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Photographic memories

In 1982 Capt John Thompson and Maj Jack Frost (both RE) were part of Condor Troop, 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers. Once ashore they were not only expected to fight alongside the Royal Marines, but as sappers were called on for tasks such as mine clearance, bridging and digging trenches for positions and even graves. 

Maj Jack Frost (left)

We were embedded with 45 Commando Group who did ‘the yomp’, which wasn’t really a word at the time but became the term that everyone still uses to this day.

We were the only troops to have marched from one side of East Falkland to the other, each man doubled-over under the enormous weight of his kit, and I feel proud to have done that.

Condor Troop were tasked in roles such as searching for booby traps, clearing mines and unexploded ordnance, recce, demolition and bridge laying as well as the infantry piece – an intense night battle for the Two Sisters, in which 28 were killed and 67 wounded.

The conditions were very tough, very testing – we ran out of water and rations, we were surviving on fresh air – but the training we had had was incredible, so I felt very well prepared.

It set me up for my career – an experience like that strengthens you mentally and physically; it enables you to deal with very difficult situations and I’ve used that to this day.

I’ve told very few people about the war. 59 Squadron had three killed in action; “Goosey” Gandhi, Mick Melia and Chris Jones. I can remember their young faces clearly.

Afterwards, it wasn’t that I became a pacifist exactly, but before I’d loved shooting. On leave I would hunt pigeons and rabbits and I didn’t want to do that sort of thing anymore.

I put my gun down. I had found a better appreciation for all living things.

Capt John Thompson (right)

I was a plant operator but as an engineer I’d been trained to deal with mines so I was the subject matter expert if we came across any minefields.

During the day I’d be out digging trenches or other stuff and every night I took part in probing patrols because there was a fear the Argentinians could outflank us.

You just slept in what you were wearing whenever you came to a stop.

I got my sleeping bag wet once and it was so heavy tabbing with it I realised I had to get it dry, after which I put it away in the bottom of my Bergen and didn’t take it out until 16 days later in Stanley.

Even after the Argentinians surrendered we were clearing minefields around the town. We were back in harm’s way when we should have been safe and unfortunately more guys were injured, which was hard.

I don’t bring the war up much. I was just a lad but I came back a different man – I had grown up. But it was an experience for the better with not too much in the way of mental scarring. It set me up for the rest of my career.

Jack and I kept in contact over the years. It didn’t occur to me we’d still be here all this time later. It’s an enduring bond and I hope we’ll be a couple of old farts together at the Cenotaph in our eighties.

 

See the June issue for the full story.

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