A Rothwell Falklands War veteran has paid tribute to his comrades who lost their lives in the fight to free the islands from the Argentine invasion on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war.
As part of 2 Troop 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, Joseph Smyth was one of the ‘sappers’ attached to 2 Para and saw action in the bloodiest battle of the conflict – Mount Longdon.
Argentine troops were dug in on the top of the mountain and British soldiers had to inch themselves to the summit, capturing defensive positions, inch by inch, in the dark.
The night battle saw some of the heaviest casualties of the war with 23 British and 31 Argentine soldiers killed and Mr Smyth, then 19, says he was scared but that his training kicked in.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, I was s***ing myself. It was close range fighting. At one point I ducked down – there was a grenade going off to my right and shooting above my head.
"So long as you are going up hill, you’re going in the right direction, listening out for orders all the time and moving forward. At one point I saw a guy not moving. I was shaking him and shaking him but he was dead.”
Mr Smyth arrived at the islands following a three-week voyage. His troop finally reached San Carlos in the Falkland Islands on May 20 1982, after being transferred to a landing craft the type used in the D-Day assault.
Wading waist-deep in water the soldiers their arrival on the beach was greeted by with an Argentinian air raid.
The 59-year-old said: “It was like in Saving Private Ryan. I was very scared. When we landed there was a fight going on and we could see the tracer fire. I thought ‘this is for real’.
"It was exciting. I didn’t think that the war would progress and might have finished by the time we got there. A shout went up ‘air raid red, air raid red’. Everybody on the beach dived into the sand. I remember I put my hands over my head even though I was wearing a helmet.”
The Royal Engineers were there to build, demolish and clear mines – and fight as infantry. Marching across the islands for 50 miles with all their equipment weighing up to 80lbs, Mr Smyth only slept for a couple hours. Conditions were so wet that many soldiers developed trench foot.
As they waited in the dark for their orders Mr Smyth could hear the battle raging all around him.
He said: “We were in what was called ‘bomb alley’. The Argentine planes would come through the mountains. Quite a few ships were hit. I saw HMS Antelope being hit. The experience was surreal.”
It was on June 12, that the Battle for Mount Longdon began. As they progressed up the mountain, Mr Smyth’s Spanish skills were used to speak to Argentine prisoners of war.
He said: “The Argentine soldiers didn’t want to be there. They were sent there. I have nothing bad to say about them. It was just unfortunate.”
As he and his comrades waited two days for the inevitable surrender, they were still being shelled by Argentine guns.
"Being shelled is one of the most scary things. You can hear the whistling but you don’t know where it’s going to land. Our corporal, Scott Wilson was killed by a shell. He was a really lovely guy.
"I didn’t think about whether I was going to die, I just thought I want to get out of this in one piece.”
On June 14, 1982, as the final surrender took place Mr Smyth marched into Port Stanley. The troops were greeted with handshakes and offers of drinks. Mr Smyth helped clear Government House of mines and managed to grab some grapes growing in the official greenhouse.
The Royal Engineers stayed on the islands clearing mines and helping Argentine troops retrieve their hastily-buried comrades for repatriation.
He said: “It was awful. The prisoners made a sorry sight but it was very respectful.”
When Mr Smyth returned home, his neighbours came out to welcome him with a street party.
He said: “It was a fantastic victory for the British forces. It’s sad and it should never have happened but we needed to take action. It sent a clear message that aggression would not be put up with.”
After a 15-year career in the military, Mr Smyth works for a logistics company. As well as serving as a councillor for North Northants Council and Rothwell Town Council, he is a member of the Maritime Volunteer Service.
He will be attending the Armed Forces Day parades in Desborough and Rothwell.
Memories of serving in the Falklands are not daily but on anniversaries he does think of his comrades.
He added: “When I was young I dreamt of going to wars but in reality it’s completely different – the reality is grim. It’s not the physical scars of war but the mental ones.”
Corby soldier Craftsman Alex Shaw, 25, who served with 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 Para), died with 22 other servicemen on June 13, 1982.
The members of 3 Para killed in the Battle of Mount Longdon were: Stewart Laing, Phillip West, James (Doc) Murdoch, Anthony Greenwood, Stewart McLaughlin, Mark Dodsworth, Alex Shaw, Gerald Bull, Timothy Jenkins, Keith McCarthy, Peter Higgs, Neil Grose, Jason Burt, Jonathon Crow, Peter Heddicker, Ian McKay VC, David Scott, Ian Scrivens, Richard Absolon, Stephen Hope, Craig Jones and Christopher Lovett.