Taken aback by power of modern weapons

Stephen `Billy' Morris was only 20 when the Falklands conflict began, but he had already completed a tour of Northern Ireland and had tasted trouble.

Yet nothing prepared the former Cowplain Comprehensive pupil for the sheer force of modern weaponry unleashed against an enemy force.

He said: `I remember planes blowing up, the missiles getting fired and the pure destruction of it all. It was like a big Star Wars game, but I was taken aback by the force and power of everything.

  'Up until then we thought the conflict would get called off by the politicians and that it would turn out to have been a big rush for nothing.'

`We had seen these weapons on exercises, but had not seen them fired in anger against a real target.'

Stephen, a plant operator/mechanic with 9 Para Royal Engineers, was part of the quick reaction advance party that sailed on the MV Norland, a converted North Sea car ferry, on April 26, 1982. The rest of his squadron embarked on the QE2 about a month later.

The advance party reached the Ascension Island on May 7 and joined up with a flotilla of aircraft carriers and destroyers including HMS Fearless.

Then news came through that the container ship Atlantic Conveyor had been hit by an Exocet missile. Although troops had already been issued with ammunition and rations, it was accepted routine. But suddenly they knew this was for real.

Stephen, now 35 and married with a four-year-old son and eight-month-old daughter, recalled: `Up until then we thought the conflict would get called off by the politicians and that it would turn out to have been a big rush for nothing.

`Afterwards, we would listen to the news being Tannoyed around the ship every day. Talks just dragged on.'

  'Bomb Alley was the worst part. We had steel helmets so we could go on deck and shoot at planes, but I took photographs instead.'

Conditions on the Norland were cramped, with every single bed filled. Stephen found himself in charge of the emergency water supply.

The Norland was the first ship into San Carlos Bay on May 21. Troops were landed but Stephen stayed on board. The machine that he was to have used to build defences ashore in the Falklands sank with the Atlantic Conveyor.

He said: `We were in Bomb Alley and we claimed an aircraft hit using small arms fire from the deck. All I had was a Stirling 9mm sub-machine gun, which was not much use against an aircraft flying at 600mph.

`Bomb Alley was the worst part. We had steel helmets so we could go on deck and shoot at planes, but I took photographs instead.'

Though he escaped injury himself, he helped to tend victims. One was hit by shrapnel in his head and side. Stephen vividly remembered the moment when HMS Antelope was hit.

`I was on stern watch that night and saw it explode. I was maybe 400 yards away, but I could feel the heat.'

Survivors from Antelope were rescued and taken on board the Norland, which then sailed to South Georgia to meet up with the QE2. Soon the Norland would pick up the first prisoners-of-war, 1,000 of them confined to one of the car decks.

Having dropped them off for repatriation at Montevideo in Uruguay, the ship returned to the Falklands on June 12 to pick up 2,000 more prisoners and take them back to Argentina.

Stephen recalled: `We had to get special clearance for me as a member of the task force to go ashore to carry one of the Argies who had a bad foot and couldn't walk. I had my beret on and got a hard time from the Argentinians.'

Back in Port Stanley, Stephen went ashore and joined his troop. By then 2 and 3 Para had gone into Stanley and the surrender had taken place. He worked with PoW engineers trying to clear minefields.

Then the call came to pull out. A landing ship took him to the Ascension Island, where he was helicoptered to a VC10 and flown back to RAF Brize Norton.

The eyes of the world were on the return of the QE2 to Portsmouth and Stephen and his colleagues weren't greeted by any fanfares. But back home in Cowplain, family, friends and neighbours staged a surprise party to welcome him back.

`When I got home, I just wanted to be on my own. Everybody wanted to be your friend and welcome you back. But I split up with my girlfriend and it took me time to adjust back to normal life again.'

Stephen is now squadron quartermaster sergeant with 9 Para at Aldershot and is waiting to hear about a promotion to warrant officer and a posting to Germany.

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