Why a Victoria Cross should be awarded to a Falklands/Malvinas war paratrooper

‘They should give Corporal Stewart “Scouse” McLaughlin the medal. He earned it doing what he reasonably believed they had sent him to do. Same as in Derry’

‘There’s nothing dishonest about the brilliant doggerel of “The Ballad of Scouse McLaughlin”, which says more about what happened in Derry 43 years ago tomorrow than the wonderfully subtle report by Lord Saville.’ Above, the remains of an Argentine trench from the war for the possession of the Malvinas/Falkland islands in 1982. Photograph: DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

‘There’s nothing dishonest about the brilliant doggerel of “The Ballad of Scouse McLaughlin”, which says more about what happened in Derry 43 years ago tomorrow than the wonderfully subtle report by Lord Saville.’ Above, the remains of an Argentine trench from the war for the possession of the Malvinas/Falkland islands in 1982. Photograph: DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

 

Anna Soubry, junior Minister for Defence, is expected to make a Commons statement next month on the possibility of posthumously awarding the British military’s highest award, the Victoria Cross, to Corporal Stewart “Scouse” McLaughlin, killed aged 27 during the Parachute Regiment’s assault on Mount Longdon in the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982.

A campaign for McLaughlin to be honoured has been led by Labour MPs Angela Eagle and Dan Jarvis. Eagle represents Wallasey on Merseyside. Barnsley MP Jarvis is himself a former paratrooper, and served as aide de camp to Gen Sir Michael Jackson, second in command in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.

In July last year, hundreds of former paratroopers marched to 10 Downing Street where Eagle handed in a petition pleading McLaughlin’s case. In response, David Cameron wrote to his family acknowledging McLaughlin’s “undoubtedly brave actions in 1982” but regretting that it would “not be possible to re-open honours boards for posthumous recognition” after such a long interval.

Campaigners pressed on, winning support from a range of public figures, including comedian Jim Davidson, who described McLaughlin as “man of the match at Mount Longdon.”

A memorial brick was unveiled at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Canon Paul Rattigan hoped that this would “add some weight to the campaign to get the Victoria Cross awarded to Stewart as it should have been”.

In November, in a change of tack, Soubry promised a “full investigation” and a report by the end of this month. Last weekend, McLaughlin’s son, also Stewart, said that he was content to wait “another few weeks” for a decision

Conspicuous courage

Campaigners for McLaughlin have been boosted throughout by support from retired Lt Gen Sir Hew Pike, who says that he recalls citing McLaughlin for conspicuous courage back in 1982 and that he sees no reason to change his estimation. He has offered to rewrite the recommendation now, thus to close the time-gap. Pike, the family, the MPs, Rattigan and others say that the citation was lost in the Falklands chaos and that this is the reason the award was never made.

This is less than the truth. Campaigners may believe that McLaughlin was the victim of carelessness and trivial technicality. But others in a better position to understand — rank-and-file paratroopers – believe that the citation was abandoned because McLaughlin had committed what many would consider war-crimes but which his comrades believe to have been no more than what was expected of him. Hence both their anger and politicians’ uneasiness.

The best account of paratroopers in the Falklands comes in one of the most jolting war memoirs ever written, Vincent Bramley’s Excursion To Hell (Pan Books, 1992). Bramley, a platoon leader in McLaughlin’s battalion, didn’t doubt his comrade’s fighting qualities. It was the Liverpool man’s ferocity, he says, which turned the tide of battle on Mount Longdon. Wounded so badly that his spine and lungs were exposed, McLaughlin was fighting on when a direct hit from a mortar finished him off. The VC recommendation seemed no more than his due to virtually all who had been alongside him. But not quite all.

Citation

The reason the MoD opted not to endorse the citation was that an officer of the regiment objected in writing, saying that McLaughlin’s webbing pouch had been found to contain sawn-off ears and other unspecified Argentine body parts and that it would be contrary to military honour to award him Britain’s highest medal.

What’s significant for forming a view of paratroopers’ actions generally is that front-line members of the regiment clearly accept that McLaughlin mutilated the corpses of the enemy but don’t accept that there was anything particularly reprehensible about this. The expressed distaste of their political masters is seen as sleekit evasion of what they must know to be true.

There’s nothing dishonest about the brilliant doggerel of “The Ballad of Scouse McLaughlin”, which says more about what happened in Derry 43 years ago tomorrow than the wonderfully subtle report by Lord Saville.

“Such were his deeds, his sacrifice/a Victoria Cross, no less/would suffice to recognise/his valour and selflessness.

“But outside the private soldiers/of the Paratroop Regiment/His deeds have gone unlauded/by the brass and Government,

“Because stashed in Scouse’s webbing/with his ammo and compo swill/was a cache of bloody Argy ears/he’d sliced-off from his kills.

“See, Scouse he was a green-eyed boy/like the Airborne in Vietnam/or the German Fallschirmjäger/on the retreat from Stalingrad....

“It’s not the Ruperts and their rules/tactics and strategic skill/At the end of the day wars are won/by men who’ll fight and kill.

“And every complacent liberal/in their lazy amnesiac “peace”/sneering in contempt at the likes of Scouse/should remember that their ease

“Is founded on the blood and snot/of generations of such men/the salt and scum of our sceptred isle: Stewart Peter McLaughlin”.

They should give him the medal. He earned it doing what he reasonably believed they had sent him to do. Same as in Derry.

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