Falklands 40: Royal Marines remember the horrors of 'Bomb Alley' as they reflect on the battle of San Carlos

WITH a dazzling sun beaming down and a gentle breeze rippling the grass around Eastney’s Yomper statue, a small contingent of Royal Marine veterans solemnly gather to honour their fallen comrades.

By Tom Cotterill
Sunday, 22nd May 2022, 8:19 am

Proudly sporting their coveted green berets, the two dozen or so Commandos remain rigid and upright – some with the aid of walking sticks – as a lone bugler plays the Last Post.

The men had all gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the pivotal landings at San Carlos Bay, an operation which would ultimately lead to the liberation of the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

And for some of those gathered during Saturday’s commemoration, the bloody battle in ‘Bomb Alley’ is as fresh now as it was 40 years ago.

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Jan Zawada plays The Last Post next to the Yomper statue. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)

‘It was cold, it was wet, it wasn’t nice. We were 8,000 miles away from home. I had two small girls and had everything to live for. I just wanted to get it done and get back home,’ says retired Warrant Officer Class 2 Philip Shuttleworth, of Waterlooville.

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Philip, 68, had been cooped up with hundreds of other troops on the amphibious landing ship HMS Fearless as it made its approach into San Carlos Bay in the early hours of May 21, 1982.

‘You could hear the bombs going off and the aircraft going across,’ he says. ‘There were 600 of us down on that tank deck. Had we been hit we would have been done for. There was no way out for us at all.

Lance Corporal Martin Powell, Warrant Officer Philip Shuttleworth MBE, Warrant Officer Peter Mawer and Brigadier Tony Welch OBE. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)

‘Finally getting off Fearless and onto the Falklands there was a sense of joy because we had finally put our feet on terra firma and we were no longer sitting ducks. It was a relief.’

Retired Commando, Warrant Officer Class 2 Peter Mawer was just days away from turning 37 when he entered San Carlos.

He was travelling with hundreds of other Marines on the converted ocean liner SS Canberra as the Argentine air force relentlessly bombed the naval task force.

‘I was lying there in this huge lounge with another Sergeant Major and we got that dreaded call “air raid: brace, brace, brace”,’ says the 76-year-old.

Reverand Roland Wort RN addresses the assembled parade of veterans and standard bearers. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)

‘You could hear the bombs drop and when it was over this Sergeant Major I was next to turned round to me and said: “Peter, the only other person who has been that close to me has been my wife – will you let go”.

‘It was one of those things, because you were so helpless and you knew the bombs were coming down, you had this self-preservation where you didn’t want to die alone, you didn’t want to be maimed or disfigured and if it was going to happen let it be quick.

‘I just couldn’t wait to get on the Falklands because if one of those boats got hit it would have been a catastrophe... all you wanted to do was get on land.’

Retired army Brigadier Tony Welch, 76, of Eastney, was also involved in the operation to storm San Carlos.

Peter Helsby, standard bearer for the RMA, at the Falklands Memorial. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)

At the time he was a Major serving aboard the RFA Sir Galahad and recalls the ship’s miraculous escape after being hit by a 1,000lb bomb on May 24.

He said: ‘I was sitting in Galahad and one of the bombs hit us. It went through the accommodation block and into the tank deck where 300 tonnes of ammunition was kept – and it didn’t go off. I wouldn’t have been here if it had. It was surreal.’

But on June 8 – less than a week before the war ended – the ship’s luck ran out, when she was bombed once again in a deadly attack that claimed 48 lives and destroyed Sir Galahad.

Tony was on land in a military headquarters when the tragedy unfurled.

‘All hell broke loose,’ he says. ‘There was this enormous explosion and I threw myself to the ground.

‘When I got outside I could see this plume of smoke coming from Galahad… She was burning.’

A salute for the fallen from a Royal Marine veteran at the memorial service. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)

Retired Lance Corporal Martin Powell, 66, of Lee-on-the-Solent was onboard HMS Fearless – which was next to Galahad when she was hit.

He says: ‘We were tied up alongside Sir Galahad when she was hit. I could just see the bombs coming down. I could have put my hands out and caught a 500-pounder, they were that close. One landed straight in the water next to us and didn’t go off.’

Philip, who now works with the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust, adds the horrors of the war remain as fresh now as they were four decades ago.

But he says his charity work helps him to cope, adding: ‘Working for the RNBT I get to look after people who are still carrying the hidden scars of the war.

‘I have tried to help other people attain a better life. It’s something that helps me too because we all have our demons.’

The Falklands War claimed the lives of 255 British service personnel – including 27 Royal Marines.

The names of the fallen Commandos were read out during a ceremony at the Royal Marines Memorial Gardens, opposite the former Royal Marines barracks in Eastney.

Wreaths were also laid to honour the fallen heroes.

Reflecting on the conflict, Brigadier Welch adds: ‘The Falklands was a pivotal moment in the military history of this country. It was the last real war. If nothing else, this war showed the British lion still had balls.’

Jan Zawada plays The Last Post next to the Yomper statue. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)
A moment of reflection at the memorial service. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)
Lieutenant Colonel Joss McCabe gives a reading at the memorial service. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)
Standard bearers representing The Royal Navy, Submariners, the Royal British Legion and the Royal Marines. Picture: Mike Cooter (210522)