Falklands conflict: Royal Marines veteran recalls defending field hospital

Jim Giles recalled one bomb went "straight through the hospital and bounced like a bouncing bomb and went towards the beach".

A former Royal Marine has spoken to Forces News about his time serving during the Falklands War 39 years ago and how he helped defend a field hospital.

Jim Giles served with the Commando Logistic Regiment and was assigned to its Medical Squadron when he reached the Falkland Islands in late May 1982.

Along with three other marines, he was tasked with protecting a field hospital, known as the 'Red and Green Life Machine', set up in a slaughterhouse and mutton processing plant at Ajax Bay.

Soon after 3 Commando Brigade came ashore, fighting broke out.

Mr Giles told Forces News the "first casualties were from a blue on blue incident", but they were "bolstered by casualties from ships that were continually being bombed".

"So, guys coming in with severe burns, guys with gunshot wounds and stuff like that," he said.

"That was when the seriousness of the whole thing started to dawn on us all."

The hospital also received casualties after the Parachute Regiment launched an assault on the enemy at Goose Green.

Mr Giles said one of the casualties was Colonel Herbert Jones, the Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment – who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

"We then had to certify and bury the guys that had come in," Mr Giles said.

Mr Giles was tasked with defending the Red and Green Life Machine during the Falklands War (Picture: Jim Giles).
Mr Giles was tasked with defending 'the Red and Green Life Machine' during the Falklands War (Picture: Jim Giles).

"They were placed in a huge mass grave initially at Ajax Bay and a graveyard ceremony was held at the time there."

Alongside treating British troops, the hospital was also treating enemy soldiers.

"The general attitude of Argentinian casualties was that of fear and the unknown because [they thought] that they were going to be tortured," Mr Giles said.

"But of course, that didn't happen and so just speaking a little bit of their language and helping things out made a difference to them psychologically, I would've imagined."

But, despite treating troops from both sides, the hospital's location next to a vital ammunition reserve prevented it from displaying the Red Cross.

This left it open to attack from Argentinian fighter jets and Mr Giles recalled having to defend the hospital from enemy aircraft.

"The aircraft were coming in, low dropping down below the hills and then popping up again, literally hedge hopping if you like towards the brigade maintenance area," he said.

"They weren't very high at all, less than 100ft, and we took a bead on them and just opened fire.

"They released their payload, bombs exploded towards the rear of the hospital, one bomb actually came straight through the hospital and bounced like a bouncing bomb and went towards the beach."

After defending the hospital, the marines then had to get "straight into helping out" with the aftermath of the bombing.

British personnel arrive back in Southampton following the Falklands War
Mr Giles said personnel "got the sense of being welcomed home" after arriving in Southampton following the conflict (Picture: John Clare).

As well as two unexploded bombs lodged in the hospital's roof, an unexploded bomb blew up on HMS Antelope, killing a bomb disposal expert and seriously injuring his colleague.

Mr Giles said he informed the injured serviceman of both the death of his colleague and the extent of his own injuries.

"He was in the game of being told the truth," Mr Giles said,

"You can't dress anything up like that, it's just what it is.

"But if you work in bomb disposal, then dealing with the facts is the only way, so I guess that my candidness was kind of fitting for the situation he was in."

After losing several battles, the Argentinian forces surrendered on 14 June, with the Red and Green Life Machine, along with two other field hospitals, treating more than 1,000 casualties during the conflict.

Upon arrival back in Britain, the marines experienced the country's gratitude for helping to win back the Falklands.

"We pulled into Southampton dock to be amazed that the Royal Marines band were there and there was thousands of people with banners… all waiting for us to come home," he said.

"We actually got a coach from Southampton all the way back to Plymouth… and people jumped on and threw cases of beer onto the buses when we'd come to traffic lights," he said.

"And they were all on bridges... waving with banners and stuff like that and pretty much we'd got the sense of being welcomed home all the way down from Southampton back down to Plymouth."