Minds at War
anthology of poetry of the First World War. All the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and war poems of over 70 other notable poets. All set in the context of the poets' lives and historical records. With historic photographs and cartoons. Edited by David Roberts.
400 pages £15-99 (UK)
Falklands War 1982
The new Falklands War Poetry
anthology - with poems from Britain, Argentina and the
Falklands, will be published on 27 March 2012. Information
about this, the contributors and the book may be found at
Poetry by Bernie Bruen, with background notes
Bernie Bruen was commander of an eighteen man team of bomb-disposal divers in the Falklands War. These poems and notes constitute a record and tribute to the the outstanding courage and achievements of these men. Bernie Bruen is concerned that his team should receive the official recognition that it clearly deserves - hence the reference to "forgotten men".
Heroes of the Falklands War
More photographs at end of page.
NEW POEM 2012
Bernie Bruen introduces To a Young Galahad - Thirty Years on
Last week I was in Stamford being filmed for a
documentary for Channel 5, a British TV station. It was about the bomb
disposal effort we put in during the Falklands war. All was going
smoothly and well until the moment I was telling what we found onboard
Galahad at Bluff Cove. Unaccountably and very suddenly, when explaining
about the young soldier we found welded to the deck, I burst into
uncontrollable sobbing - something I swore I would never do and, indeed,
had never done since the war. I had to turn away and it was several
minutes before I was able to continue. Perhaps it takes thirty years and
the intensity of filming to relive the events and to finally react to
10 January 2012
They brought their screens and smoke machines,
VERSE FROM FORGOTTEN MEN - Falklands War 1982"
war memorial at Stanley in the Falkland Islands has engraved upon it
the names of all the UK military units that took part in the
Conflict. From Ships and Squadrons to Regiments and Special Forces,
all are represented - even down to the Field Post Office Unit and the
Catering Corps. It is interesting to note that, despite a twenty year
campaign to have their presence in the conflict recorded, FLEET
CLEARANCE DIVING TEAM 3 has yet to be included. This is particularly
surprising in view of the fact that 66% of its members received
gallantry awards. This is by far the highest percentage achievement
of any unit involved and an enviable record for such a small team of
Bomb-disposal Divers - the Royal Navy's own and largely unsung
Special Forces. The eighteen-man team amassed between them: one
Distinguished Service Cross, one Distinguished Service Medal, four
Mentions in Dispatches and six Commander-in-Chief's Commendations for
From the moment of their appearance in the combat zone, the Team was in the thick of it. Immediately after HMS ANTELOPE was sunk (the day the Team arrived), nine of them began the long and arduous task of removing dangerous explosives from her upper-deck and reducing the height of the wreck. This essential work continued, despite the many air-raids that were occurring, to allow freedom of manoeuvre for the rest of the landing force.
Simultaneously the second half of the Team was removing live, unexploded bombs from RFAs SIR GALAHAD and SIR LANCELOT, thus saving those ships and returning them to vital service. After the loss of ANTELOPE, it had been decreed that bombs should not be defuzed but lifted out 'still alive and kicking'. It was these two incidents that won the Divers their bravery awards.
FCDT3 was based at the Red Beach Hospital where, in their spare time, they taught themselves to be nurses - a skill much in demand after the Buff Cove incident when the casualty unit was overwhelmed with badly burned survivors. Among those treated by the Divers was the now celebrated soldier - Simon Weston; although he was too much in extremis to register the fact.
When the Hospital was bombed, the Team was responsible for building the vast sand-bag wall between the operating theatre and the unexploded bombs to protect patients and staff from the imminent danger of explosions. By moving their messdeck into the void space left between the blast-wall and the theatre, they not only eased the accommodation problem but also gave the Red Beach people added confidence in the efficacy of the bulwark.
The Buff Cove incident saw a small Element of FCDT3 as the first men to board both TRISTRAM and GALAHAD (again) after the attack. Having extinguished what fires they could and checked the ships for UXBs, they then explosively removed the stern ramp of TRISTRAM to allow vital ammunition to be saved and sent to the bombarding guns around Stanley - and all this while fires raged and explosions rumbled deep in the hold of GALAHAD.
Finally, the same Element was responsible for recovering a sea-mine in a gale off Stanley, beaching it and, with minimal equipment (they had not been allowed to bring with them the specialist tools from UK), de-fusing it by hand - the first unknown, enemy mine to be rendered safe since the Korean War.
Three weeks after the surrender, the Team returned quietly to UK having suffered no casualties. Within a month, two of its members had been killed - innocent victims of other people's bad driving.
In order to put the record straight and give the 'Forgotten Men' the recognition they deserve, Fleet Clearance Diving Team 3's story has been told by its Commanding Officer, Bernie Bruen, in his book 'Keep Your Head Down' (Parapress 1993, Book Guild 1998); and yet twenty five years later, they remain forgotten and unsung. They are not even mentioned in the Government's official war history, recently published.
Perhaps these poems will give an insight into the quiet, yet fraught world of the Clearance Diver at work in that most significant of all conflicts.
On the way 'down South' to join the Task Force, feelings about the sheer audacity and ill-mannered behaviour of the Argentinians in forcing themselves upon the population of these British islands ran high.
people began to die as a result of the inevitable confrontation, a
cold determination could be found among the troops about to enter the
The voyage to the South was long and gave plenty of time to reflect on a previous generation, whose long struggle against similar tyrants gave their children the freedom that is so much 'taken for granted' these days.
"I remembered a Sunday service in the Wellington College chapel. As the boys filed out past the Headmaster's pew, sitting next to him in the place of honour was my father, Commander Bill Bruen, the highly decorated Fleet Air Arm fighter 'ace' of the Second World War. I remembered how proud I felt and how much I hoped that I would some day be able to achieve as much."
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it was time for assessing one's place in the scheme of things and
one's value to the Service. It was an opportunity to look back at
what one had achieved and to wonder if, being regarded as 'a bit of
an odd-ball', this was perhaps the last chance to do something useful
before being discarded.
And, after years of training for such a situation as this - one's own worth.
Sadly, not everything was as it appeared to be. Survival-suits, issued to the Team and designed to save a life in the freezing cold of South Atlantic waters, were found to be slashed, knotted and condemned - suitable only as test weights for parachute drops; and yet they had been issued as life-saving equipment.
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After reaching the Islands, the Team was kept hard at work on many different and hazardous tasks which culminated in being bombed in the Hospital at Red Beach, four days later. Many of these 500lb'ers failed to explode and the Team worked all night to build a huge defensive wall of wet, gravel-filled sandbags to protect the operating theatre and wounded in the wards. At certain pre-determined times work stopped while the next notch on the bombs' time-delay-fuze ticked off - everyone taking cover. The expected explosion not being forthcoming, work resumed until once more interrupted by a possible detonation 'window'.
there was mud, cloying, black, peaty mud that clung to boots and
puttees with a tenacity that defied countermeasures.
After such exciting times, in moments of night-time calm, thoughts returned to home.
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For sailors ashore, it was sometimes difficult to know just what rank Royal Marines held.
The embroidered insignia, blended skilfully into the disruptive pattern camouflage, could only be recognised from close to, but as saluting was suspended for the duration it scarcely mattered.
Being based at the Hospital on Red Beach, the Divers, when not engaged in their own work, lent a hand to anyone who required it - from building sangars to digging latrine pits. They trained themselves as nurses in case they should be needed, carried in the wounded from the helicopter pads and, occasionally, those who had not survived.
The Team suffered only one casualty. 'John Boy' Walton, after diving for UXBs near the latrine outflow from the prisoners' compound, was struck down by a virulent tummy-bug.
He was, in the opinion of the surgeons, lucky to have survived.
And yet he always stayed cheerful and buoyant.
Later, for his selfless attitude, along with conduct in the face of great danger that was '...in the highest traditions of the Service..', he was Mentioned in Dispatches.
came Buff Cove and a flood of casualties. The Divers answered the
call and acted as nurses and orderlies, with special responsibility
for burn victims. One was even helping the surgeons at the operating
tables! All the Divers' spare clothing, what little they had, was
distributed to the survivors, leaving them literally 'with what they
stood up in' - a distinction that would be much misunderstood
One young sailor from HMS PLYMOUTH, which had been hit badly on the same day, grabbed the attention and admiration of the Team: although grievously hurt himself, he was greatly concerned for his 'oppo', wounded in the head, next to him.
Immediately after this, as soon as it became light, an element of the Team helicoptered to Buff Cove to try and save GALAHAD - again - and TRISTRAM too. It was a sad sight to see their old friend Sir G, abandoned and burning, a large pall of blackened smoke roilling up out of her hatchway, as explosions shook her hull beneath.
The Divers jumped from the helicopter onto the still-burning TRISTRAM's deck (the pilot would not land) and set about hunting for UXBs within her. Totally dark, cold and dank, they searched with torches, their heart-beats almost audible in the unaccustomed silence. Far separated though they were, each one somehow always knew just where the other was and they emerged simultaneously on the deck - - 'all clear!'
out the fires and explosively removing the stern ramp to allow
salvage of the desperately needed ammunition in the hold, it was time
to board GALAHAD and see what could be done there. Fires still raged
aboard and explosions from deep within rocked the ship. There was
little that four men could achieve, beyond salvaging what gear they
could. There was only one other man on-board, a young soldier who had
failed to escape the Argentinian attack and lay where he fell.
Back at Ajax Bay it was time to say farewell to friends and move back to one of the RFAs, SIR LANCELOT this time. One person who loomed large in the Team's estimation was the indomitable Royal Marine Chef, Lennie Carnell, who contrived to feed them well, despite having had his first galley blown up in the bombing raid and being short on rations ('chicken supreme' and powdered mashed potato becoming staples). He was particularly helpful to the Divers after some of their more hazardous undertakings, putting on special meals for them at very odd times in the night. He also much appreciated the Team's Boss playing fiddle to the dinner queue to take their minds off the repetitive nature of the grub, as they threw money onto a collection plate - labelled "RNLI - support the Lifeboats - you may just need one!"
And, on leaving, it
seemed appropriate to take stock of the peculiarities that the Team
had experienced while guests of the indomitable Red and Green Life
surrender amid much rejoicing and thoughts of jobs well done; yet
there waited perhaps the most hazardous one of them all - the
recovery, in a gale, of a swept mine and the subsequent defusing of
what was a completely unknown weapon. There was no information to go
The specialist tools that are required for such an undertaking had been left behind in UK; the Team had been told that they......
"...would not need them..." and that they were.....
"...too valuable to be taken into a war zone." !!
So the job had to be done by hand with improvised tools. The chances of survival were put, at best, at 50%. The information transmitted by microwave from UK was that the device would be fitted with anti-stripping 'booby-traps', put there to take out the operator.
"As a Navy boxer, my feelings the night before embarking on this task were much akin to those I had prior to contesting the Navy Open final against the Commonwealth Silver Medallist, four years previously; and I felt that I should leave something of my thoughts behind, in case things went awry. No-one had done anything like this for thirty years - but then they had had the tools for it. - - I did not."
In the end, after some hours of careful work, it came down to a straight choice between turning the fuse to the right or turning it to the left. One way would extract the detonator safely - the other would not - a fifty per cent chance of survival. What to do? Which way to turn?
The successful completion of this highly dangerous task marked the end of the Team's involvement in other than straight diving jobs and there was again time to reflect on life.
By now 'peace' had arrived with a vengeance, along with many 'Johnny-come-latelies', whose sole concession to the war zone appeared to be the fact that they did not wear ties. They had no idea who were these rather scruffy divers, with their hotchpotch uniform, nor did they ask. However they were voluble in their rather loud comments regarding the 'cowboys', who they considered to be 'letting the side down'. The Divers kept their own council and held their tongues;
but they thought, "So, you reckon that....
relationships with those 'Super Secrets' (SAS and SBS) and the Royal
Marines were marked by the mutual respect enjoyed by most men of
action. When in discussion regarding the various tasks that had been
allotted and carried out, each side would invariably say, "I
wouldn't have your job, mate!"
came news that
the Team would be on the next available aircraft for
flight home was long and uncomfortable. It afforded time to put on
paper thoughts about all that had been experienced, while still fresh
in the mind. The Team had been to 'the Edge', had looked over - and
was now returning safely.
Now, on the way back, similar mind-questions were asked as on the way 'down South'. Some had been answered but yet others remained. But over all rose the fact that the Team had taken no-one's life, had maybe saved a few and certainly had saved ships. None of the Divers had been injured and all had shown themselves to be of the finest stamp of men. The questions uppermost now were - 'where to next?' - and - 'would things ever be the same again?'
much later, when awards for gallant conduct
were being bestowed (when there had been time to come back to earth
and carry on life as normal), The Press were there to seek out the
bare bones of a story to embellish; and a different view became
years afterwards, Bernie returned to the Falklands for a second Tour.
A final task was to clear the wreck of a newly discovered Argentine
aircraft that had crashed during the hostilities, and to help recover
the Pilot's widely scattered bones.
War of 1991. Being in the Middle East at the time, Bernie had a
unique insight into the situation. Others had to make do with
But what of the creatures who lived there, who made the night bright with their song?
A Soldier of the Great War wrote about the carnage and destruction that was the Battle of the Somme,
"This was a time when a web was woven across the sky and a Goblin made of the Sun."
The sheer size of the destruction and harm done to the ecology of the area made the brief hostilities in the Gulf seem comparable. But wherever there is conflict, the same may be said. Think back to ANTELOPE at San Carlos, the Hospital at Ajax Bay and GALAHAD at Buff Cove.
Finally, after loyal and devoted service the sailor man passes on to rest in that Valhalla where all mariners go - the legendary and fabled 'Fiddler's Green'.
This poem has been read at many a sailor's funeral since the Falklands War.
Bernie's Grandfather, Arthur Thomas Bruen, was too old to fight in the Great War; so in 1915 he drove his Clement car from his home in Invernesshire to Dover, where he put it on a cross-Channel ferry and embarked for France. Enrolling in the Red Cross, he used it as an ambulance in the front lines for the next six months. He was then inducted as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps and remained at the Front until 1919, being used as 'trouble shooter' wherever there were supply problems. His brother, Eddo, commanded the Battleship HMS BELEROPHEN at JUTLAND and HMS RESOLUTION throughout the rest of the First World War, ending up as an Admiral.
Bernie's Father, Commander 'Bill'
Bruen DSO DSC RN, commanded the Fleet Air Arm's 803 Squadron during
the fight to supply Malta GC in the Second World War. He was the
youngest man to do so and earned a fearsome reputation as a legendary
Fighter Ace. Admiral Sir Donald Gibson, when head of the Fleet Air
Arm, once said of him, "He was the best damned Pilot the Navy
ever had." His cousin, Francis; was an electrical officer in the
RN and also a DSC.
Bernie himself was the last commanding officer of the renowned HMS GAVINTON and became the first man to 'hunt' and find (by high definition sonar) an unknown, enemy sea-mine 'in anger'; and this in a ship that was thirty years out of date. For this action in the Red Sea Clearance of 1984, he was made MBE. He went on to command the Navy's first Maritime Counter Terrorism Team and, at the age of forty, qualified Airborne.
If you have found this website useful or interesting why not link your website to this website? All you need to do is copy and paste one of
the next two paragraphs into your web page. Having done this
you can then modify the wording however you wish. For war poetry of the
First World War (and information about its poets), plus poetry about,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Falklands, Sierra Leone, Palestine/Israel, the Holocaust and Vietnam
go to: www.warpoetry.co.uk Visit the War Poetry website:
If you have found this website useful or interesting why not link your website to this website?
All you need to do is copy and paste one of the next two paragraphs into your web page. Having done this you can then modify the wording however you wish.
For war poetry of the First World War (and information about its poets), plus poetry about, Iraq, Afghanistan, Falklands, Sierra Leone, Palestine/Israel, the Holocaust and Vietnam go to: www.warpoetry.co.uk
Visit the War Poetry website: www.warpoetry.co.ukTo top of page