RM Band - Repatriation of POWs to Argentina
Canberra now acting returned to San Carlos for a third time to pick up 5,500 POWs of the 11,845 Argentine POWs and sailed for Puerto Madryn in southern Argentina on the Canberra and the North Sea ferry Norland.
The Argentine government promised safe conduct for the ships, which sailed under Red Cross supervision as *cartel ships, which under international law, are ships employed on humanitarian voyages, in particular, to carry communications or prisoners between belligerents
On 30 June St Edmund transported Argentinian special category POWs, including Brigadier General Menendez, to Puerto Madryn. the ship's 'buzz phrase' as the Argentineans stepped ashore being 'Sealink sets you free'!
Royal Marines Bandsman who had been deployed with the Task Force and supported the Doctors and Nurses on hospital ships and ashore throughout accompanied the POWs both as guards and as stretcher bearer's.
The finest hour... a war is won and an unlikely heroine sails home in triumph
SS Canberra could take 4,000 prisoners, crammed in like sardines. The conscripted soldiers who came aboard were in a pitiful state. Lice-ridden, stinking, half-starved, suffering from a virulent stomach bug, exposure, and in many cases, severely damaged feet as result of weeks in the cold and wet without proper kit, the condition of the Argentines shocked the crew.
One thing about them, though, moved Canberra’s men and women to tears. Among the soldiers sent to fight were boys, who should still have been in school.
“In some of their packs, we discovered children’s crayoning books,” said Captain John Ware, of the Royal Marines. “We discovered some of them had been taken straight out of their classrooms at school and deposited on the Falklands. It was really quite heart-rending.”
Under the protection of the International Red Cross, Canberra was to sail to Puerto Madryn, in Argentina, and repatriate the prisoners. Cold, filthy and demoralised as they were, they had enough fight left in them to break into one of her bars and drink Champagne left aboard from the ship’s cruising days.
When all of them had been landed, and the crew started to clean the ship, which stank of the prisoners, they found scores of notes had been left behind in the cabins. All of them said the same thing: “Thank you.”
17th July 2012
Brian Short - The Band That Went to War