Falklands 40th at the NMA
by Paul Ibberson-Groves
The Falklands 40th Commemorations organised by the Royal British Legion at the National Memorial Arboretum was an invite only event, restricted to those on the Operation Corporate orbat (Order of Battle) and their families.
We were fortunate enough to receive an invite to take part in a static display at the NMA for the Falklands 40 Commemorations along with a Westland (Sea Scout) Wasp helicopter XT420 from Navy Wings piloted by Tim de la Fosse. We flew up on Monday, joining with the Wasp at Wellesbourne where I transferred from rear stretcher seat to the remarkable comfort of the Wasp L/H seat for the short journey to our overnight Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Tim’s house, a short hop to the NMA the next morning.
Early Sunday morning saw copiously-supplied bacon sarnies courtesy of Cathy, Tim’s wife, devoured before both aircraft relocated to the NMA by 09.00 hrs.
Our arrival was ‘greeted’ mostly by staff and a few early entrants, our Scout (XT 626) sitting alongside the Wasp, was situated in front of the main memorial and was soon prepared, all doors removed and secured. Initially there were few people about so Phil and I took the opportunity to visit the AAC memorial where some were already gathering for their own memorial service prior to the main event. As the morning progressed the blue berets became more and more evident amongst the mostly burgundy and green, a few faces I recognised, but it was the larger than life Phil who seemed to be instantly recognised by most.
We were fielding the usual questions – “Why were we there?“, “Was this aircraft down South?“, “Is it a Huey?” and then, it must have become very dusty because all of a sudden because I became aware of people just standing there, tears in their eyes.
A medic with a distinct Welsh twang, hands so badly burnt trying to save others that he himself become a casualty, so, so appreciative of the mighty Scout as it evacuated him from Fitzroy to a field hospital. (RFA Sir Galahad had been carrying the Welsh Guards when it was bombed while off-loading at Fitzroy.)
The RBL’s official photographer, flitting from one person covered in braid to another briefly asked what the aircraft was before spotting someone apparently important on the path and hurrying away.
A lady asked me, “Is this a Scout?” After an affirmative, she stood silently by the pilots seat, gazing into the cockpit, tears in her eyes. She turned back after an eternity before telling me that her fiancée Richard NUNN was killed during the (Falklands) war flying a Scout with 3BAS (*Lt Richard NUNN RM DFC) .
‘Johnno’ (sorry Cpl Johns, I only ever knew him as Johnno) – an Airgunner with 656 Sqn AAC when deployed, proudly showing his wife were he would have been sat and explaining his role while being barracked by his assembled colleagues.
A gaggle of REME Air-Techs, most knowing Phil, trying to decide if our airframe had been one they took with them, some were convinced it had been deployed.
An RM Rider, enabling an elderly couple (aren’t we all now) in our direction, asked if the gent could get in before announcing that the man was Peter Cameron, CO of 3BAS during the conflict (Lt Col Peter Cameron MC RM 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron). With some assistance, Col Cameron soon established himself in the pilots seat; somehow you never seem to forget how to get your leg around the cyclic. Proudly, Col Cameron silently sat there, nodding at the questions and announcements from those gathered. I learnt from his wife that he was no longer able to speak but the look of total joy at being sat in a Scout again was plain for all to see.
Just as Col Cameron had exited the aircraft that photographer appeared again. “Who is this?” I told him. Then, “Can we get a photo?” he called, so Col Cameron stood at the pilot’s door for the ‘official’ photos …. ha ha, I think mine is better!
Soon, the afternoon was upon us and all of those attending began assembling for the commemoration leaving us a respite in the sun for Bob to brief Phil and I on the return journey.
The end of the commemorations were marked with a Fly Past; a Chinook from the Royal Air Force, Merlins and Wildcats from the Commando Helicopter Force and Merlins and Wildcats from the Royal Navy were all led by a sole Army Air Corps Gazelle.
So as 16.30 hrs, our planned departure, approached assistance was enlisted from the Arboretum staff for crowd control, our attendance appeared to have been gratefully appreciated by the guests. We took off to waves from the crowd, climbing away over the AAC memorial before waving goodbye amid refreshed memories of the Falklands Conflict 40 years ago.
A day a lot of people, including myself will remember for a long time yet.
Pilot – Bob Gillan
Pax – Phil Russell & Paul Ibberson-Groves