Personal Column: A soldier's story

Next week is the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Goose Green. Here John Geddes, formerly of 2 Para and a Falklands veteran, relives the fight of his life
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The Independent Online

I was 27 and had been with 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, for seven years. Until a few weeks before, I'd thought the Falklands were somewhere north of Scotland but when I heard we were going, I was excited. I wanted to fight, we all did.

Our commander, Lieutenant- Colonel Herbert "H" Jones, fought the MoD to get 2 Para to the Falklands. We had been trained for Eastern Bloc-type warfare, defensive operations. The concept of picking up an army and going to a foreign land to fight was alien and historic - it was what the British used to do.

It was apparent to us even then that we weren't equipped. All the troops and equipment were in Germany, pointing at Moscow. But we weren't scared. That's a consequence of youth - and brainwashing. We thought, we're paratroops, we're worth 10 of them.

By 28 May, we'd been on the Falklands for a week. We had no vehicles so we had had to carry everything. We were wet, cold, short of sleep, water and food. Physically you do go down pretty quickly.

The SAS intelligence was that a parachute regiment company could take Goose Green, that Argentine numbers and morale were low. But as we got closer to the start lines, we were finding out this wasn't the case.

I said to the guys, we are in charge of our own destiny. We will fight, we will help each other... we are just going to do our job and get on with it.

Very quickly, the battlefield lit up with machinegun fire and tracer, artificial light created by the mortars to turn night into day. We were in reserve, manoeuvring under intense fire, and we could see there was a hell of a lot more fire being returned. It was difficult and dangerous for our guys, but they just stormed through their positions.

We followed and what we saw was devastation. Waxworks. Many dead Argentines, some of our guys wounded and a few killed. What had been neat trenches were smoking, burning. It was macabre and surreal.

We heard that A-company were pinned down in Gorse Gully and we were redeployed. We sprinted under intense fire for about a kilometre to join them, but when we got there it had ended. We did a mopping up operation, then advanced towards Goose Green.

Within 50 metres all hell broke loose. Again, the intelligence was wrong: the positions of the Argentine weapons were excellent. We were under such intense fire: mortars, artillery, anti-aircraft guns; there were people getting wounded and killed all around me. I was scared now. I thought there is no way we can come through this. We were so outnumbered. But courage is carrying on and completing an attack under adversity and overcoming your fear. We had nowhere to go but forward, to the creek, the dead ground that we were going to use as an approach to our target, the school house.

Firing and manoeuvring: one group firing, us manoeuvring, then the other way round. It's exhausting, it's terrifying, but you just keep on going, inching forward, until we eventually got to the dead ground. The place was a dumping ground for dead sheep; we took cover among hundreds of carcasses.

We planned our assault. D company would direct all their fire on to the school house. We broke cover and fought our way towards the school house.

We were metres away. There was horrendous fire from D company's eight or 10 machine guns and rocket launchers; another dozen machine guns on Darwin Hill on tripods, firing over our heads. There was no communication, just action.

The building was made of wood but it had four courses of brick at the bottom and that was the only cover. We dived down there. Three of us started posting grenades through the broken windows and pretty soon the school house was ablaze. I kicked the front door in and put a burst through the door but it was just a burning mess. I've no idea how many Argentines were inside.

The Argentines started firing on their own position. A vapour trail passed between me and the guy on my right. God knows what it was, some sort of rocket. We dived into the school playground where there were trenches. I threw a dead Argie out the front of one and occupied it.

We were outgunned and outnumbered. I had a set-to with the Sergeant Major, an old-time para. I said, "We've got to get out of here, mate." He said, "I'm not going back." He was just being bombastic. I thought there's no point arguing and said, "No, we're not going back, we're going sideways." He was OK with that so we crawled backwards on our bellies up a slope into cover.

Then it went quiet. The sun was going down and everyone stopped firing, it was really weird. Everyone was exhausted and running out of ammunition. It was an unspoken, uneasy truce.

We got orders to move back into Gorse Gully. We spent an uneasy night. Then, in the morning, we sent a prisoner over with a statement saying we have another 600 paratroops behind us, the aircraft are on call, the mortars are resupplied, the guns have moved up and, if you don't surrender, we will wipe Goose Green off the map. We didn't have any artillery, any mortars, but they capitulated.

The Argentines wanted a ceremonial surrender and started filing out with the weapons, ceremonial swords thrown into the middle. And they just kept coming. We had no idea there were so many. There were 50 of us taking the surrender of 1,300 of them.

Since the Falklands, I have fought all over the world... All of it easy compared to Goose Green. That was the real McCoy, inspirational, John Wayne. Technology means there aren't battles like that any more.

'Spearhead Assault', John Geddes' account of the war, is published by Century, £14.99

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