Falklands War: Scots veterans reunited for the first time in 40 years

Bill McDowell, 60, and Norman McDade, also 60, met for the first time since the 1982 conflict at a home in Bishopton, which is run for veterans by charity Erskine.

The pair, who both now live in Erskine, likely came across each other during a transition of British troops onto ships heading into battle during the Falklands.

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They decided to reunite to mark the war’s 40th anniversary on Saturday.

Falklands War veterans Bill McDowall (left) and Norman ‘Mac’ McDade in the grounds of The Erskine Home in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, as they meet for the first time since the war. PIC: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Mr McDade, who prefers to go by the name Mac, joined the Royal Navy aged 17 in 1978 and trained as a chef.

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But when war broke out between the British and the Argentines, Mac and his crew onboard the HMS Plymouth were ordered to head to the South Atlantic to fight.

When not dodging bombs and defending troops against fighter jets, the Navy chef-turned gunner was involved in assisting in the transportation of soldiers arriving from the UK onto ships going into battle.

On May 27, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) arrived in South Georgia carrying the 5th Infantry Brigade, including Mr McDowell, who was a member of the Scots Guards.

The troops were then transferred to smaller ships, including the Plymouth and HMS Intrepid, to be transported onto East Falkland.

This is where the two were believed to have come across each other for the first time.

“There is definitely a possibility we waved at each other or saw each other at this point,” Mac said.

“It’s not always easy to recognize everyone because we all look a little different now, most of us certainly have less hair.”

Speaking about his memory of the transfers between boats, Mr McDowell said he was “reduced to tears” on several occasions.

“In the boats most of us were crouching, kneeling or sitting in icy water which gathered in the bottom, at times it was so cold that I could barely hold my rifle,” he said.

“There were several ship-to-ship transfers, as the QE2 could not be put at risk.”

He said on June 5, the troops embarked the HMS Intrepid, which was an amphibious assault ship used by the Royal Marines and headed to Bluff Cove.

“It was from HMS Intrepid that we were launched, crammed into a couple of landing crafts for what could only be described as a night of freezing cold and wet hell.

“The whole night was spent in the bitter freezing cold, pitch black, South Atlantic winter.

“At one point during the night, shells burst over the landing crafts, shells which were fired from Royal Navy warships that were unaware that the battalion was in the landing crafts and came very close to identifying us as enemy and opening fire.

“The flat-bottomed ships were tossed mercilessly in the waves and every time the boats bow came crashing down, the freezing cold water would come pouring into the boat and rushing over – there would be a collective gasp as the water hit us.”

When 2nd Battalion Scots Guards landed at Fitzroy, a settlement on East Falkland, on June 6, Mr McDowell and his comrades then went on to fight in the Battle of Mount Tumbledown a week later.

On June 13, the bloody conflict, with hand-to-hand fighting, led to the deaths of nine Scots Guards troops and 47 wounded.

“I still find it difficult to talk about the moments that changed my life forever,” Mr McDowell said.

“I was confused, scared and a long way from home.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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