What we do / Our Stories / David Cruickshanks

David Cruickshanks

Categories: Falklands War

Had it not been for a sailor becoming ill onboard HMS Fearless a few weeks earlier, 17-year-old David would not have gone to the Falklands War. 

"I was stationed at Faslane submarine base, and I was on weekend leave. As soon as I got home, my Mum said: 'The Navy are coming to pick you up'.  

"I said: 'the Navy aren’t coming to pick me up Mum, I'm not James Bond'. 

"Sure enough, in what must have been the only time a Navy Land Rover arrived in Glenrothes, two guys knocked on my door and took me back to Faslane where I was told I was joining HMS Fearless as this sailor's replacement."  

This was spring 1982 and as David was getting to know his new shipmates on a posting in Norway, trouble was brewing.  

A fanfare farewell into the unknown 

"After we finished in Norway, we were going past the north coast of Scotland and news came through that Argentine scrap merchants had invaded South Georgia, which we were told 'is somewhere near the Falkland Islands'. 

"I remember someone saying 'whereabouts in Scotland is that?' Nobody I spoke to knew where the Falkland Islands were.  

"Then one day we were mustered on the flight deck and told there had been an emergency meeting of Parliament that Saturday and Mrs Thatcher was going to send a Task Force down to the Falklands. That all sounded very exciting but also a bit surreal as if it was never going to happen." 

Nevertheless, HMS Fearless set out from Portsmouth on 6 April 1982 with crowds cheering and waving flags.  

"I thought 'well, we will get half-way down, peace will break out and we will all sail back again'.  

"We sailed to Ascension Island, and it was then with the sinking of HMS Sheffield that everyone took a collective intake of breath, as in 'oh, this is quite serious'." 

Dangerous night missions  

David was tasked with taking part in what was called Operation Awkward.  

"At nights, I'd join another sailor on a little wooden boat to go around the bay and drop charges into the water to scare off Argentinian frogmen. They were like powerful underwater grenades. 

"We were tootling around and all of a sudden we’d get lifted off the boat and I realised he had dropped a scare charge. I thought 'If some poor frogman is down there, he’s not coming up'.  

"One night we could see all this gun fire and tracer fire. The sky was all lit up and we knew something major was happening at Goose Green. It was the first major battle, and we were able to see a little bit of that." 

Making friends with the Welsh Guards 

After three weeks in the thick of the action, HMS Fearless left the warzone for a short break. The crew was then tasked with taking troops to shore, including some Welsh Guards.  

"One day I went to talk to them on the tank deck where they were based. They said they could do with some warm weather gear, so I went to my mess deck to fetch some thick socks which I gave to this big Welsh Guard in exchange for an old sweatshirt. We got chatting and had a bit of a laugh and then we closed up for action stations to take them to Bluff Cove.  

"A couple of days later they were targeted by the Argentine Air Force and they lost 50 Welsh Guards and about 100 other guys were injured. I still think of that guy and wonder if he made it. I kept his sweatshirt as a bit of a tribute." 

Greeted as heroes and stumbling into a minefield 

When Argentinian forces surrendered in June 1982, David and two other sailors were tasked with visiting the damaged British ship Sir Tristram to salvage equipment. 

"We were flown across to Stanley Airfield and we walked up the main road into Stanley. These two women ran up to us and hugged us and kissed us. They thanked us for being there and doing what we did. It was just such a lovely outpouring of gratitude. It was very emotional and was just the best feeling.  

"Then we went into Stanley and saw these crashed Argentine helicopters. We made a beeline to them, got our pictures taken and were fooling about when this paratrooper shouted that we were in a minefield. We said 'right, let’s not mess about, let’s just walk across'. 

"My friend sang 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips' as we walked across this Argentine minefield. Thankfully we escaped without any injuries. We jumped on the helicopter and we went on to Sir Tristram which was completely bombed out. You could see from the very bowels of the ship, right up to the sky. We took out some bilge pumps and got them ready to be taken off the ship by helicopter. It was amazing to have that experience, because not many sailors got to land in Stanley."  

Living my best life in honour of those who didn’t return 

"HMS Fearless lost six crew, and I always think of them. There were also 249 other British guys who didn’t make it back from the Falklands War. I try to make the best of life because hundreds of other guys didn't get 40 years on the planet that I've had." 

David has post-traumatic stress disorder, which was exacerbated by his time in the Falklands War. He has spoken about it in his stand-up comedy routines. David has had spoken to the Charity’s welfare team and through Help for Heroes he took part in the Invictus Games Trials in cycling. 

"That was a fabulous experience. They brought in the GB cycling team. It was wonderful to meet them as well as other veterans interested in cycling."

David works with veterans on a range of issues, including mental health in his role as a peer support worker. He has this message for anyone who served in the Falklands War, or any other conflict, who is finding life tough. 

"Seek support. I know it is difficult for people who have relied on themselves for all those years, but there is so much support out there and it is only a call or an email away. 

"The right support can make a real difference.  

"Do what is right for you. Even if the first thing you come upon doesn't work for you, keep going. 

"It is a matter of finding what works for you." 

David Cruickshanks has a book coming out this spring called Stayin Alive, How PTSD (Nearly) Stole My Life, for £12. It's autobiographical and features accounts from his time in the Falklands War as well as his life as a leading press photographer before tackling his PTSD and anxiety head on and becoming a stand-up comedian. The book is being published by Razur Cuts Books.

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