiers because we were their friends and they knew it. Word got around that if they arrived alive at the field hospital they would leave alive. We had some brilliant successes. We treated many Argentine special forces as well and we even persuaded Argentinian soldiers to give blood to help us save their injured."

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Jolly wrote the book 'The Red and Green Life Machine' about his experiences, later republished as 'Doctor for Friend and Foe: Britain's Frontline Medic in the Fight for the Falklands.'  He was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1983 in the South Atlantic Honours List and was given the Orden de Mayo (Order of May) by Argentina, 17 years after the conflict, in recognition of the treatment given to the country’s wounded soldiers. Being a foreign decoration, Jolly had to write to Her Majesty the Queen for permission to wear his Order of May award with his other medals, to which she personally authorised him to wear the award "on all occasions" on behalf of the three hundred British Naval, Royal Marines and Army medics involved in the war. However, he has been nominated for this award for co-founding the South Atlantic Medal Association, a vital organisation for Task Force members who put their lives on the line or were part of the huge support operation for the conflict.

At a subsequent lecture after the war he described being invited to the Pentagon to speak to the heads of the medical branches of each of the US armed forces. He described telling the Americans that each soldier had a syrette of morphine, issued because British forces weren't numerous enough to stop and give first aid to their wounded comrades. There was a stunned silence among the Americans. One of them pointed out that, had morphine syrettes been issued to US troops, there would have been none left by the time the troops landed.....

I recall that both during and after the war, the achievements of Rick Jolly and his team were rightly, a source of great national pride embraced by all. Good people, led by a very good man.

By Sea, By Land

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Where is that boy off to now? Some people will do anything to get attention.............. Weird to finally see the kayak for real and odd to think they did 2,000 miles in that wee thing last year, right through the current path of Hurricane Irma. The boys are in fact off to the Base Camp Festival give a talk on the expedition. Thoughts of course, are with everyone on the Islands. Hope the Royal Navy arrive soonest and that we fly out Royal Engineers and all other help to them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Biggest Day Since The Fleet Returned From The Falklands

HMS Queen Elizabeth; a very nice edge in a firefight

HMS Queen Elizabeth; a very nice edge in a firefight

Tomorrow is the biggest day for the Royal Navy since the Fleet returned from the Falklands War. HMS Elizabeth will enter Portsmouth for the first time tomorrow at the currently scheduled time of 07:10hrs. Six tugs will bring her in with a flypast of Merlin and Wildcat helicopters and Hawk jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron. The wind limit for safe entry for this huge ship is 15 knots. It is in the DNA of the people of Portsmouth to support the Navy and large crowds are expected. 

Carrier timeline, (from savetheroyalnavy.org)

Carrier timeline, (from savetheroyalnavy.org)

The ship has been completing Phase 1 (machinery) trials since the 26th June which have apparently gone well apart from some propeller shaft issues which were attended to in Invergordon in a planned stop for refuelling and replenishment. Apparently the Captain and crew are happy with progress, not that we would know if they weren’t, but of course the ship is not yet commissioned into the Royal Navy. It is currently the property of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance until commissioning at which point the White rather than Blue Ensign will fly. Until then, (expected mid 2018), while the ship is the responsibility of it’s captain he must operate under direction of the sea trials manager. 

When HMS Elizabeth is operational, and her soon to follow sister ship the Prince of Wales, the perception and reality of the United Kingdom as a meaningful strategic power will undergo a significant change, both within the country and beyond. These ships will give the United Kingdom the ability to conduct operations with flexibility at arms reach from home waters, quickly, (relative to deploying an Army Division), and efficiently. They will provide a platform to support ground operations overseas, they will exercise a demonstration of political will and force if required, they will provide air cover to Naval Task Forces and of course operate in support of humanitarian missions and as intelligence gathering platforms. 

The bigger problem of course is that we don’t have many people in Westminster equipped either emotionally or intellectually to think strategically. Then we have the nagging concern that once they have new shiny toys in their play-pen they might be tempted to use them without judicious planning and forethought but that is a discussion for another day. For now, let Portsmouth and the ‘Andrew,’ celebrate.

A Bad Day At The Office

A Bad Day At The Office

When next you have a bad day at the office; think of the story that is to follow.  Imagine if you can, being in a ship in 'bomb alley,' with two unexploded bombs on board, one of them conveniently parked next to your own missile magazine, having lost power and steering.......... for five days while under constant air attack. That is exactly what happened to HMS Argonaut, a Leander class frigate. 

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A Thundering Good Read

Like half of the rest of the English speaking world, I am currently racing though the latest Jack Reacher novel, 'Make Me; an easy going three day popcorn read and we love Lee Child for it. (Why did they miscast Tom Cruise in the movie btw? Surely they need to find a gritty Lee Marvin type or was it because TC personally bought the rights?). Anyway, I offer this literary post not in praise of Big Jack but of another book I've recently finished, a thundering good read called 'War Beneath The Sea,' by Naval historian Peter Padfield.

In the book, Padfield walks the reader through submarine warfare in the Second World War from start to finish from both an Allied and the Axis powers, including Japan, perspective. His skill is in articulating the war from both a strategic and tactical view, giving us a window on the geopolitical challenges faced by different Navies, the design, build, supply, training and different fighting doctrine used by the Royal Navy, the Americans, Germans Italians and Japanese. 

The crew gathered around the gun platform of HMS Unruffled while in Valetta Harbour, Malta. Extreme right is Lt J S Stevens DSO, DSC (Commanding Officer), behind him is Lt O Lascelles MBE, DSO

Thankfully, none of the enemy got it quite right, nor did we. Many of the glaring deficiencies of the Allied effort that have their roots in hubris and dogma at the highest levels of Allied command have been glossed over with the passing of years but Padfield lays them out in brutal and honest fashion. Had we in Britain for example, not allowed Harris to be so dogmatic in his pursuit of area bombing in Germany and released more aircraft to cover the Atlantic then hard won lessons in the Great War might have been put to more timely use and many lives in the convoys would have been saved. .

Similarly, the British hating American Admiral King could have considerably shortened the Pacific war had he targeted Japanese supply convoys transiting through Asian waters to Japan in the manner employed by the German wolf packs. Given Japan has no natural resources to speak of, how obvious was that?  King wasn't a very imaginative individual. Releasing even small amounts of Liberator aircraft to cover the ' Atlantic Gap,' would have had the same positive impact on the war in Europe. No one country emerges with a faultless reputation . We made plenty of errors ourselves. We all know for example of the stunning effect intelligence derived from Enigma and Bletchley Park had on the war effort but did we know that German Naval intelligence had also cracked our codes? I didn't. It seems odd that we deployed so much effort into cracking their codes but didn't think they might be doing the same to us.

Wanklyn (left) with his First Lieutenant and senior engineer J. R. D Drummond (right), 13 January 1942

Where the book finds common ground in all the different Navies is in the descriptions of the privations, tenacity and courage of the submariners themselves. It was a filthy job. The Germans for example had a worse life expectancy than did our boys in Bomber Command. Submariners generally are a close knit and secretive group of men. Any sort of publicity has been deeply frowned upon throughout the post war years, given the nature of their roles in the Cold War. Driving nuclear subs around the Soviet coast was never something they wanted on the front pages. That is quite understandable and one wonders if the Cold War submarine story will ever be told in the same way that Special Forces deeds have become fairly accessible reading. With that closed group mentality though there is a cost and part of the cost is that the bravery of their forebears has become lost in the national collective memory. That is a shame because names like Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn VC DSO and Two Bars ought to be known by every schoolboy in this country. There are many others. Read Padfield's book and you'll discover them.

I can't recommend this book enough. It ought to be mandatory reading for officers of all services, politicians and multi national business leaders. It lays out is clinical fashion, the high cost of arrogant and inflexible thinking and of uncoordinated planning at the highest levels evident in all the combatant nations. Criminal really. 

'... the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril'. Churchill

HMS Prince of Wales

Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier

I suppose I ought not to call it HMS given it's some way from being named and launched or whatever the conventions of our naval chums are. Anyway, I spend enough time bashing the government they ought to be congratulated when they do something good. The decision to not mothball the Prince of Wales on delivery is a welcome respite to years of grinding cuts. We'll then have two! Remarkable isn't it that Great Britain having two aircraft carriers is a cause for rejoicing?

Given all the other news this week, mostly bad, I'm surprised that few commentators appear to have grasped the significance of the decision. At a stroke it sends a powerful and resolute message to our allies, "oh, so you are serious," and will keep us at the geopolitical top table. Nor will it be unnoticed by our enemies and it is an overdue shot in the arm to the Navy who for too long, have been the poor relation. Their morale has suffered somewhat with relentless reductions in scale and capability in the past two decades and this news ought to encourage more experienced men to stay on given their potential career paths just broadened.

don't worry son, the Royal Navy's out there to look after Christmas

I know there are other considerations, such as aircraft which we haven't yet sorted out but for the moment, we should take what's on offer. Clearly, the Navy are in the ascendant and I would think too, so are the Royal Marines. I'm not the only one who thinks its good news. There is a statistic that rolls around out there that says 90%+ of all Christmas presents under the tree come by sea. Little boys and girls can sleep safe then; the Royal Navy is there to protect Christmas for all children.....

 

Blue Skies?

The view this morning from outside the office was nothing but uplifting. I think it’s the first blue sky I’ve seen this year!

Unlike some other parts of the country which continue to suffer although real perspective from the media was long since flushed away. Now though, that the pastures of South Western England are more easily identifiable with the paddy fields of South East Asia, and talk on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere is reminiscent of the Blitz, “I see Somerset was hit again last night,” “and they got the Rose & Crown in Chertsey,” it is reassuring that the governmental machine has at last rolled into action. Unfortunately, it again took a media storm and growing political embarrassment to force action to acknowledge the situation that the stoic citizens of the South West and elsewhere find themselves in and past errors of judgement which have exacerbated the problem.

Are not the floods though, another pressing indictment on short duration politics which constantly strive for immediate electoral favour without regard to long term unintended consequences? The paucity of multi decade planning is being laid bare across every part of our society and embrace energy, transport, defence, education and the vexatious issues of long term health and elderly care. We’ll have another opportunity to witness “last safe moment crisis management,” with the next financial crisis which is trundling down the tracks with an arrival time of later this year.

The political establishment would gather much more support if they focused more on doing the right thing, rather than always lurching for the politically expedient path. We’re not as stupid as they evidently think we are. 

A politician trying to look windswept & interesting (click)

Would it be too cynical to reflect that Berkshire and Surrey have been sacrificed to manage the water flow through London? As a plan it does have an economic logic although not for the citizens west of London. The flaw in the plan of course is that such is the weight of water, it’s displaying the temerity to go around the upstream weirs and is now encroaching as far as Richmond. Londoners may be phlegmatic but the floods are worsening, as evidenced by the Navy appearing upstream and not just the Army!  While politicians stare at the floods trying to look windswept and interesting, enquiring minds are left to ponder, what about the moles and is there any truth in the rumour that Somalian pirates have been spotted on the Somerset levels?

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The drafting in of servicemen, if only to reassure citizens, is woefully overdue, even if they don't have the kit, (we sold it all), or training to make a significant difference. As Think Defence points out, using servicemen as general labour to fill sandbags, (probably because it fulfills some hearty belief in that's what soldiers do), is "pure tokenisim." 

There have been some suggestions of remustering the Civil Defence Corp. I think it's a great idea and long advocated here. Call it what you will, but a series of CDC detachments and or TA Royal Engineers stationed up and across the country with dedicated long term depots of food, fuel, light, shelter, pumps, earth moving kit, snow moving kit and so on to support the civil community in times of urgent need is an obvious good. It doesn't matter if they're young reserve soldiers or civilian middle aged and retired specialists, (perhaps a mixture of both), but the poverty of our preparations to deal with disaster is becoming a national embarrassment and a dereliction of duty by HMG. The Americans have FEMA , we've got a bunch of clowns in wellies. Mind you, in the US the Corp of Engineers look after the waterways but then they are almost half the size of the whole British Army.

Why doesn't it happen now? I suspect a mixture of self entitlement, self importance and self preservation from all currently involved. The whole structure, where one exists, needs a shake down.

For the moment, there are no winners. The Environment Agency has let itself and the country down, (even though many planning departments ignore their advice on developing on flood plains), the media are turning the whole thing into a hysterical circus with not even a crumb of scientific analysis, (Charles Glover's piece in the ST about farmers in Somerset putting their topsoil at risk in flooding by over planting with maize is an exception), Westminster have been shown to be the comedy act that they are and some householders have seen a lifetimes endeavor floating away toward the English Channel. All the rest of us, well we'll end up with the bill because we keep electing people with no vision, foresight or appreciation of risk.

Market watchers meanwhile are left to consider the weather impact on food prices. From the drought in California, the snowstorms across southern and eastern US, the hottest December on record in Brazil and our own floods there will be an inflationary impact to come on the High Street. 

Mad Demented Woman

The other evening I happened to meet a nice girl called Kate. Kate has an interesting job, she’s a Royal Navy surgeon commander and a consultant in anesthesia and major trauma. Not the sort of women who spends much time worrying about buy-one-get-one-free levels at Sainsbury’s then. In fact, Kate has already left for another tour in Helmand, (for the third time), where she runs a MERT team, (one of those immediate trauma teams that swoop down onto the battlefield in a Chinook to casevac the wounded back to Bastion and operate on the way). I only mention this because I thought of Kate this morning, on oh so many levels, when, standing at the bathroom sink , half asleep and arm whirring like a propeller I managed to take a slice out of my nose with a Gillette Mach 4 Turbo safety razor. My god the bugger bled, it was like an outtake from Friday 13th in there. Minutes later, I’ve got half a loo roll stuck to my face, the stream of fruity invective has got the dogs going and woken Mrs Flashbang up, (you can guess who was loudest), and I’m trying to quickly work out....  A. Do we have enough loo rolls for this contingency? B.  HTF do I get to work if it’s still bleeding? And C. What would Kate do? Well, I’m quite certain and confident that she wouldn’t do what Mrs Flashbang did which was to seize the moment, my nose and a jar of “Germolene New Skin,” and paste it on the cut. Never ever, ever put that stuff on an open bleeding cut.  Pain? It was like running a hot, blunt cheese grater up and down my shins. Oh how I wished for the sound of those rotor blades coming in to land on the lawn with Kate and her trauma team to save me from that mad demented woman.

Those MERT teams by the way... they are just the best. 

 

British Military Tournament - Review

To make any judgement about the British Military Tournament, held in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund last weekend, we must suspend misty eyed memories of the Royal Tournament, for the two are on a different scale and financed differently.

The Royal Tournament enjoyed sponsorship from the resource rich MOD, a hundred years of tradition and service chiefs keen to outplay one another each year. Successive shows were bigger and better than the last, right up until Blair and his acolytes decided it had no place in his Cool Britannia vision......... which makes him, a weapons grade prat.

So, after an eleven year gap the ABF took the courageous gamble to stage a scaled down Tournament which they financed themselves with any profits benefiting the charity............... and it worked.

Whilst somewhat smaller, it absolutely didn't matter for the BMT is tight enough and entertaining enough to stand on it's own without regard to the past. The public turned out with great enthusiasm in their thousands, with parents and grandparents bringing their offspring of all ages to enjoy the pageantry, just as they had been brought by their own parents in years past.

Most of the military programme was provided by ceremonial troops based in London, the Household Cavalry, The Kings Troop and the HAC. That's a lot of horses, which went down well with all the little girls in the audience. I long ago lost any affinity that I might have had with horses when a nasty brute called Paddy gave me a shoeing when I was doing mandatory equitation training as a young Gunner officer at Larkhill. I would never have made the cut for the Kings Troop, (who anyway seem to be full of big girls who like horses these days), but I never cease to swell with pride when the bugler calls the Troop into the arena. If there are seven wonders of the millenium, the Troop is on my list.................... and the idea of big girls who like horses manning the guns is a concept that I find is strangely growing on me.

The wander through three hundred years of military history also brought us the "RAPTC Edwardian Demonstration Team." This comprised of a bunch of PTI's doing a mildly amusing routine vaulting over a box. Don't misunderstand me, most of the audience loved it. I however, was catapulted back to yet another humiliating experience in the gym when such was my inability to execute a spring jump, tumble, somersault thing on those wretched boxes that the PTI shoved me inside it for the duration of the lesson. I never quite understood what part in modern warfare the ability to vault over a wooden horse was going to play, unless I suppose one were to accidentally fall through the time space continuum and end up imprisoned in a German POW camp.

The biggest cheer of the day though, came when the boys of Wellington College marched on to "Heart of Oak," to do the Field Gun run. I felt the same wave of emotion run through the audience when the boys marched on that I felt at the “Last Run,” eleven years ago. Indeed, the two big hairy old field gunners sitting next to me had tears in their eyes when the boys numbered off. So carried away with the moment were they that they spent the next 15 minutes shouting for Pompey!

Moreover, having been to something in the order of twelve Tournaments’ over the years I can’t remember a run more closely contested, or as exciting, as was the blistering one I watched on Sunday afternoon. While the average age of the boys is sixteen, and their guns are half size, weighing in at 700lb rather than twice that for the Navy when they did the Run, the obstacles are full size and the courage, commitment and pride demonstrated by the crews is the match of any of their illustrious forbears. Indeed, the highest praise seemed to come from former Field Gunners themselves.

The sad thing here, is the people who won't acknowledge and support their heritage are the Royal Navy themselves. Whilst former Field Gunners turned out to train and support the Field Gun teams, and others provided the arena teams for the Tournament, the Navy didn't want anything officially to do with it. Nothing commercial involved here but the Navy wouldn't even allow the teams to compete under their CCF title. Perhaps some pen pushing box ticker was worried about Health & Safety? The point is though, if the Admiralty can't be bothered to demonstrate support for those who are in effect the caretakers of their own traditions, what future do they have? The Navy has gone to great lengths to shake off the reputational hit from the "ipod," incident in the Gulf when some ratings showed a lack of backbone, but they've let themselves down again.

Obviously, as has become the norm at any "event," these days, be prepared to have your eyes ripped out when you buy a bottle of water and a snack. Actually, you'll find that for only the cost of a monthly mortgage on a small country house you can easily buy the whole family a quick bite to eat.


Notwithstanding that, I had a thunderingly good day out. I suspect that given the success of the weekend the BMT will be back with us next year.................. and so shall I.

 

 

 

Is Airline Safety Now Political?

 

Flights as of 10:56hrs

My irritation and feeling of unease at the pressure being exerted by airlines and the media to get planes back in the sky should be clear to you by now.

A few years after I was posted, my old company in 1 RHF was sent to clear up Lockerbie. I know men who suffer from the lasting trauma of that event today. No ones sense of urgency in getting home for social or business appointments, or the airlines fear of losing revenue, is worth the slightest risk of another Lockerbie.

Dr Colin Brown of the Institute of Mechanical Engineershas been crystal clear. He is robust in his view that it's no time for the "Let's give it a go guys!" approach. If a plane's jet engines fail, it will fall from the sky. This means, according to Dr Brown, "everybody dies". The Daily Telegraph weren't quite clear about that on their hysterical front page this morning. That's what happens when you hire Daily Mail journalists. Anyway, Joan Mcalpine has beaten me to it with a good piece here and a clip from an interview with Dr Brown.

Notwithstanding that, it's good to see the Royal Navy back to their spiritual home, in Spanish and French waters. Obviously, we need to get the 200 lads from 3 Rifles back to their families from Spain who are en route from Afghanistan. If some civpop come too, then despite it being a bit political it's useful PR for the Andrew after years of neglect, (although as Think Defence points out, ferries are mostly operating quite happily at summer levels).

Coincidentally, I was lucky enough to spend some time on HMS Albion a couple of years ago with my children. It's just a fantastic ship, probably the best big boys toy in any of the services.

Sitting in the Wardroom having tea, my youngest boy turned to me and said, "Dad, there's a bar, flat screen television, carpets and no mud. What exactly was the attraction of the Army?" Perceptive!