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Falklands War 1982

Poetry by Bernie Bruen, with background notes

Bernie Bruen was commander of an eighteen man team of bomb-disposal divers in the Falklands War. These poems and notes constitute a record and tribute to the the outstanding courage and achievements of these men. Bernie Bruen is concerned that  his team should receive the official recognition that it clearly deserves - hence the reference to "forgotten men".
Pic of heroes of the Falklands War
Heroes of the Falklands War

More photographs at end of page.

"FREE VERSE FROM FORGOTTEN MEN - Falklands War 1982"

Author's introduction

The war memorial at Stanley in the Falkland Islands has engraved upon it the names of all the UK military units that took part in the Conflict. From Ships and Squadrons to Regiments and Special Forces, all are represented - even down to the Field Post Office Unit and the Catering Corps. It is interesting to note that, despite a twenty year campaign to have their presence in the conflict recorded, FLEET CLEARANCE DIVING TEAM 3 has yet to be included. This is particularly surprising in view of the fact that 66% of its members received gallantry awards. This is by far the highest percentage achievement of any unit involved and an enviable record for such a small team of Bomb-disposal Divers - the Royal Navy's own and largely unsung Special Forces. The eighteen-man team amassed between them: one Distinguished Service Cross, one Distinguished Service Medal, four Mentions in Dispatches and six Commander-in-Chief's Commendations for Brave Conduct.
From the moment of their appearance in the combat zone, the Team was in the thick of it. Immediately after HMS ANTELOPE was sunk (the day the Team arrived), nine of them began the long and arduous task of removing dangerous explosives from her upper-deck and reducing the height of the wreck. This essential work continued, despite the many air-raids that were occurring, to allow freedom of manoeuvre for the rest of the landing force. Simultaneously the second half of the Team was removing live, unexploded bombs from RFAs SIR GALAHAD and SIR LANCELOT, thus saving those ships and returning them to vital service. After the loss of ANTELOPE, it had been decreed that bombs should not be defuzed but lifted out 'still alive and kicking'. It was these two incidents that won the Divers their bravery awards.
FCDT3 was based at the Red Beach Hospital where, in their spare time, they taught themselves to be nurses - a skill much in demand after the Buff Cove incident when the casualty unit was overwhelmed with badly burned survivors. Among those treated by the Divers was the now celebrated soldier - Simon Weston; although he was too much in extremis to register the fact. When the Hospital was bombed, the Team was responsible for building the vast sand-bag wall between the operating theatre and the unexploded bombs to protect patients and staff from the imminent danger of explosions. By moving their messdeck into the void space left between the blast-wall and the theatre, they not only eased the accommodation problem but also gave the Red Beach people added confidence in the efficacy of the bulwark.
The Buff Cove incident saw a small Element of FCDT3 as the first men to board both TRISTRAM and GALAHAD (again) after the attack. Having extinguished what fires they could and checked the ships for UXBs, they then explosively removed the stern ramp of TRISTRAM to allow vital ammunition to be saved and sent to the bombarding guns around Stanley - and all this while fires raged and explosions rumbled deep in the hold of GALAHAD.
Finally, the same Element was responsible for recovering a sea-mine in a gale off Stanley, beaching it and, with minimal equipment (they had not been allowed to bring with them the specialist tools from UK), de-fusing it by hand - the first unknown, enemy mine to be rendered safe since the Korean War.
Three weeks after the surrender, the Team returned quietly to UK having suffered no casualties. Within a month, two of its members had been killed - innocent victims of other people's bad driving.

In order to put the record straight and give the 'Forgotten Men' the recognition they deserve, Fleet Clearance Diving Team 3's story has been told by its Commanding Officer, Bernie Bruen, in his book 'Keep Your Head Down' (Parapress 1993, Book Guild 1998); and yet twenty five years later, they remain forgotten and unsung. They are not even mentioned in the Government's official war history, recently published.
Perhaps these poems will give an insight into the quiet, yet fraught world of the Clearance Diver at work in that most significant of all conflicts.

Bernie Bruen

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On the way 'down South' to join the Task Force, feelings about the sheer audacity and ill-mannered behaviour of the Argentinians in forcing themselves upon the population of these British islands ran high.

THIN OUT!

These are our Cousins, peaceful folk.
These are their farms, their sheep, their beef.
Stand by your mettle (which I doubt).
You have no invitation - thief!
Shout if you like and yell and scream.
Send all your fighters overhead.
Strafe us with bullets, rockets, bombs;
Cripple those Ships you coveted.
Or slink and hide and run away,
Cowering behind barbed wire and mines;
Shiver and shake in quaking holes.
Hide in your scant defensive lines.
For it is ours, that earth you dig;
Possess - enjoy it for the day.
Six thousand miles we've come to state,
"The Falklands are British.
GO AWAY!"

When people began to die as a result of the inevitable confrontation, a cold determination could be found among the troops about to enter the war-zone.

WE SANCTIONED NO REQUEST

We sanctioned no request
From you to claim this land.
You found no warmth nor welcome here,
No friendship's open hand.

We shun that arrogance
That brought you to these shores;
You only showed aggression's greed
To steal what was not yours.

Did we invade your homes?
Did we close down your schools?
Did we dictate your way of life?
Did we impose our rules?

Or did we bolster up
Your way of life - gone mad,
And did we still regard you for
The dignity you had? - Well,

We are the British Dead
Who speak. You are accused!
By us and yours, the men you killed
And those you have abused.

We are the British Dead,
We are your slain as well.
We tend the fires that wait for you
Within the gates of Hell.



The voyage to the South was long and gave plenty of time to reflect on a previous generation, whose long struggle against similar tyrants gave their children the freedom that is so much 'taken for granted' these days.
"I remembered a Sunday service in the Wellington College chapel. As the boys filed out past the Headmaster's pew, sitting next to him in the place of honour was my father, Commander Bill Bruen, the highly decorated Fleet Air Arm fighter 'ace' of the Second World War. I remembered how proud I felt and how much I hoped that I would some day be able to achieve as much."

BEQUEST OF HONOUR

I wonder what our Fathers would have thought,
Could they have witnessed Sons
Trading on their Sires' heroic deeds,
With vehemence of pride,
To heighten their small standing in the School?

For though an undertaking thus discharged,
With little thought for self,
Changes one small section of the whole,
So in transition can
It cause the greater issues to unfold -

- Thereafter, as the years progress in turn,
To reach along that span,
Growing weaker in its potency,
Yet able still to shape
The course of other actions by and by.

Thus did our Fathers' exploits when at War,
Indexed by the Ribbons
Proudly born, bestow upon their Heirs
Esteem and rank, conferred
By rule-subjected schoolboy parallels.

How would they think if they could but observe
Those same, if fewer, Sons
Take up Mantles laid aside in Peace
And, never doubting, stride
Away to earn authentic accolades?
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Further, it was time for assessing one's place in the scheme of things and one's value to the Service. It was an opportunity to look back at what one had achieved and to wonder if, being regarded as 'a bit of an odd-ball', this was perhaps the last chance to do something useful before being discarded.

TASK FORCE

They don't want us, they want our bodies;
Need our talents, not ourselves.
Conflict calls for dedication,
Expertise enhanced by nerve.
Now ascends the banished Leader,
Outcast of promotion's cull,
Weaving spells of valour's mystic
Vital whisper, "Follow all!"

But do not bring your conscience;
Do not bring your soul.
The first you'll not be needing;
The second will be stole.


And, after years of training for such a situation as this - one's own worth.

THE ACCOUNT

What do I have to offer my country?

My Services - they are already bought.
My Loyalty - that is understood.
Duty - Honour - were they not always there?
My Enterprise - without it I am nought.
My worldly Worth - would that I had to give.
Love of Country - that was never questioned.
No. What I have is reckoned now to be
But a gesture, an overkill; and yet
Despite the mock, the denigrating words,
I have a Life - and that I volunteer.
No man can offer more.



Sadly, not everything was as it appeared to be. Survival-suits, issued to the Team and designed to save a life in the freezing cold of South Atlantic waters, were found to be slashed, knotted and condemned - suitable only as test weights for parachute drops; and yet they had been issued as life-saving equipment.

ON ISSUE WAR STOCK

Slashed Survival-suits
Survived as slashed suits, not as
Suits/(slash)/ Survival;

But a slashed Suit (survival),
As a Survival-suit (slashed),
Survives suitably
To splash below parachutes.



After reaching the Islands, the Team was kept hard at work on many different and hazardous tasks which culminated in being bombed in the Hospital at Red Beach, four days later. Many of these 500lb'ers failed to explode and the Team worked all night to build a huge defensive wall of wet, gravel-filled sandbags to protect the operating theatre and wounded in the wards. At certain pre-determined times work stopped while the next notch on the bombs' time-delay-fuze ticked off - everyone taking cover. The expected explosion not being forthcoming, work resumed until once more interrupted by a possible detonation 'window'.

HOSPITAL BLAST-WALL

Softly, now, and mind your noise.
Don't disturb the wounded boys - sleeping.
Though they dribble down your neck,
Put the sandbags on the deck - weeping.

Use the shingle from the shore.
Bring a couple hundred more - dripping.
Roundly, with a turn belay!
Detonator's on delay - slipping.

Time is short, so lift and haul;
Got to thicken up this wall - stacking.
"Beat the Clock to Beat the Bomb!"
Such a fitting axiom - cracking!

Strip to trousers, boots and belt.
Push yourself until you melt - sweating.
Heave 'em up; no time to lose,
Only minutes on the fuze setting.

Hacked it! - with a bag to spare,
Finest bulwark anywhere - lasting.
Let the sucker detonate;
No way it can penetrate - blasting.

Everywhere there was mud, cloying, black, peaty mud that clung to boots and puttees with a tenacity that defied countermeasures.

MUD

As curved as an eastern slipper,
The black, glue-like San Carlos peat
Clings to the toe-cap of my boot
And overlays the camouflage
That renders me invisible.

Cracking like a blood-stiff bandage,
Each puttee, steeped in quagmire ooze,
In loosing, shows the cloth beneath
As brightly clean and livid as
The pink of newly healing wounds.



After such exciting times, in moments of night-time calm, thoughts returned to home.

PRESERVATION

Sink slowly into green and windswept hills,
Whose purple rocks are buttresses of thruth.
Defy the cunning, soul-ensnaring ills
And leave them chase their vigil after youth.
Let passions fly, nor yet your will enfold
But join the creatures of the moors and streams.
Think their thoughts, their freedom always hold;
Make this belief the linchpin of your dreams.
Protect it in the mantle of your heart
And walk where only others' thoughts can be.
Allow your capture - so to 'come its part
And thus, in such communion, set you free.

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For sailors ashore, it was sometimes difficult to know just what rank Royal Marines held.
The embroidered insignia, blended skilfully into the disruptive pattern camouflage, could only be recognised from close to, but as saluting was suspended for the duration it scarcely mattered.

PIPS

Officers' badges,
Frequently indistinct on
Camouflage parkas,
Become buried by Action.
Rank holds no structure, except
To enhance the spur
Of natural Leadership.


Being based at the Hospital on Red Beach, the Divers, when not engaged in their own work, lent a hand to anyone who required it - from building sangars to digging latrine pits. They trained themselves as nurses in case they should be needed, carried in the wounded from the helicopter pads and, occasionally, those who had not survived.

AT AJAX BAY

Legs lie crooked, but a fag don't help;
Bodies, shrouded with canvas tenting,
Hastily concealed, yet undisguised,
Struggle in vain for my attention.

Heavily pregnant with wounded men,
Camouflaged helos pass overhead,
Darting like birds of prey for the Pad
And the Medics of the Life Machine.

The downdraught tears the air to pieces.
Silent with the casualties' torment
Yet stunned by the engines' agonies,
It sets the ripped tarpaulin flapping.

The silver body-bags start shaking
As if their occupants, awakened
From a horrifying nightmare, were
In dread panic, thrashing to escape.

Later we shall bury them at dusk
And, on the hill, a Piper playing
The Flowers of the Forest, gravely
And with comradeship bid them farewell.

The Team suffered only one casualty. 'John Boy' Walton, after diving for UXBs near the latrine outflow from the prisoners' compound, was struck down by a virulent tummy-bug.


He was, in the opinion of the surgeons, lucky to have survived.
And yet he always stayed cheerful and buoyant.
Later, for his selfless attitude, along with conduct in the face of great danger that was '...in the highest traditions of the Service..', he was Mentioned in Dispatches.


'JON BOY' WALTON -
MENTIONED IN DISPATCHES

They say young John-boy's
On the danger list;
He'll be lucky to survive.
How bloody stupid,
All the risks he's run,
To be killed by a microbe.
He caught it diving
On a U-X-B,
Next to the sewer.

They say young John-boy's
In the danger ward
And he's fighting for his life;
Yet, always smiling,
He hugs his Trainers
To him, like a talisman.
Come on, John-boy!
You're our lucky Mascot,
You've got to pull through.

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Existence in the old meat-packing plant, or the 'Red and Green Life Machine', as Surgeon Commender Rick Jolly termed his Ajax Bay Hospital, was a mixture of hard worked, dangerous days and long, stifling but more relaxed nights; all in the very close proximity of all the other occupants.
Only the Divers had any room to move. They had set up their Messdeck (complete with hammocks) in the void-space between the sandbag wall and the operating theatre - a space designed to dissipate residual blast should any of the UXBs decide to go 'bang'. It became a favourite venue for parties, music, song and, sometimes, even cabaret.
(Note: a 'bluie' was an issue letter-form that might one day reach the postman.)

AT THE RED AND GREEN LIFE MACHINE
(unfinished)


He was bathing in a pint of tepid water
And shaving in the remnants of his tea.
Coldly standing in a bucket in the passage
Was the Triage Dental Surgeon's nudity.

Sleeping soldiers packed the corridors and crossings
While Divers dumped the sandbags by the wall
Where an unexploded bomb lodged in the ceiling
And another in the 'frigeration stall.

For a hammock slung between the meat-hook girders
Can host a brief, impromptu cabaret;
But it is not easy writing home a 'bluie'
When the nearest light is twenty feet away.

With a pocket full of Rum and one of Whisky,
In a cammy-jacket's mottled brown and green,
Comes the bear-like, three-ring-surgeon title-holder
Of Rick Jolly's multicoloured Life Machine.

(chorus)
Keep your head down, Mate, until this raid is over;
I would not have your job - not if you paid.
Keep your head down, Mate, until the night conceals us
Or "Warning Red" plays "Yellow's" serenade.

Then came Buff Cove and a flood of casualties. The Divers answered the call and acted as nurses and orderlies, with special responsibility for burn victims. One was even helping the surgeons at the operating tables! All the Divers' spare clothing, what little they had, was distributed to the survivors, leaving them literally 'with what they stood up in' - a distinction that would be much misunderstood later.
One young sailor from HMS PLYMOUTH, which had been hit badly on the same day, grabbed the attention and admiration of the Team: although grievously hurt himself, he was greatly concerned for his 'oppo', wounded in the head, next to him.

CASUALTIES

The stretchered Sailor, by his friend
Whose hand he clasped and willed his pain to mend,
In whispers to the Medic, raised
Imploring eyes whose sparkle, morphine-glazed,
Said, "Help my Oppo, please, not me.
He's hurting bad and worse -
He cannot see."


Immediately after this, as soon as it became light, an element of the Team helicoptered to Buff Cove to try and save GALAHAD - again - and TRISTRAM too. It was a sad sight to see their old friend Sir G, abandoned and burning, a large pall of blackened smoke roilling up out of her hatchway, as explosions shook her hull beneath.

'THE DERELICT' -
RFA SIR GALAHAD AT BUFF COVE


She lies as lies the rabbit or the doe,
With broken back and rapid, shallow breath,
Who rises even yet before its foe
And shouts defiance; shouts it unto death.

She lies and cries from pity and from shame;
Looks up to give a blind and helpless call
Whose answer echoes, calling out her name,
"No-one will come. There is no hope at all."

She lies and sighs so lonely in the dawn,
Her bulkheads at the mercy of the tide,
Her lifeboats gone, their ladders left forlorn
Who slowly swing and scratch and scratch her side.

She lies and dies; she sees the waves advance
And waits to feel them wash her life away;
Until the long, grey ships her pleas entrance
And softly come to help her on her way.

The Divers jumped from the helicopter onto the still-burning TRISTRAM's deck (the pilot would not land) and set about hunting for UXBs within her. Totally dark, cold and dank, they searched with torches, their heart-beats almost audible in the unaccustomed silence. Far separated though they were, each one somehow always knew just where the other was and they emerged simultaneously on the deck - - 'all clear!'

TRISTRAM AT THE COVE

It was all too easily definite.
All it required was to take our kit
Into a twisted Ship and climb
Ladders and walkways, a step at a time,
Down and through her cavernous bowels,
Ignoring the damage's groans and growls,
Past the engines, looming and damp,
With only the warmth of a battery lamp,
Hanging from girders blackened with soot,
Gauging the strength of the plates underfoot,
Thoroughly, doggedly, further apart,
When all you can hear is the beat of your heart,
Finding the source of the havoc to know
That nothing else lurked and was waiting to blow,
Cautiously peering in corners to see,
Silently searching - Tommo and me.

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After putting out the fires and explosively removing the stern ramp to allow salvage of the desperately needed ammunition in the hold, it was time to board GALAHAD and see what could be done there. Fires still raged aboard and explosions from deep within rocked the ship. There was little that four men could achieve, beyond salvaging what gear they could. There was only one other man on-board, a young soldier who had failed to escape the Argentinian attack and lay where he fell.

TO A YOUNG GALAHAD

Naked is no way to die, nor yet to lie
Frozen in the act of living;
At first I thought you caught in spasm,
Locked into a callisthenic dorsal arch,
Muscles - shoulder, thigh and arm -
Straining with the effort.

Then I saw your face half burned away to show
The grin of teeth that lies beneath the skin,
Your fingers burned to stubby stumps
And dog-tags gone;
Only your boots and one arm thrust
Into a shirt marked your haste to leave.

(Did you once sun yourself, running your hand
Lazily over some girlfriend's thigh
As she in turn smoothed oil upon your back?)

Somehow you died whole, unbroken
Until you tumbled to that griddle deck
That burned and scorched and seared,
Welding you to it.

Who was the man who caused your death?
Was he like those who yesterday
Pilfered through our kit, while we
Hunted bombs and rockets
Deep in a dying ship?

Your Ship is dying too, burning,
Rumbling to the explosions that
Rock the pall of blackened flames.
I cannot help her.

Excuse me if I leave you now
But there are jobs to do and fires to fight.
Snow is in the air and bleakness coming
With the winter wind.
Although you can feel nothing, yet
This tarp will keep away the chill
And clothe you for a while from prying,
Vulture eyes.

I leave you with your ship
To guard as you have done in lonely vigil;
But I will tell them where you lie
And, if tardily, someone will come
To tend you.

Back at Ajax Bay it was time to say farewell to friends and move back to one of the RFAs, SIR LANCELOT this time. One person who loomed large in the Team's estimation was the indomitable Royal Marine Chef, Lennie Carnell, who contrived to feed them well, despite having had his first galley blown up in the bombing raid and being short on rations ('chicken supreme' and powdered mashed potato becoming staples). He was particularly helpful to the Divers after some of their more hazardous undertakings, putting on special meals for them at very odd times in the night. He also much appreciated the Team's Boss playing fiddle to the dinner queue to take their minds off the repetitive nature of the grub, as they threw money onto a collection plate - labelled "RNLI - support the Lifeboats - you may just need one!"


CHICKEN SUPREME

By crossing the stonefield, into the bog,
And heading en-masse for Len's Cafe,
At dawn or at dusk, in drizzle or fog,
From vehicles, shelters, secure or unsafe,
Or the shingle-bag sangar we all improvise,
The Royals, the Matelots ask with aplomb,
"So, what have you got for us?" - Lennie replies,
"Chicken Supreme and Pom!"

Although it 'comes natural, after a while,
To crave something different....one learns;
From fiddle-tuned dinner queue - Lennie's broad smile
And passing the 'oeuf a´ la coque' in the ferns,
For the Lifeboat will prosper, and no cause to beg,
With money they threw in the plate for that Prom
But, what was it followed the sight of the egg?
Chicken Supreme and Pom.

A Tank Landing Craft can be fetid and cold,
Abandoned without any power;
While UXBs, shifted by chain-hoist, I'm told,
Can hold one's attention for hour after hour;
But the candle-lit quiz, when invited to dine,
Since lifting and shifting the thousand pound bomb,
"What feast can we have with that bottle of wine?"
"Chicken Supreme and Pom."

"Chicken Supreme and Pom.." says he,
"A spoonful of each; that's your lot.
"There ain't nothing else, apart from the tea,
"But it's tasty, nutritious and hot!"

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And, on leaving, it seemed appropriate to take stock of the peculiarities that the Team had experienced while guests of the indomitable Red and Green Life Machine.

RED BEACH

Yes Mate, this is Falkland,
Find a sangar over there.
Bain't no demarcation.
Put your kit down anywhere.

Always keep your weapon handy
For the Argies flying low;
Air raids Red and Yellow,
Any time - you never know.

That's the Navy Divers' Castle
(called Fort Thompson); they're all mad,
Though the first to carry
In the wounded from the Pad.

There's a little extra water,
Seldom any half-way hot;
Medics take what's needed,
We can have the stuff that's not.

Them as crouching in the compound,
Argie prisoners, young and cowed,
Live on 'rat-pack' Sundries
From the half that we're allowed.

That's a hole made by a bomb that
Bounced right here upon the track.
Inside two more fester,
Stopping us from moving back.

Yea! that Frigate's always waiting
Close inshore like that each day,
Since they bombed us, so's to
Keep they Argie planes away.

Oh to get there for a dhobi
Or perhaps a beer or two!
Well, it's all yours, Matey.
Keep your head down!

Aye - and you!

Came the surrender amid much rejoicing and thoughts of jobs well done; yet there waited perhaps the most hazardous one of them all - the recovery, in a gale, of a swept mine and the subsequent defusing of what was a completely unknown weapon. There was no information to go on.
The specialist tools that are required for such an undertaking had been left behind in UK; the Team had been told that they......
"...would not need them..." and that they were.....
"...too valuable to be taken into a war zone." !!
So the job had to be done by hand with improvised tools. The chances of survival were put, at best, at 50%. The information transmitted by microwave from UK was that the device would be fitted with anti-stripping 'booby-traps', put there to take out the operator.

"As a Navy boxer, my feelings the night before embarking on this task were much akin to those I had prior to contesting the Navy Open final against the Commonwealth Silver Medallist, four years previously; and I felt that I should leave something of my thoughts behind, in case things went awry. No-one had done anything like this for thirty years - but then they had had the tools for it. - -  I did not."

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APOGEE

Sing no sad songs for me
If I come second in tomorrows race;
The opposition, mine to leave,
Could, with deception,
All my skill outpace.

Play no lament for me
If I misread the signals of the game;
The steadiness I must achieve
Should, with attainment,
Stay the waiting flame.

Shed no soft tears for me
If I am vanquished in the coming bout;
The uppercut I might receive
Would far surpass the
Ultimate knock-out.


In the end, after some hours of careful work, it came down to a straight choice between turning the fuse to the right or turning it to the left. One way would extract the detonator safely - the other would not - a fifty per cent chance of survival. What to do? Which way to turn?

The successful completion of this highly dangerous task marked the end of the Team's involvement in other than straight diving jobs and there was again time to reflect on life.

By now 'peace' had arrived with a vengeance, along with many 'Johnny-come-latelies', whose sole concession to the war zone appeared to be the fact that they did not wear ties. They had no idea who were these rather scruffy divers, with their hotchpotch uniform, nor did they ask. However they were voluble in their rather loud comments regarding the 'cowboys', who they considered to be 'letting the side down'. The Divers kept their own council and held their tongues;
but they thought, "So, you reckon that....


WE ARE THE COWBOYS

We are the Cowboys.
I've heard you say it loudly in the Bar,
Although well hidden by the smoke of your cigar.
We are the Cowboys
Because our hair's too long
And uniform is wrong;
We are the Cowboys
In spite of our success
And 'coz of wearing gym shoes in the Mess.

We are the Cowboys.
It must be so, 'coz Staff are never wrong.
You do not know us - but we'll jolly you along.
We are the Cowboys,
A denigrating word
To make us seem absurd;
We are the Cowboys
Because we wear no rank
And hold that certain 'Johnny-Lates' are dank.

We are the Cowboys.
You think that Sailors should be awed and cowed
But we dare to be different - and that ain't allowed.
We are the Cowboys
Because we are 'alive'
And that we Clearance Dive;
We are the Cowboys,
We have unique rapport
And talk with 'Super-Secrets' and the Corps.

We are the Cowboys
And I suspect you'll quash us if you can;
You have the Admiral's ear. You are the 'precious man'.
We are the Cowboys.
You make that very clear
To anyone who'll hear.
We are the Cowboys
Because we look so 'bad'
But what do you know of the jobs we've had?

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Yet relationships with those 'Super Secrets' (SAS and SBS) and the Royal Marines were marked by the mutual respect enjoyed by most men of action. When in discussion regarding the various tasks that had been allotted and carried out, each side would invariably say, "I wouldn't have your job, mate!"

CLEARANCE DIVER

With all the art of practised hands
And simple, fluent moves,
Deftly he turned his complicated task
To easy-actioned flow that spoke
Of skill and knowledge hard attained,
That every watcher recognised.

And all the while he chatted, talked
Of little things we knew;
Stood as an equal and with smiling poise
Responded to our questioning
Or entertained with jest and tale
That drew us ever closer still.

We looked with awe upon the man
And what he had to do.
Knowing his presence was required and why
He came at this small time and here,
We marvelled at his friendliness
And calm in face of such a trial.

But then the time for talk was past.
He hefted up his gear,
Slipping it on his shoulders with the grace
Of long experience. The straps
He settled to their proper place
And shrugged some comfort into them.

Again with practised moves, he checked
The operation of
Levers and valves; then with a final sigh
He stopped, inert and motionless,
As in unspoken harmony
Each man became as quiet and still.

He looked at us and we at him.
His eyes behind the glass,
Calmed by the wait, had managed to retain
That sparkle that we knew; until
With sudden, almost frightening speed
That peaceful moment vaporized.

The time for action now at hand,
How flew that last routine.
Final and vital checks were carried out;
A last exchange, a muffled word,
A nod, an all embracing wave
Before he vanished from our sight.

The waters were soon smooth again,
No trace to mark his path;
Silent, we thought of what he went to face.
But which of us could ever now
Forget those special moments when
He briefly shared our coterie?

One senior 'Johnny-late' was particularly patronising, speaking from a point of hear-say rather than knowledge.


THE SENIOR LEECH

Should we remark, "How right you are."
Or with forthrightness say,
"Despite mistakes we may have made,
It was not done that way.
No doubt you will hypothesise,
Our actions to decry,
But it was us who made the grade.
It was not you - 'twas I."

We listen, dutifully bound,
As younger men must do,
While condescending patronage
Our comments honeydew.
Perhaps he's right, this pedagogue,
Pretentious, unconcerned,
But he had never seen that wreck
From which we had returned.

So, when that breeze of platitudes
Increases to a gale,
When he, unknowing of our part,
Creates some fairytale
Of our attainments, using me
As springboard to his rank,
I muse, "You swill your Brandy, pal,
But it was Rum we drank."

 

Suddenly came news that the Team would be on the next available aircraft for UK.

LEAVING

Oh, how I long to see
The colours of England;
Green on green,
Gentled by
The wind-riven rain.
The countryside's alive there,
My spirits will revive there.
Oh, how I long to see
Her rivers once again.

The flight home was long and uncomfortable. It afforded time to put on paper thoughts about all that had been experienced, while still fresh in the mind. The Team had been to 'the Edge', had looked over - and was now returning safely.

THE VIEW FROM THE EDGE

Peering from a Landing Craft stuck in the kelp,
Watching an air-raid filled with Rapier flares,
Ducking as the bullets flatten overhead;

Scrutinizing tension in a cable hoist,
Contorting, wrestling with a thousand pounder,
Waiting for the 'click' of its fuse 'going live';

Squinting at the brightness of molten metal
Showering from the bulkhead being cut away,
Wetting down the weapon to put out the flames;

Glimpsing the underside of a plane at dusk
Shrieking low over the hospital building,
Hearing its bombs detonating all around;

Seeking the route through a twisted skeleton,
Swinging above the smoulder of shipborne fires,
Hefting weighty explosives in a backpack;

Scanning bulkheads glowing in a burning Ship,
Feeling explosions stagger the hull beneath,
Covering a body - welded to the deck;

Finning backwards in a breaking wave at sea,
Fending off a Mine, a beach ball in the surf,
Recoiling from horns that one must not bend;

Reaching, later, in amongst its circuits, while
Viewing the stillness of the Falkland evening,
Musing on the Detonator, - right or left?

Here and here the limits are.
Here the unknown is revealed.

It is the View from the Edge.


Now, on the way back, similar mind-questions were asked as on the way 'down South'. Some had been answered but yet others remained. But over all rose the fact that the Team had taken no-one's life, had maybe saved a few and certainly had saved ships. None of the Divers had been injured and all had shown themselves to be of the finest stamp of men. The questions uppermost now were - 'where to next?' - and - 'would things ever be the same again?'

THE MEN OF THE SEA

What men are these who ply the seas,
What forms of self-destruction?
What living symbols of our fate,
What victims of reduction?

What right is given them to kill,
What rite for preservation?
What right to take a human life,
What price its conservation?

What knowledge do they use for good,
What knowledge use for evil?
What acts can help? What acts can harm?
What homage pays the Devil?

And when will they be free again;
And will they be contented?
And will they have the life they chose
Or will they be prevented?

And is the rocky land a curse
Or is it just depressing?
And have they left their God behind
Or do they ask his blessing?

So, is the sea their only world
Or is the land their ally?
Or do they wish to turn again
And then repent their folly?

Are they pure kindred to the sea
Or are they souls tormented?
And do they speak their mind out loud,
And is their case presented?

The answers .... they cannot be told,
The questions .... answered never.
They are the men who search the seas,
Their quest goes on for ever.

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Much, much later, when awards for gallant conduct were being bestowed (when there had been time to come back to earth and carry on life as normal), The Press were there to seek out the bare bones of a story to embellish; and a different view became apparent.

FAME

Solitude's mantle,
Ripped apart by the grasping
Fingers of the mob,
Although retrieved in tatters,
Offers no sanctuary
To shroud our secrets
Nor yet our imperfections.


COURAGE

Viewed in battle;
Demonstrated by ribbons;
But how often shown
By the Widow answering
To the knock of a Stranger?

 

Four years afterwards, Bernie returned to the Falklands for a second Tour. A final task was to clear the wreck of a newly discovered Argentine aircraft that had crashed during the hostilities, and to help recover the Pilot's widely scattered bones.

BLUE RIDGE PILOT 1986

It is a strange feeling to take a man's hand,
In pieces, from the peat where it has lain four years,
Scraping his finger bones from the frozen ground
With a bayonet point, to stack them neatly aside.
How odd it is to find his hair still ruffled
In that rocky cranny where the cold wind explores,
And to glean scattered bones, left by the scavengers,
Seeking to catalogue his percentage presence.

The wreckage of his plane tells us how he peered
Through the blizzard, to see the ridge looming above;
How he might have cleared the scarp, but for the rock,
The outcrop that became his natural tombstone.
But rather than relate the tale, now he makes
His bed in the cold earth of Goose Green Cemetery.
Yet there is another, pleasanter feeling,
To know that at last his long vigil is over.

Later came the Gulf War of 1991. Being in the Middle East at the time, Bernie had a unique insight into the situation. Others had to make do with CNN.

JANUARY '91 - MEDIA GAMES

Now is the battle-roar of Tanks
Seen to 'splash' through shallows in the sands.

Now is the smell of Victory
Tangent from a box within our hands.

Now is the Pilot viewed, loosing
Smarter weapons into foreign lands.

Now is the Soldier's spousal tear
Watched in close-up, as the News demands.

Now is triumph squeezed, ("Take - seven!")
From the Fighter, warlike as he stands.

Now is used the replay function,
Haunting TV's colour channel bands.


But what of the creatures who lived there, who made the night bright with their song?

CICADAS

Cicadas, chirping
Blithely in acacia trees,
Know nothing of war
Until the instant they are
Shrivelled by its searing flame
And that resounding
Song becomes their epitaph.


A Soldier of the Great War wrote about the carnage and destruction that was the Battle of the Somme,

"This was a time when a web was woven across the sky and a Goblin made of the Sun."

The sheer size of the destruction and harm done to the ecology of the area made the brief hostilities in the Gulf seem comparable. But wherever there is conflict, the same may be said. Think back to ANTELOPE at San Carlos, the Hospital at Ajax Bay and GALAHAD at Buff Cove.

FALKLANDS TO GULF, '82 - '91

And in those days a tangled veil
Was drawn across the sky.
A madness, kindled in the Sun
(made Goblin there withal),
Convulsed and gibbered in its rage
To light inhuman pyres.

Now, squatting with a rancid grin,
This spawn of incubi
Bestirred the earth with turbulence,
Awoke a tainted squall
And conjured up the retching smoke
Of high explosive fires.

So Demons, deep in artifice,
Bestow their gifts - supply
The oily dust to choke and burn
But, in that reeking pall,
The Goblin meets a darker shroud
And, every night, expires.

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Finally, after loyal and devoted service the sailor man passes on to rest in that Valhalla where all mariners go - the legendary and fabled 'Fiddler's Green'.
This poem has been read at many a sailor's funeral since the Falklands War.

APPROACH TO THE GREEN

I look across the chart that is my life
And see, like ports and harbours,
Little creeks and streams,
All the happy times and oft' the ones of strife
That filled me with a joy of living and of dreams.

Yet many, lying soft like pools of misty grey,
But half remembered, never whole and clear to see,
Quietly and unnoticed, slide away
And softly lock their doors and hide away the key.

No more shall they be seen, nor bide
With me, that others share what
I still know they are.
Like unknown shadow shapes of eventide
They fly, they fade in misty dreams afar.

And as I drift and let life slide me by,
So one by one each hatch is shut and locked and barred;
'Til only one direction, one last door I spy
And there a shining figure, sword in hand, stands guard.

All poems and introductory remarks copyright, Bernie Bruen ©1982, 2008

Post script to Free Verse.

Bernie's Grandfather, Arthur Thomas Bruen, was too old to fight in the Great War; so in 1915 he drove his Clement car from his home in Invernesshire to Dover, where he put it on a cross-Channel ferry and embarked for France. Enrolling in the Red Cross, he used it as an ambulance in the front lines for the next six months. He was then inducted as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps and remained at the Front until 1919, being used as 'trouble shooter' wherever there were supply problems. His brother, Eddo, commanded the Battleship HMS BELEROPHEN at JUTLAND and HMS RESOLUTION throughout the rest of the First World War, ending up as an Admiral.

Bernie's Father, Commander 'Bill' Bruen DSO DSC RN, commanded the Fleet Air Arm's 803 Squadron during the fight to supply Malta GC in the Second World War. He was the youngest man to do so and earned a fearsome reputation as a legendary Fighter Ace. Admiral Sir Donald Gibson, when head of the Fleet Air Arm, once said of him, "He was the best damned Pilot the Navy ever had." His cousin, Francis; was an electrical officer in the RN and also a DSC.

Bernie himself was the last commanding officer of the renowned HMS GAVINTON and became the first man to 'hunt' and find (by high definition sonar) an unknown, enemy sea-mine 'in anger'; and this in a ship that was thirty years out of date. For this action in the Red Sea Clearance of 1984, he was made MBE. He went on to command the Navy's first Maritime Counter Terrorism Team and, at the age of forty, qualified Airborne.


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Pictures show
Commander Bruen
Working on a mine
With his beloved fiddle
His medals

Commander_Bruen BB fiddle
Bernie Bruen mine
BruenMedals

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