It was only when Petty Officer Garry Boxall was issued with a dog tag that he realised this was no routine exercise.
He was sailing to war against the Argentinians over the Falkland Islands and, along with the dog tag that would identify his body in the worst case, he was issued with a copy of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention and instructions on how to use an auto-injection of morphine.
This was all 30 years ago and Garry, who has been a postman in Spalding since he left the Navy, says he hasn’t thought about his experiences since then.
However, there are once again rumblings about ownership of the Falkland Islands, and Garry says: “I don’t know if we’d like to do it again, but I think we have got planes down there and submarines on patrol so I don’t think they would get a foothold as easily as they did before. Last time they took us by surprise.”
Unbelievably, when Garry went to war in the Falklands as captain’s chef aboard HMS Invincible, he was accompanied by three other men from the area: Petty Officer Monty Stimson, with whom Garry ran the bakery – now in Australia; Naval Airman James Wiedenbruch of Holbeach; and the late Lt Terry Barrett from Donington.
When Garry thinks back to the 1980s, some incidents are as fresh in his memory as if they were yesterday.
For instance, he recalls the first time the ship was attacked with Exocet missiles and the surreal feeling of laying on the floor for five to ten minutes, not knowing what was happening outside. One ship was hit, the Atlantic Conveyor, and all the men and helicopters on board were destroyed.
Going to action stations became a daily routine, exhausting when it interrupted sleep in the four off-four on regimen on board.
“You only had to be unlucky and you were going a day or so without sleep,” says Garry. “It’s mentally tough and you are doing the same thing all the time.”
Garry remembers the sinking of the Belgrano and his mixed feeling about the loss of life. He recalls the day two British planes on patrol went to investigate a radar signal and tragically, in poor visibility, both flew to exactly the same spot and disappeared off the radar screens.
Garry recalls the day they captured a trawler and everyone aboard: a group of terrified fishermen and a couple of Argentinian forces who had taken over the boat to spy on the British. Garry says: “Most of the rest of the time you just wanted to know the lads were doing well ashore and the other thing I thought about is how hard it was for our families at home.”
Garry’s wife Marian and children Penny and Daniel were waiting for him when Invincible returned to Portsmouth, to be greeted by hundreds of smaller boats.