Ex-commando makes return to Falklands

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FORMER Ilkeston Marine Paul Thornhill returned to civilian life in 1988 but still serves as a reservist as part of Nottingham Detachment of the Royal Marine Reserves, based at HMS Sherwood.

Living in Ilkeston, he works as a night shift manager for Beam Light Automotive Seating in Eastwood.



But having served in the Falklands as an 18-year-old Marine in 40 Commando as part of 3 Commando Brigade, his recent return visit to the South Atlantic was very different to his first encounter.

He first joined the service in September 1981. Then in March 1982 he joined the thousands heading out on ships to the Falklands to help fight the Argentine forces.

As part of 40 Commando he was transported on the SS Canberra, a cruise liner sent to Southampton to support the effort.

The purposefully slow trip to the Falklands islands took around five weeks, potentially allowing time for diplomatic sanctions to resolve the conflict.

With no resolutions in sight, the SS Canberra docked at the RAF base on the island of Ascension in early May 1982.

“There’s certain things you just don’t forget about,” he added. “Like those five weeks on a boat and the ship’s horn and complete darkness at 9pm. Arriving at Ascension gave us the chance to tread on dry land again – a fantastic feeling after five weeks at sea.”

The troops eventually transferred from SS Canberra to HMS Fearless, where they would all prepare for landing on the beach at San Carlos.

“Both ships had air raid warnings, and then it was a case of preparing ourselves for the first move onto the islands. We were all taken down specific routes to get to our landing craft, and I remember being clapped on the back by all the Royal Navy all ranks including officers as we made our way down.

“After having watched documentaries on World War 2, I thought I might be scared of the landing craft, and the dangers that faced us beyond that, but oddly I was surprised it didn’t feel scary at all.”

40 Commando made its way to capture the airstrip at San Carlos, famously known as ‘bomb alley’ following repeated air attacks by the Argentine Air Force.

“At San Carlos I didn’t see one Argentinean. We moved swiftly from there up the Verde Mountain range and ‘dug in’. Everyone’s kit were flown over to us, apart from mine.

“ I ended up going to see the doctor for ‘wet feet’ and on my way back, with no boots on, found myself in the middle of an air strike. This meant diving into the nearest trench – even if it was the toilet!

“Fortunately, I was in between positions and just lay in the open during the raid, however a friend of mine, also away from the relative safety of our trenches, took cover in what turned out to be the ‘toilet trench!”

Paul’s unit spent 28 days in conflict and stayed for 31.

During the whole 74 days of conflict, Britain lost 255 servicemen and women, with the Argentine forces suffering heavier losses of 649. Three islanders also lost their lives.

Fourteen of the 27 Marines who lost their lives during the conflict are buried at the Blue Beach Memorial Cemetery in San Carlos.

Their families chose not to repatriate the bodies, and stick with military tradition to bury servicemen nearest to the site they lost their lives.

It is here that it all came back to Paul. “Visiting the cemetery at San Carlos was emotional for me. It reminds me that not all of us came home, and of the sacrifice these brave lads made for their country.”

But it’s not just those who lost their lives during the war that have suffered. More than 300 service men and women who served in the Falklands have since taken their own lives, through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“The horrors of war will never leave any of us, and some have been able to deal with it better than others.” Paul said. “To have lost more comrades since the conflict, as a result of their experiences is a real tragedy. I’m always grateful that I have such a supportive family, who have helped me through a great deal.”

Paul returned to the Falklands as part of the Royal Marine Reserve’s annual overseas training exercise.

The Reserve Forces are military organisations that are affiliated to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Royal Marines. They are run by a combination of reservist and regular personnel.

Reservists are men and woman of various ages who chose to undertake training outside of their civilian career.

Paul added: “In my role as a Royal Marines Reservist I am able to continue my support of the British Armed Forces, while maintaining my day-to-day civilian life.

“To be able to still use my training and do my bit for my country is a real honour. It’s hard work, but great fun and not only keeps me fit, but gives me so many opportunities I would otherwise not have had.”

To find out more about becoming a reservist, visit the East Midlands Reserve Forces and Cadets Association’s website www.eastmidlandsrfca.co.uk.