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Memories of The Falklands 35 years on

13 June 2017

Charles Page was a 19-year-old Second Lieutenant, fresh out of Sandhurst, when he was sent with his platoon of young Scots Guardsmen to the Falkland Islands in 1982. Now a 54-year-old father of three adult and teenage children, Brigadier Page looks back at his early military career and the events that led him to stay in the Army for 36 years.

These sorts of things happen

Second Lieutenant Charles Page, aged 19, of the Scots Guards. When the call came, we were in London doing public duties. After the Argentinian invasion, our Commanding Officer called the Battalion together and said that we must prepare to go to the South Atlantic, as there was a possibility of conflict. At that point everything else stopped and we began training ready for the deployment.

The battalion left the UK in early May aboard the Queen Elizabeth II, which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty to take the bulk of 5 Brigade troops down to the Falklands. It was already stocked for the cruise passengers who were booked to travel. The food was now going to be feeding the soldiers heading off to war.

Having joined the Army you knew that war was a possibility, and here was a chance to put your training and skills to the test. I knew all of my friends from Sandhurst who weren’t going were extremely jealous that I was going and they weren’t. Coming from a family background where my father had served in the Second World War and my Grandfathers served in the First World War, it was very much a case of ‘these sorts of things happen’.

When we left nobody thought that there would be any fighting. This was the 1980s; the politicians and diplomats would find a solution. So, we just enjoyed spending some time on board the QEII. I was on a camp bed in the dressing room of a cabin; it was better than Sennybridge, where we’d done our pre-deployment training. During the journey we did a lot of exercise and low level tactical training.

On the whole it was a pretty good time. When we crossed the equator, 3 Commando Brigade made their landings and the weather changed, everyone realised this was actually quite serious. We thought up until then that we were a show of force, and it would help the political effort, but we just kept going.

3 Commando Brigade had already made their landings at San Carlos. There was then an absolute change in everyone’s temperaments and focus. We continued, we ramped up training and made it to South Georgia – Grytviken – on 27th May.

The landings at San Carlos. Soldiers of 5 Infantry Brigade disembark at a jetty from one of HMS INTREPID's LCVP Landing Craft. IWM

Pictured: The landings at San Carlos. Soldiers disembark at a jetty from one of HMS INTREPID's LCVP Landing Craft. Imperial War Museum.

The QEII was too big to risk making the crossing to San Carlos, so we transferred to the smaller P&O cruise liner Canberra, to head in. San Carlos had become known as ‘bomb alley’ and the Canberra had already been there once, so the mood on board was quite tense because the crew knew what they were going back into. This ship was a target not to be missed. They were lucky to get out unscathed the first time.

When we landed the weather was quite bad and the Argentinians weren’t flying, so we went ashore at Blue Beach, which was not really a beach but a jetty. We headed up into the Sussex Mountains to establish a defensive position protecting San Carlos. At that point we were expecting a counter attack; that’s what we would have done. We knew they had paratroopers, and we anticipated being attacked and they’d try and push us out of San Carlos. We were there for a few days and then we had to move on.

One of the more memorable experiences was the move from San Carlos around to Bluff Cove, at night, done quite discreetly on HMS Intrepid, a landing craft carrier; from there on landing craft around Lively Island, a known Pucara base (a Pucara was a ground attack propeller aircraft). We were told we’d be an hour or two on the water as a calm night was forecast. However, it blew a gale and we were there for eight hours in wet and freezing conditions.

Half way round star shells went up and we didn’t know whether that was Argentinians on Lively Island having picked us up somehow and trying to figure out who it was. Actually, it was the Royal Navy who picked us up on their radar and needed to check out who we were. But we didn't know that and it was a tense few minutes. I remember when we landed, it was bitterly cold and I was soaking wet through; one of the few occasions when I’ve come close to exposure.

June 13 1982 – Mount Tumbledown

The surreal thing about being on Mount Harriet looking at Mount Tumbledown, which was the battalion’s objective, was seeing the Argentinians walking around going about their daily routine, and thinking that some of these guys are going to be dead in a few hours’ time. They don’t’ know it yet but that’s the way it’s going to go.

Tumbledown itself with all the explosions, flares, tracer bullets, the chaos of war going on around us particularly as we got on to the mountain; my memories are vivid. I didn’t really fear for my life. I was 19 and at that age, you’re sort of invincible.

As an officer, a young man who’d just left Sandhurst and had only recently taken on his platoon, and particularly part of a Guards Regiment, my main concern was letting everyone down when I was called on. Those were the thoughts going through my mind. I did go through the ‘we could get hurt here’ bit some time before Tumbledown, but I got a grip of myself.

We were the first troops to get onto Tumbledown. I don’t know how we did it undetected, but we did it pretty well. We took our objective and Left Flank, the next company, went through after and they had a seriously hard fight. That’s really where the bulk of the Battalion’s casualties came from, during that company’s battle. It was bayonets, they were fixing bayonets it was that close.

Tumbledown was the last true battle of the campaign, and the reason for that was when Left Flank and then Right Flank (company names) got to their objectives they could see into Stanley - It’s a city as it has got a cathedral but has the feel of a village, really.

The Argentinians realised that as soon as we had a direct view into Stanley (which we knew was their centre of gravity), they couldn’t defend it and they weren’t prepared to do street-to-street fighting, so they started to surrender.

As light came up, the people at the top of the mountain, observing, saw streams of Argentinians coming off all the hills heading into Stanley. They were followed up by other British troops who followed them into the city. And, for us, we gathered our dead, dealt with the wounded, collected the prisoners and evacuated them.

We spent another night on the mountain and were taken down into Fitzroy Fitzroy sheep shearing sheds, where we could dry out. Effectively at that point the war was over.

I don’t remember feeling elated. We were tired, a little bit shocked by what had been going on around us, but there was no great feeling of victory. We had lost people and that was quite sobering. The battalion lost eight men and a Royal Engineer serving with the battalion was also killed.

We had no idea how long this campaign was all going to take, we could have been there for days, weeks, months! We were there until it was over one way or another. After the Argentines surrendered we dispersed around the island.

Theraputic

Brigadier Charles Page today. Image Soldier Magazine. The Falklands is one of the reasons I’ve stayed in the Army for 36 years. I had always wanted to be in the Army but I was only going to be in three to five years on a Short Service Commission. I wasn’t going to stay long. Having seen what I saw on Tumbledown, and in the wider Falklands conflict, I got a sense that this was a really worthwhile organisation and that these people do the most extraordinary things and I wanted to stay a part of it.

When I left the Falklands in August 1982 I went back to London. I had a number of different jobs. I was a Captain at 22. I went to Cyprus. I was the Duke of Kent’s Equerry... The next job was always interesting and something that I wanted to do.

I’ve been back to the Falklands once, on a battlefield tour and I ended up taking the tour. It was quite therapeutic for me, and for those on the tour they were talking to someone with first-hand experience which, I hope, brought it all to life a bit.

Pictured: Brigadier Charles Page today. Image courtesy Soldier Magazine. Read more personal accounts from the Falklands War, follow the link in the right-hand panel.

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