Airborne sappers mark Falkland’s anniversary
Veteran and serving airborne sappers have come together to remember the 35th anniversary of the Falklands War.
In 1982, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers – then based in Aldershot and now part of Woodbridge-based 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment – played a key role in the British task force sent to successfully repel the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Some 20 9 Para Sqn RE veterans visited the current unit at Rock Barracks. The veterans briefed the current soldiers about their role in the conflict, where they carried out tasks from clearing minefields to repairing bridges, and were shown the kit and equipment used by their modern counterparts. Veterans and serving soldiers then joined together for a service to commemorate the Squadron’s involvement in the conflict and honour the unit’s four soldiers killed in action.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Carvel, Commanding Officer of 23 Para Engr Regt, said: “It is vitally important that we remember and honour the achievements of 9 Para Sqn RE in the Falklands. We want the current generation of sappers to understand what was achieved by their predecessors, who deployed at short notice and saw the job through in demanding circumstances. The unit’s role today is the same as in 1982 and today’s soldiers need the same physical and mental preparedness that was the foundation of success in the Falklands. Equally, it is hugely important for veterans to meet the current generation and see that the standards they set are being maintained.”
Colonel (retired) Chris Davies commanded 9 Para Sqn RE in the Falklands. He said: “As Falklands veterans, we are as far away in years now from the current soldiers as the Second World War veterans were to us in 1982. The boys I’ve met today are just like my boys in 1982 – young, fit and keen to have the opportunity to prove themselves capable of doing what their forbearers did.
“The Falklands was a complete surprise and, while we were highly trained and ready, we weren’t specifically prepared for the operation we had to do. But we knew that we weren’t going to be beat and cracked on and did it – these boys will do the same if they have to.”
At 18, Billy Craig was one of the Squadron’s youngest soldiers in 1982. He left the Army as a major in 2013, having gone on to serve in Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said: “I was straight out of training and was paired up with more experienced soldiers, who taught me everything. The Falklands was tough, we were covering huge distances on foot and carrying everything in appalling weather. We were eating rations for six weeks and the clothing wasn’t anything like as good as modern kit, so everyone was tired and cold throughout.
“The lesson I learnt from the Falklands, that I applied throughout my 34-year Army career, was the truth of the ‘train hard to fight easy’ cliche. There is no substitute for training, because you don’t want to be learning what to do when you’re on the frontline.”
Royal Welsh exercise in Canada
Nearly 1,000 troops formed the 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Battlegroup on the BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) in Alberta, Canada, for Exercise Prairie Storm.
The Battlegroup deployed to BATUS from its base in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to demonstrate its ability as a lead armoured infantry battlegroup, illustrating large-scale combined arms training along with 10 supporting units, including the King’s Royal Hussars, who use the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank.
For 1 R Welsh Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Clayton, it’s all about reaching a highly efficient level of operability alongside the 10 supporting British Army units of engineers, communications specialists, medics, artillery and others.
He said: “The soldiers arrive here at basic platoon level training but we build that up to a collective level, which is battlegroup training within a brigade context, to be part of a NATO brigade in Estonia.
“The UK Armed Forces contribution is all part of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence.
“On return to the UK from Canada we will continue our mission-specific training for our role in Estonia.”
The 1 R Welsh Battlegroup will deploy on Operation Cabrit to Estonia this November, which has placed a greater emphasis on the BATUS deployment. Operation Cabrit is the British Army’s contribution to reassuring its NATO allies of an enduring commitment to collective defence, playing a lead role as part of wider efforts to defend European security.
Lieutenant Colonel Clayton said: “It’s all about being at the peak of readiness and this puts us on the front line and in a position to deploy when needed.”
Lieutenant Mark Jones, 27, from Margam in Port Talbot, started his training in the Army 18 months ago and has been with 1 R Welsh for seven months.
Mark said: “The job for me is to ensure integration of the Warriors with our supporting capabilities such as artillery and engineers to ensure we complete the mission. Our infantry capability will allow us to clear and push through.
“Being able to train on an area that’s roughly the size of Wales allows us to test ourselves in a different way to how we can back home in the UK.
“It can get a little cramped in the turret but that’s where cohesion comes in and building camaraderie. Ultimately, we’ve got to transfer our integrated capability to provide that assurance to the Estonian defence forces.
Major Wayne Roberts, from Corwen, Denbighshire, is the Battlegroup’s Quartermaster and oil in the Battlegroup machine, so to speak, ensuring the troops have everything they need to operate effectively.
“During the time we’re out here there are five maintenance days, essentially, windows in which to replenish the troops with what they need – ammunition, vehicle parts, water: anything they need really,” said Wayne, who joined the Army in 1987 and commissioned through the ranks.
“There’s a lot to think about because you have to ensure up to 1,000 soldiers are looked after and myself and other members of the QM department fly out well in advance to lay the foundations.”
Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, Warrant Officer Second Class, Neil McGuinness, 37, from Rhyl, said it was all about being reactive on a daily basis to the Battlegroup’s requirements.
“Its constant replenishment to keep things ticking over,” said Neil, who has 20 years’ experience with the Royal Welsh.
“We come out a few weeks ahead of the troops to make sure the accommodation and infrastructure is in place.
“Then there’s the 400 vehicles we use on the deployment, the ammunition for the Warriors, 120mm HESH (high explosive squash head) rounds for the KRH (King’s Royal Hussars) Challengers; 7.62mm rounds for the chain guns; plastic explosives, and many other things.
“It’s a day-to-day thing and we have to deliver.”