war stories - by air and by sea

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Part of my job was to recconoitre possible areas of interest, by this I mean areas where we should deploy troops or weapon systems, areas that an enemy could exploit and things such as these. This was done on foot, by vehicle or if available, by helicopter. The pilots of these were invariably very skilled though it was a bit disconcerting looking out of the side window and be staring down towards the ground. They'd take great delight seeing how much you could stomach before you started yelling to be let out! One day we were quite happily skimming along the tree tops when I noticed a line of power pylons. These pylons got closer and closer and as I looked across to the pilot to see if he'd gone suddenly blind he stood the thing up on its tail, shot up into the sky and slipstreamed away. I've got to admit I very nearly lost my dinner.

Another time a friend was ground skimming towards a wood. Through the centre of the wood was a fire break. "Reckon we could get through there"? asked the pilot, "Oh well" he said "nothing ventured, nothing gained" and shot through the gap. My mate just breathed in, made himself very small and tried not to think what would happen if the rotors hit the trees. As I said very skilled pilots but just a touch mad.


One accident that I heard about concerned a group of soldiers doing a helicopter assault. When doing these, you sit in the door with your feet out of the aircraft. When the helicopter is close enough to the ground out you go. Unfortunately when one lad decided to make the jump the craft was still about 30 feet in the air. Whilst recovering from two broken legs he swore blind that he definately heard someone shout "out"!

Heavy Drop

For some reason I ended up in an airbourne unit, as an officer once said to me "who in their right mind would want to leave a perfectly good aircraft only to land several miles from where they were supposed to be with a broken leg"? My role was confined to tactical landings which were exciting enough for me! Basically, you and your vehicles would be shoved aboard a Hercules cargo plane. As it aproached the landing zone at two hundred feet it's tail doors would open and you'd start the vehicle engines. As soon as it stopped you'd very rapidly leave the plane and by the time you've caught your breath it'd be a dot in the sky making for home as fast as it could. Because of the amount of low level flying we did, and I suppose because of the excitement, I never manged to make a single trip without someone being sick and spoiling the ambience! I would like to point out here that I was never ever sick on these trips, a bit hot and sweaty but never sick.

Air Landing

To give you an idea how fast and low we'd come in here's a true story (one luckily I didn't witness). A soldier, to get a better view of one of these landings decided to stand on top of a lorry, unfortunately, his head got ripped off by the undercarriage.

Sometimes our vehicles and guns would be parachuted down to us on huge pallets, one day something went drastically wrong and the 'chutes on one of the pallets didn't open. The resulting crash was very spectacular.

Heavy drop pallet


We were involved in one of the last big public firepower displays in the UK. We should have guessed it wasn't going to be plain sailing the day we arrived to set up. The idea was that we would set up a couple of demonstration trenches and explain to whoever was interested what the various bits of equipment we use were, as well as to let people see what properly constructed fighting, observation and command trenches looked like. We were told the land these trenches were to be dug in had been dug in before and besides we'd have a mechanical digger to do most of the work. It didn't quite work out like that - the digger didn't turn up and the chalk we ended up digging in hadn't been disturbed since the beginning of time. We eventually finished the digging and then spent a couple of days trying to stop children from blinding eachother with the lasers, rendering themselves infertile by trying to race the radar scanners around and running off with the more portable items.

Part of the demonstration involved a para drop, one poor bloke broke his leg on landing and was pushed under bush while a mock battle raged around him. For all I know he may still be there.

Part of the entertainment involved a parade of vehicles and equipment and one of the OTC (Officer Training Corps) force borrowed one of our artillery pieces for it. We watched with a mixture of anger and amusement as they managed to overturn it and drag the gun upsidedown from the parade ground.

At sea

Modern warfare means that the Services are more tightly bound together than ever before, and so a couple of times we'd fire out to sea. Because of my role, I usually hitched a ride with the Royal Navy to direct the fall of shot. One day we were on one of their small high speed launches. I've got no idea what sort it was but I do know that when we got back it was like a vomitorium. Once again though none of it mine! Everything was going well as we left the harbour, the water was dead calm and life was good. As soon as we cleared the harbour walls it was a different story altogether. The wind got up and we started to get tossed about. We had our first vomiter about half an hour later. He decided the cabin was too close for him and so he went and hid at the front of the ship. I'd have to leave the cabin every quarter hour or so to check he was still alright. Eventualy it got too rough and he was in danger of being swept away so he spent the next couple of hours in a rope locker. As the cabin was quite small the captain allowed me, as senior, to stay but the others had to go below deck. This is when we had the second and third vomiters. As the weather got worse so some of the sailors began to get sick. I'm sorry to say that I was quite glad as half the soldiers I'd bought with me now looked like death warmed up and were being very violently sick. Someone decided it would be a good idea if everyone had a brew but as he was bringing the tray up from the galley he fell over so that was the end of that. When we got to the target point the weather was so bad that we couldn't see a thing anyway. After hanging around for a couple of hours we turned round and headed back to terra firma. When we docked, looking around, it looked like someone had liberaly coated the small ship with several buckets of peas and carrots. One of the sailors said that it was alright because in rough weather these things always looked like that and it was a regular occurrence to hose the thing down with a couple of high pressure water jets!

Teargas & Beer

This story was sent to me by Bill Mayhew :-

There was a party taking place inside a Royal Marine Sergeant's Mess, everyone was drinking freely when a riot started outside. It turned out to be serious and soon tear gas cannisters were being fired into the mob. One of the rioters picked up a cannister and threw it though a window into the Mess. The Marines showing their usual mastery in such situations ignored the choking fumes that rapidly filled the room and carried on drinking.

Long Drop

The Ghurkas have long had a reputation for being tough. Here's a story about them.

British Officer : "We want your men to do a surprise attack. We'll drop your men into the sea from 600 feet."
Ghurka Officer : "No, no that's too high."
British Officer :  "It's risky but I suppose we could drop you from 450 feet."
Ghurka Officer : "No, that's still too high"
British Officer : "Well, how low do you want us to drop you?"
Ghurka Officer : "100 feet"
British Officer : "We can't, your parachutes will never open in time"
Ghurka Officer : "Oh, you want us to use parachutes?"

Canada v US Navy

This story has appeared on various sites on the net. It's just too funny to not put here as well.

This is the transcript of the actual radio conversation of a US Naval ship and the Canadians, off the coast of Newfoundland, in October 1995. The transcript was released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10th October 1995.

CANADIANS: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South, to avoid a collision.

AMERICANS: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North, to avoid a collision.

CANADIANS: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

AMERICANS: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.

CANADIANS: Negative. I say again, You will have to divert your course.

AMERICANS: This is the aircraft carrier US Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North, I say again, 15 degrees North, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

CANADIANS: We are a lighthouse. Your call.


The following was sent to me by Derek Driscoll, my old BSM, in April 2003.

A friend of mine is an officer in the naval reserve.. A few weeks ago, he was attending a conference that included admirals in both the US and the French navies.

At a cocktail reception, my friend found himself in a small group that included an admiral from each of the two navies.
The French admiral started complaining that whereas Europeans learned many languages, Americans only learned English.
He then asked. "Why is it that we have to speak English in these conferences rather than you have to speak French?"
Without even hesitating, the American admiral replied. "Maybe it's because we arranged it so that you did not have to learn to speak German."

He also sent me the following joke ...

A long time ago, Britain and France were at war. During one battle, the French captured an English major. Taking the major to their headquarters, the French general began to question him.
The French general asked, "Why do you English officers all wear red coats? Don't you know the red material makes you easier targets for us to shoot at?"
In his bland English way, the major informed the general that the reason English officers wear red coats is so that if they are shot, the blood won't show and the men they are leading won't panic.
And that is why from that day to now all French Army officers wear brown pants.

Other Sites

Bill Hawksford's Stories - stories from the late 1940's

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This page created 17th May 1999, last modified 27th December 2004

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