Ron Goddard taking time out in the Falkland Islands
Ron Goddard taking time out in the Falkland Islands

Five significant minutes – Part 1

Petrified. Panic stricken. Proud. Just a few of the emotions our servicemen and women have experienced.

I have talked to some very interesting people since I’ve been involved with the Portugal Branch of the Royal British Legion. I could write a page on all of them…they have many experiences – some of them were too emotional or too top secret to share. I did, however, persuade a few of our Portuguese resident ex-service men and women to tell me about an occasion that was poignant for them. I’m so grateful to them for sharing these memories – it makes interesting reading and gives a great insight into just some of the things they went through, experienced and, quite often, suffered on our behalf.

"No turning back now" - Andy Sykes
“No turning back now” – Andy Sykes

“We were dispatched from the air on a moonless dark night into a pitch-black sea with inflatable boats. We had GPS links way before GPS was a thing that everyone had on their phones! Complete silence was imperative. We flashed an infrared torch in Morse Code at a very specific time in a very specific direction – accuracy was key. The Submarine would then respond in Morse Code, surface, and prepare to pick us up. We deflated our boats and scrambled on board. The sub then disappeared, elegantly and silently, back under the sea with us safely on board. All of this in less than 10 minutes.”

Andy Sykes, Army Commando Unit, Royal Marines

“The general alarm sounded just after 0600, more than half the crew would have been asleep so were rudely awakened from their slumbers. The sound is guaranteed to pierce the sleeping mind, raise adrenalin levels and instil the need to get to your emergency station as quickly as you can.

‘Hydraulic burst, hydraulic burst’, came the frightening words next on the broadcast and all ventilation fans stop, the atmosphere immediately starts to warm up.

The general alarm sounded again, three piercing notes, ‘Fire, fire, fire’, followed, things had got worse, crew members who were asleep a few minutes ago are ready in minutes to tackle the fire, heavy woollen suits with anti flash hoods and gloves aided by breathing apparatus were worn by the firefighters.

The general alarm sounded again, ‘Reactor scram, reactor scram’, clearly the situation was deteriorating and now the propulsion engineers were having to try and deal with whatever had caused the reactor shutdown.”

Graham Ford, Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy 

“We were already at Action Stations and had been for 30 minutes, waiting six miles out from the Libyan port of Benghazi.

“What does it look like?” asked the Prime Minister. Fleet Ops Officer in Northwood HQ repeated the question to the Captain.

“CO says it looks quiet Prime Minister”.

“OK. Send them in”.

We went alongside and the Royal Marines Rifle Troop went ashore to secure a perimeter. The UK Border Force team followed to assess potential evacuees.

"Rapid exit from Benghazi” - George Adams
“Rapid exit from Benghazi” – George Adams

The Libyan air force was bombing a town some 80 miles due south – gunfire could be heard…80 miles in a MiG doesn’t take long! All Radars were burning with missiles ready to go … Thankfully we rescued 49 entitled and very grateful civilians without incident and as soon as we were clear, we fired up the biggest and best Mr Rolls and Mr Royce could provide and made best speed to Malta.

George Adams, Marine Engineer Officer, Royal Navy

“The much-anticipated day had arrived. We stood on the parade ground, silently praying that the wind coming up the River Dart wouldn’t dislodge our new and slightly uncomfortable tricorn hats. We could hear the gentle murmur of the audience surrounding the parade, feel the eyes of our families and friends picking us out. Suddenly, we were holding our breath as the car pulled up for the inspecting officer to step out. “Eyes front”, our heads not wavering from their position facing forward, but our eyes were moving, searching to see the one we’d been rehearsing for all these weeks. Then finally she was there, so diminutive in stature but standing out from all the black uniforms surrounding her in a bright scarlet coat … Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Inspecting Officer who would officially launch us on our career as officers in the Royal Navy and Women’s Royal Naval Service.

Claire Banazol, Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy

“We heard ‘Air Raid Warning Red – Hands to Action Stations’ indicating that we were under air attack … We saw the explosions on the horizon as the Sea Dart missiles hit the aircraft, but not before they had launched their deadly Exocet sea skimming missiles.
Then followed a Tannoy – “Hit the Deck”… as we lay on the flight deck with mayhem developing around the ship, we saw the Exocet missile coming direct towards the stern of the ship where we were lying.
Fearful of our lives, we lived to fight the rest of the war as the missile passed close astern and fell into the sea as it had been seduced by our decoys.”

Ron Goddard, Commander AFC, Royal Navy 


Look out for Part II next week.


Media Rep for the Portugal and Atlantic Islands Branch of the Royal British Legion.