Falklands veteran Chris Falcke
by Stephen Waite
Chris Falcke was 19 when Argentine forces invaded the islands.
He had enrolled at the Royal Marines’ Commando Training Centre in Devon aged just 16 years and 11 months.
Out of 64 recruits on the gruelling 30-week course, he was one of 16 awarded the coveted green beret.
Chris was posted to 42 Commando and his early career as a Royal Marine included two exercises in Norway.
"The Royal Marines have trained in Norway for decades," said Chris. "Their saying goes: 'If you can fight and survive in Norway then you can do it anywhere’."
Shortly afterwards came the news that the newly-acquired skills were to be put to the test for real.
Chris, now of Homewood Avenue, Sittingbourne, was on leave and enjoying a night out with a fellow marine in Hastings when the call came.
"His dad received a phone call and came, with the police, to a nightclub to get us."
He soon found himself on a flight to Ascension Island in the Atlantic before boarding landing ship Sir Bedivere and setting off for the war zone.
"There was a general feeling of excitement, apprehension and fear," he recalled. "However, at no point did any of us believe we could not do the job.
"If Royal Marines casualties had begun to mount we would have been deployed either individually or in section strength to make up the numbers – not a nice thought!"
Being what he now describes as "young and stupid", Chris and his comrades were eager to put their training into practice. But they had to be patient.
"Time was passed playing cards, winding each other up and on watch. Reactions to radio broadcasts were often mixed – great sorrow and a little apprehension at the news of ships hit and great elation, mixed with some envy, at news of the exploits of the guys ashore."
Arriving in May 1982, a day after the first troops stormed the beaches at San Carlos, East Falkland, Sir Bedivere spent a day as a "sitting duck", said Chris, in a stretch of water that became known as "bomb alley" after the intense air raids against British forces.
One of the crew’s first sights was HMS Antelope on fire after an unexploded bomb was detonated during efforts to defuse it.
"The fire was unstoppable and she had to be abandoned," said Chris.
"The next afternoon with her back broken, Antelope sank. There was a great sadness and an overall desire to get back at the Argies – revenge I guess?"
While in San Carlos water, those on board Sir Bedivere scanned the skies for Argentine fighter planes and Chris remembers "spraying the sky" with a light machine gun.
Then she was hit by a 1,000lb bomb. "The bomb cut through the port side and bounced into the sea before exploding.
"Fortunately there were no casualties and no serious damage, although her crane’s heavy pulley/block and tackle and hook crashed onto the deck feet from where we were manning the guns."
Sir Bedivere survived the onslaught and was escorted out of Falkland Sound, the strait between the two main groups of islands, and was spared further action.
Chris said news of the Argentine surrender was announced over Sir Bedivere’s public address system. "We were elated, relieved and a little disappointed that we hadn’t had the chance to do a little more," he added.
He was moved to the MV Norland, a North Sea ferry used to repatriate Argentine prisoners. "We were very cautious," said Chris. "They were nervous and frightened.
We kept thinking what we would do if the roles were reversed and were convinced that we would make some sort of an attempt to escape so we were constantly on out toes.
"However, most were young lads like us and most seemed happy that it was all over and that they were going home."
Three years after the war, Chris left the Royal Marines. For the last 12 years, he has taught sports science at Canterbury College. He is a married father of two, a boy aged two and daughter aged six.
"For me, the saddest fact about the whole campaign is that more veterans have died since the conflict than died during the conflict – many as a result of suicide," he said.
"Thankfully there are now a number of systems in-place to help ex-servicemen suffering from invisible wounds such as post traumatic stress syndrome."
At the beginning of June, Chris will be forming a team of serving and former Royal Marines, ex-service personnel and civilians and cycling along the south coast from Chatham to Plymouth.