Mercury Memories: Harrier pilot spent three days behind enemy lines during Falklands War

Mercury Memories - Half Moon Inn landlady Joyce Hanson who was concerned for her 50 relative on the island
Mercury Memories - Half Moon Inn landlady Joyce Hanson who was concerned for her 50 relative on the island

MONDAY, April 2 marked the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Falklands War - a conflict that lasted 74 days and cost the lives of 255 British military personnel as well as 649 Argentinians and three Falkland Islanders.

The Mercury reported on the departure and return of many service personnel from the Rutland and Stamford area and kept readers up to date with events as they unfolded.

Mercury Memories - The Mercury front page June 4, 1982

Mercury Memories - The Mercury front page June 4, 1982

Harrier aircraft from RAF Wittering were heavily involved, flying directly from the base to the South Atlantic to reinforce the Falklands Task Force. This represented the longest non-stop flight the RAF had ever made.

The planes covered 8,000 miles in 17 hours, flying via Ascension Island and using in-flight refuelling. This was carried out by Victor tankers, while Nimrods provided search-and-rescue cover for the long overseas journey.

A spokesman for RAF Wittering at the time said the base was proud of the epic flight.

“No 1 is the oldest squadron in the RAF, but we can still set new standards,” he said.

The first Falklands story in the Mercury was on April 8, just a few days after the islands had been invaded.

Landlady of Stamford’s Half Moon pub, Joyce Hanson, was herself a Falklands Islander and was concerned for more than 50 relatives still living there, including her cousin Philip Summers who was in charge of the island’s defence force.

She hung a Keep The Falklands British banner outside the pub and in a later Mercury edition, on June 18, she and her regulars were pictured celebrating the ceasefire.

The Mercury’s June 4 edition carried several stories about servicemen, including Bob Iveson, Jeffrey Glover, Mark Willoughby and John Sharman.

Squadron Leader ‘Big Bob’ Iveson, whose family were from Deeping St James, was a Harrier pilot from RAF Wittering who spent three days behind Argentine lines before making his escape by helicopter.

He was forced to eject from his GR3 Harrier after it was hit. He evaded an Argentine patrol and spent two nights lying low in a deserted house before attracting the attention of a British helicopter which lifted him to safety.

Sqn Ldr Iveson, the son of Group Captain Douglas Iveson, a distinguished wartime RAF bomber pilot, was on his seventh operation from the aircraft carrier Hermes when his ordeal began.

He said: “Heavy calibre tracer started coming up. There was an enormous thump and bang, the aircraft lifted in the air, and the controls started to go soft. I could see fire in my mirror, and the nose had started to drop.”

After ejecting from the plane, he was unconscious for a few seconds and when he came to, found himself dropping straight onto the fireball of his aircraft, but managed to steer away from it.

He told headquarters that after he landed he had avoided an Argentine patrol and had come across a large house which he recognised from his map.

After watching to see that Argentine forces were showing no interest in it, he knocked on the door and receiving no answer, went in. There was no-one there but there was food and blankets and he stayed overnight.

The next morning, Sqd Ldr Iveson started off towards the British lines but was beaten back by a storm and spent another night in the house.

Next day he heard the sound of fighting and, when it had stopped and he felt sure that the British were in control, he turned on the personal locator beacon with which British pilots were issued. He fired the beacon when a British helicopter appeared and was lifted to safety.

Within an hour of his rescue he was back at British headquarters at the beachhead with cuts to his face, bruises and a boot torn open as he left the plane.

Flight Lieutenant Jeffrey Glover, also from RAF Wittering, was shot down and ejected into enemy hands.

Two days later the RAF’s London press office stated they had been informed that he was at an aeronautical hospital at Commodoro Rivadavia on the Argentine mainland.

Mark Willoughby, again of Wittering, was in the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which fought to re-take Goose Green.

John Sharman of Caldecott served on the destroyer HMS Coventry and was just 21 years of age when the ship was struck by an Argentine missile. The ship was sunk by the time the news reached the British public and John’s parents, June and Alec Sharman, had an anxious wait before hearing that their son had survived unharmed.

Fortunately the Mercury did not have to report any fatalities from the war, which continued until the Argentinian surrender on June 14.