A Very Strange Way to Go to War: The Canberra in the Falklands
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She was the last icon of an age of leisurely travel fading into memory even as she embarked on her maiden voyage: a luxurious ocean liner vast and brilliant white, a beacon of elegance and opulence. For a decade P&O’s flagship SS Canberra was the standard passage for any Britons travelling to Australia, and subsequently the voyage of a lifetime for well-heeled cruise passengers. But then in March 1982 Britain stirred itself to go to war for the first time in generations in defence of a lonely and little-known outpost of empire, the Falkland Islands, and the Canberra, its round-the-world cruise suddenly interrupted at Gibraltar for the first of the military to board, found itself, surreally, requisitioned as a troopship to carry the Marines and the Paratroops into battle.
This is the astonishing story of how a luxury liner and her civilian crew – as close as family – went from pampering affluent retirees in the Mediterranean to taking thousands of soldiers, who pounded circuits of her creaking decks incessantly to keep fit, and took them down into the bitter winter waters of the South Atlantic. On the day troops landed to recapture the Falklands Canberra found herself in the thick of action with Argentine bombs raining down around her. Against the odds she survived, performing a crucial role as a hospital ship, then taking a vanquished and bewildered conscript army home to Buenos Aires before returning to Southampton, grubby and rust-streaked, forever to be fondly known as the Great White Whale, to a tumultuous hero’s welcome.
This is the extraordinary story untold until now, of how unlikely combatants like waiters, cooks, nurses and cleaners who never in their dreams imagined they could be caught up in a war, found themselves on the front line at the very end of the world. Drawing on dozens of new interviews with those who were there, from the Canberra’s crew to the soldiers and war correspondents who sailed with her, as well as previously unpublished archives, A Very Strange Way To Go To War is a candid, revealing and compelling story of bravery, by turns surprising, tender and deeply moving,. Above all, it is the story of a quintessentially British finest hour, brought about by ordinary men and women, who, when their country called, went all the way.
Thing the military needed was sight-seeing crew from a cruise ship, and so for most, the nearest they came to the islands they had sailed 8,000 miles to help liberate was standing at their ship’s rails, gazing across the anchorage towards the moors and mountains. A few made it ashore, officially or otherwise. Scott-Masson and Bradford went for a look round when the prisoners were being embarked, and Devine and Elsdon visited the field hospital at Ajax Bay, where they found the medics who had.
Bedside telephone rang at the Dartmoor home of the commanding officer of 42 Commando, 46-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Nick Vaux. In common with most of his men, Vaux had just begun three weeks’ leave after winter training in Norway and was booked on a flight to the United States for a holiday with friends there, with whom he had arranged to meet that evening. Instead of taking him to the airport as scheduled, Vaux’s staff car returned him to Bickleigh Camp in Devon. Later that same day, the CO of.
Say where it goes, and Dennis is still fully responsible for her. Dennis would follow whatever Chris wanted, which was fine.’ In his turn, Burne formed a view of the command structure of Canberra. ‘It was really a holiday firm, that’s the way it worked, and the first captain was really like the managing director.’ They made a striking pair; Scott-Masson tall, broad, imposing, and possessed of a deep, rumbling voice and measured delivery that gave whatever he said an air of gravitas. Burne was.
Directing it and introducing it. It was all sorts of things, you got stacks of crew coming forward to volunteer, and you whittle it down to something you think will work. Right at the end of it, and I’m not sure how it happened, they were dressed in blue duffel coats and tin hats which were still there from the old days, and gas masks with the end taken off so you could put the microphone in, and they were singing, “We don’t want to join the army, we don’t want to go to war”. We’d set that up.
Engine room, in the event of the bridge being put out of action, needed safety harnesses. A last respite from training and lectures took everybody’s minds off what drew closer with every mile steamed, carrying with it a faint echo of the games played on deck by cruise passengers in normal times. An inter-unit sports day would give the Marines and Paras the chance to exercise their rivalry in tug-of-war, deck quoits and the 10,000 metres – 24 times round the Promenade Deck – on Sunday 9 May, timed.