Andy McSmith's Diary: The Falklands hero, definitely not bullet-proof, whose citation went awry


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Indy Politics

The fog is slowly lifting around the story of why one of the most daring soldiers killed in the Falklands War was never decorated.

Stewart McLaughlin, from Wallasey, a Corporal in the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, was caught up in the bloodiest battle of that war. He led his men in a charge against the heavily defended Mount Longdon shouting he was “bullet-proof” – which, of course, he was not. He suffered a ghastly wound that exposed his spine, but stayed on the battlefield until a mortar finished him off. His commanding officer, Lt-Gen Sir Hew Pike, recommended him for a medal, but that medal was never awarded.

In 1992, a survivor of the battle of Mount Longdon, Vincent Bramley, wrote a memoir which suggests there were incidents of paratroopers cutting the ears off dead Argentinian soldiers for trophies, giving rise to a story that McLaughlin’s citation had been blocked because a collection of severed ears was found in his kit.

That was just a false rumour. The true explanation is prosaic. Answering a written question about the case this week, the defence minister Lord Astor declared that no citation was ever sent to the appropriate committee, and that everyone involved accepts that as a fact.

On the other hand, when the Wallasey MP Angela Eagle raised the case in Parliament two weeks ago with Sir Hew listening in the public gallery, she asserted the Lt-Gen wrote a citation, but it never arrived. Somebody did not see the job through. The Ministry of Defence is now collectively wishing this problem would go away.

Where is the modern Turing?

The people in charge of A-level maths exam papers have a problem – they cannot agree on what they mean when they tell a student to solve a problem.

This is revealed in a letter from Glenys Stacey, chief regulator of Ofqual, to the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. “Given the fundamental place of problem-solving in the A-level content,” she writes, “it is important that we have a sufficient consensus as to what it entails. We do not, as yet. It is now clear that there are differing views amongst key players as to what is meant by ‘problem-solving’.”

Oh, Alan Turing, would that you were alive now to solve the problem of how to define problem-solving.

No sweetie pies at the top

Today’s surprisingly generous tribute to Gordon Brown in The Daily Mail, written by Quentin Letts, included a defence of the former Prime Minister’s notorious temper. “We are not supposed, in this touchy-feely era, to approve of leaders who lose their tempers. But how many great men have been sweetie pies?” he wrote.

I wonder, was he thinking only of Gordon Brown? Or do I detect a coded eulogy to another “great man” who is no one’s idea of a “sweetie pie”?

I name no names.

Not a kiss-and-tell interview

There was much publicity for the political bits of Alastair Campbell’s interview with Alan Johnson in GQ, in which Johnson said that he does not want to be a shadow minister ever again, but would accept a Cabinet job.

There was also a little-noticed personal section, made up of short questions and answers. It went: Q: Worst moment? A: The one I don’t talk about. Q: The wife running off? A: Yes. Q: Anyone else now? A: Yes. Q: Happy? A: Very happy. Q: Third marriage? A: I will announce that to her, not you.