George Francis will soon turn 96 years old. The army was a huge change of pace for George who had lived a somewhat sheltered existence before his army days. I used to wait till the others were done, but then I got sick of cold water and joined in with all of them. I went to the pictures after that but everything was spinning so I had to go again the next night to see what the movie was.
Mrs Francis was none too pleased when she saw what National Service had done to her sweet young son.
Australians serving at Milne Bay. Photo credit: Australian War Memorial. At nineteen he was deployed to New Guinea to join the fight to stop the Japanese advance toward Australia. He was one of the youngest men at Milne Bay and his alert mind has no trouble recalling the first experience of coming under fire. Australian War Memorial Photographs showing clockwise from top left: Australian troops at Milne Bay in , shortly after the battle. One of the Japanese barges after the battle.
The fluted bottom allows the barge to retract from the beach easily. What had looked like a swarm of mosquitoes in the distance got real very quickly for the Australians at Milne Bay. When they started bombing and the guns went off I went to ground; trying to fit myself inside this little trench I was digging. So we sort of made a joke of it — typically Australian. We had a 40 strong sig section and there are only two left they are all gone and you wonder why you are left. I was the liaison from the controller fighter sector.
When the controller said to stop firing the guns, I had to give the order to them to stop firing. Then when he said you can fire again, I had to tell them they could fire again. Wireless operators at Milne May. It was our duty to lay the cable. There were 8, coconut trees in Milne Bay, and those trees we used as a post from which to attach our cable.
The cable would have rotted on the ground so we used spurs to climb up the trees.
Milne Bay is remembered as the first defeat of the Japanese on land during the Pacific War and significantly boosted Allied spirits. Japanese intelligence had vastly underestimated the Allied garrison and believed there no more than a few hundred troops defended the airstrip, but there were actually almost 9, Allied troops including two Australian infantry brigades — the 7th and the 18th.
The Allies had the additional advantage of having air support close at hand because the 75 and 76 Squadrons from the RAAF were also based at Milne Bay. Of the 2, Japanese landed, only 1, re-embarked.
It was estimated that up to lay dead around Milne Bay and the majority of the remainder were killed trying to escape overland to the Japanese base at Buna. Allied deaths included Australians and 14 Americans. Not to this day do some of the public even know how close it was. They were very similar to the drawings that British children sent us: the kind of simple drawings you would see on the wall of any primary school.
A mass grave on a hill overlooking Darwin, only two miles from Goose Green, where the bodies were taken for a brief service conducted jointly by an English and an Argentine padre, was itself a continuing horror. As the days went by and the water began to rise from the clay, the bodies wrapped up in drab green ponchos would start to float. Only the sight of two black boots sticking out of the battle shrouds gave any real clue that these pathetic bundles were once human.
At the airstrip in Goose Green there were tons of canisters of the most feared weapon of modern war: napalm. Britain had agreed never to use it but it seems that the Argentine intention had been different. Some senior officers were horrified by the amount of napalm canisters and said that their use against our troops could have altered the whole course of the campaign. Even without napalm, flash-burns were the most horrifically common wound, especially among Navy personnel. You could always tell burned people from a distance, for they moved about often shaking their hands in their efforts to cool the burning skin.
Some people with burns were given plastic bags to wear on their hands. The bags were filled with a bleach-like powder which eased the pain to some little extent, prevented infection, and promoted healing. But for the men who were literally skinned by the explosions there was only the fitful escape of morphine-induced sleep. Although one of the hospital ships was staffed by psychiatrists who were there to cope with the stresses of war on the minds of men, many survivors who were ostensibly bright and cheerful during their waking hours, would suddenly scream and shout in their sleep.
One night I spent in a dormitory for wounded men. One of them abruptly howled in his sleep, setting off a bedlam chain reaction from the others, who awoke in a panic.
The people who coped best with the horrors of war, it seemed, were the Falklanders. More often than not they went about their daily lives as if the troops swarming around them did not exist. In Port San Carlos a hostel used by the sheep-shearers had been converted into a casualty clearing station and the scrubbed pine kitchen table was an operating bench, lined with surgical instruments, saline drips and huge wedges of field dressings.
Almost inevitably the living room next door had a picture of the Queen and Prince Philip, and in an adjoining room a family of Falklanders were enjoying yet another meal of lamb chops. The islanders never seemed particularly glad to see us, although that could be put down to their natural reserve and shyness with strangers. One man told me that they wouldn't know the full cost of the war for as long as seven months, when the sheep were gathered for shearing.
This was said in Goose Green.
My enduring impression of the British at war is one of incredible courage and professionalism throughout all the serving men. As one sailor told me: "We have enjoyed years of peace and sailing to glamorous parts of the world to show the flag. But now we are doing what we were paid to do all along. Although we have been trained to fight, there was never any way in which we could have been prepared for some of the terrible things we've seen.
I have brought back with me from the Falklands one small poignant, tangible reminder of the human loss of the grief which follows a war.
At Goose Green I was given a spare pair of combat trousers, from a pile of Argentine clothes which had been left in a house. I will send the ring back to a padre in Buenos Aires whose address I have been given. Whether its owner will return, I will probably never know. Topics Falkland Islands From the Guardian archive.
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