British Marines

The Falklands War (also known by several other titles) was a ten-week conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom.  It was fought over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: The Falklands Islands, the South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands.  The conflict began on 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands; the following day, Argentina invaded South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.  This was Argentina’s attempt to establish sovereignty over these territories. On 5 April 1982, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage Argentine naval and air forces before making an amphibious assault on the islands.  The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982 —thereby returning the islands to British control.  In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three civilian islanders died during the conflict.

royal-marines-badge-01Aboard one British troop transport ship (SS Canberra), senior officers worked hard keeping members of the British Army away from the British Royal Marines (and vice-versa) since British soldiers and Marines have always been, shall we say, competitive.  In this instance, we are talking about the soldiers of 3 Para and the Marines of 42 Commando (said as Four-Two Commando).  And then there was the question of what to do with the civilian journalists attached to the task force.

All in all, senior officers had their jobs cut out for them.

Two recently embarked press men were attempting to familiarize themselves with the layout of ship spaces when they came upon a sergeant and asked him where they might find the bar[1].

The sergeant, placing his hands upon his hips bellowed, “Bar? This is a ship, not a doss house! Now, would you happen to be looking for the mess, perhaps?”

“Sorry, I meant mess,” replied one of the journalists.

The sergeant challenged, “Which one?  Who are you?”

“We’re press,” said one of the men.

“Oh Christ,” said the sergeant, rolling his eyes.  “That’ll be the officer’s mess.  Alright then, up the ladder through there,” he said pointing, “and you’ll see it.”

But to get to the officer’s mess, the civilians had to transverse the minefield known as the sergeant’s mess.  One thing that is never done, whether aboard ship or on land, is for any private, officer, and certainly no civilian, to ever enter the sergeant’s mess without an invitation.  As the journalists stumbled into the sergeant’s mess, one very large sergeant hollered out, “Piss off.”

“Sorry?” said one of the press men.

“Piss off, Chalkie,” the sergeant repeated.  “Sergeant’s Mess, mate.  Can’t come ‘ere without permission.”

One might forgive the unknowing civilian journalist for his transgression; a battalion chaplain should know better.  One night, the sergeants conducted a bar-top court-martial as the battalion chaplain stood accused of violating the rules of the mess. A duly appointed sergeant called the mess to attention and read from a properly filled-out charge sheet.  “You, Padre, sir, stand accused of entering the mess and loitering, and with bringing no booze, which is vagrancy.  Have you got a brief?”

“This officer here will defend me,” said the chaplain, cocking a thumb at a young sub-lieutenant standing beside him.  The chaplain attempted to stifle a chuckle.

“Stop laughing, Padre,” warned the presiding sergeant, “otherwise, it’ll go badly for you.”

The sub-lieutenant was then examined: “Sir, can you explain the Padre’s behavior?”

The officer began his defense.  “He made a mistake, sergeant.  Never did he intend to break the rules of the mess.  He is very sorry.”

“Guilty!” screamed the assembled sergeants, making crosses with their fingers and hissing at the padre.

“You have been found guilty by the mess, Padre.  We fine you one bottle of sherry,” said the president of the mess, and then pointing to the sub-lieutenant, added, “And him too, sir because he did such a bloody awful job defending you.”

The padre later returned with a bottle of sherry, but the poor man didn’t stand a chance.  The sergeant examined the sherry and bellowed, “Only half a bottle!  You won’t make it to heaven, Padre.  Now, piss off.”

The foregoing tale comes from a fascinating, often humorous while sobering tale titled, “Don’t Cry for Me, Sergeant Major” by British journalists Robert McGowan and Jeremy Hands. The book might be a bit difficult to get a hold of, but you might find it at Amazon.  It is definitely worth the effort.


[1] At this time, limited rations of alcohol were still served aboard British Naval vessels, including contracted troop transports.  My guess is that this was the only way the Ministry of Defence could get the British press to cover the war.

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

6 thoughts on “British Marines”

    1. I am currently reading Major General Julian Thompson’s book, titled 3 Commando in the Falklands: No picnic. Thompson, a degreed historian and author, has spent some time with the US Marines at Expeditionary Warfare School at Quantico, does an excellent job writing about what happened at the Falklands from the perspective of its ground forces commander. I highly recommend this book to someone like yourself whose background is the military, who understands the intricacies of military operations.


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