Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Not In The True Spirit Of The British Forces

with 10 comments

Corporal Mark Wright

Corporal Mark Wright

I was dismayed, upset and disillusioned to hear Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, Commander of Joint Helicopter Command, speaking about the inquest into the death of Corporal Mark Wright and the maiming of his six colleagues in Afghanistan.

The Coroner, the “guardian of the crown’s pleas”,  with the full authority of the Queen herself, found, as a matter of fact, that the mines were detonated by the downdraft from the Chinook helicopter that went into rescue the men.  Yet the Rear Admiral had the audacity, impropriety and outrageous, traitorous arrogance to say “that’s not true at all”.

Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt

Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt

The Coroner said that the MOD should hang their heads in shame.  The Rear Admiral should hang his head in a noose for the disgraceful, insincere, weasel and wicked words he spoke in an effort to deflect the Coroner’s criticism.

Clearly these men were badly let down and the Rear Admiral’s conduct will bring more pain to those that survived and to all the families and friends concerned.

Why can’t the senior officers and the MOD display just a fraction of the courage that Corporal Wright and his colleagues did and admit they failed them?

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10 Responses

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  1. This is an incredibly ridiulous and extreme reaction to a man who knows far more about what was going on than you ever could hope to know. To say that he should be hanged is horrific and I think that you should be ashamed. You don’t have a fucking clue.

    Tom Cruise

    January 30, 2009 at 9:06 pm

  2. You clearly have a personal involvement here and aren’t able to see the facts. The Rear-Admiral contradicted the Coroner and yet the Coroner is the determiner of fact in law.

    I don’t actually think he should be hanged (give me some poetic licence please!) but his conduct was disgraceful, disrespectful, self-serving and plain wrong. In times gone by such a direct contradiction of the Crown would have resulted in execution.

    It’s a pity that you descend to the obscene at the end of your post and seem to prefer this Whitehall pen pusher’s evasiveness to the courage of the men at the sharp end. Oh and I do have something of a clue because I’ve worked within the MOD – there!

    Anyway, Tom, I appreciate how stressful it must be as an international superstar and religious nutcase. I’m actually a big fan. “Vanilla Sky” is the movie that stands out for me What was it like to be fought over by Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz?

    peterreynolds

    January 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    • To call Tony Johnstone-Burt a “Whitehall pen pusher” is a travesty. This man has served his country at the sharp end many times, starting with the Falklands war when he was barely a lad.

      Michael Deman

      February 3, 2010 at 5:35 am

      • I didn’t know that so I stand corrected. I stand by everything else I have said though. What is it about helicopters and the MOD that seems to equal cock-up? On that same subject it makes my blood boil every time I think about those Chinooks mothballed for eight years because of crass incompetence. Will someone please explain this to me?

        Peter Reynolds

        February 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm

  3. Coroners sometimes grandstand and play to the gallery. If you’ve ever sat on a jury you will know how hard it is to get to the facts in court. Cpl Wright’s colleague Cpl Jay Davis, who was alongside, had the impression that Wright may have touched off the mine by putting his hand out to steady himself as he crouched in the Chinook’s downdraft. (See Patrick Bishop’s book 3 Para.) The Chinook was, as Tony said in the interview, a good 50 metres away, and it probably did not roll a rock over the mine, though it might have. As Tony also said, that risk is the very reason why winching men out of a minefield is not necessarily a good idea, and it was very lucky that the US Black Hawk winchmen were later able to do it without setting off more mines. If the Chinook did set off that mine, it was simply an accident, the same as if Cpl Wright set it off himself. The coroner seems to have seized an opportunity to pose as Mr Valiant-for-Truth against the Forces of Darkness (i.e., quelle surprise, HM Government). It is profoundly unhelpful to the families of the dead if every combat death is treated as a scandalous outrage for which Someone In Authority Must Be Held To Account. People cannot reconcile themselves to their grief when stirrers continually agitate and accentuate that grief by pretending that all combat deaths result from the ‘traitorous arrogance’ of the alleged Forces of Darkness.

    Tony Johnstone-Burt served on HMS Active in the Falklands War. Did you? He has also served in Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commanded frigates and the assault carrier HMS Ocean. And he is, as he mentioned in that interview, a qualified naval helicopter pilot of 25 years’ standing. He is, in fact, one of those same brave men at the sharp end whose interests you claim to be representing when you (mistakenly) characterise him as a ‘pen-pusher’ and, of all things, a traitor. Of course the internet is not a social but a solitary environment, so people say things without the normal social constraint, because they’re just sitting at a keyboard and there’s nobody there, so it’s like hoodlums writing rude words on walls under the railway arches, but you’re out of order. The Queen gave Tony the OBE for catching drug-smugglers. Who are you, exactly, to claim that this distinguished officer should hang himself because he happens to have annoyed you by voicing sensible caveats to the hysterical media consensus? You know perfectly well that three-minute TV interviews can’t handle the level of detail required to get to the truth, and the courts can seldom handle it either.

    On the matter of those Mark 2 Chinooks in mothballs, apparently the Americans, who can be very secretive, wouldn’t release the software needed to make them fly. I would guess that wasn’t made plain when they sold us the things.

    Hugo Barnacle

    September 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm

  4. Hugo, thank you for your contribution. I acknowledged Tony Johnstone-Burt’s active service and evident heroism seven months ago so your attack on me is a little late.

    I am more than happy to supplement that acknowledgement with an apology for my ignorance of his past service and my sincere thanks as well.

    Who am I exactly? I think you can find out probably more than you wish to know about me on this website. I reveal myself entirely but who are you exactly to impugn my good intentions or to spout aggressive rhetoric at me?

    What matters is that I am a British citizen, concerned for the welfare of our armed forces and entitled to my opinion.

    The coroner seems to have seized an opportunity to pose as Mr Valiant-for-Truth against the Forces of Darkness

    You step over the same line that Mr Johnstone-Burt did. Don’t you understand that in law the coroner is the same as the Queen? Your sarcasm and lack of respect is as inappropriate as if it had been directed at Her Majesty. This wasn’t a case of “voicing sensible caveats to the hysterical media consensus” (the only hysteria here is yours). The coroner’s verdict, like it or not, determines the FACT of the matter.

    I agree with you and sympathise wholeheartedly with the problem of constantly re-examining deaths and the pain this causes for families.

    Are you really saying that our Chinooks sat inactive for eight years because the Americans who sold them to us would not release vital software? Please tell me more. This is something that should be constantly re-examined until the truth is out. If you are right then we want our money back plus damages I think!

    Peter Reynolds

    September 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  5. The decision of a court is the last word in law (subject to appeal in criminal cases), which is why Tony properly said he couldn’t contradict it, but it is not necessarily a true account of what happened. We remember the Birmingham Six. And Kenneth Noye, whom the jury acquitted of murdering DC John Fordham in the aftermath of the Brink’s Mat bullion robbery – that still stands, but in light of Noye’s conviction for the M25 ‘road rage’ murder, does anyone believe it? And after the Nimrod crash in Afghanistan, the coroner ruled that the Nimrod had ‘never been airworthy’ since its introduction in 1969 – which makes it curious that this was the only such accident in nearly 40 years’ service. (The problem seems to have related to the flight-refuelling system, hastily jury-rigged during the Falklands War and left as it was because there were never the funds to make it permanently good – but that’s too technical and the coroner apparently wanted to grandstand, denouncing a largely very useful aircraft and rather spoiling an important point.)
    It also happens with British coroners that they often anticipate the family’s feelings – in Britain we record all these ‘open verdicts’, which in any other country would be recorded as suicides, out of the coroner’s respect for the family. It is notable that Cpl Wright GC’s family said they were consoled to hear that he had not set off the mine himself, which is no doubt what the coroner intended. But even the men right next to him weren’t sure what happened there, so how the coroner could be so sure, heaven knows.
    I am not at all sure that the MoD, or Joint Helicopter Command, ‘let down’ Cpl Wright and the other Paras nightmarishly stuck in that minefield. Brigade called for the winch-equipped American Black Hawks immediately, but for some reason they could not get there for three hours. The Paras were actually expecting a ground extraction by RAF Chinook, and brigade ordered in a Chinook with medics on board at once because the Americans reported this delay with the Black Hawks. The Paras cleared, or thought they’d cleared, a landing space (in the middle of a minefield, who knows, they hadn’t probed it all over), and they marked it with a green smoke grenade when the Chinook arrived, but the Chinook crew landed 50 yards further off (you’d have to ask them why, but they were outside the minefield and if they’d touched down on the green smoke it might have been disastrous) and the Paras were not going to walk that far over unprobed ground, so they waved the Chinook off. Cpl Wright was heard loudly wondering if the Chinook’s downdraft would explode mines just before he was wounded. But the Paras had called in helicopters themselves; they were just in an impossible fix. Even had the Black Hawks been available – and they did an amazing job when they arrived – or had the RAF positioned a couple of their specialist rescue Sea Kings and crews in theatre (but the requirement was perhaps so occasional that it made more sense to put the US Black Hawks in the ‘pool’), then the mine smack next to Wright could easily have been triggered at that time, either by the downdraft shifting stones or by Wright himself moving that fraction to get into the winchman’s sling. These are the fortunes of war, and terrible they are. It does not mean anyone is to blame – certainly not Cpl Mark Wright GC, and not Rear-Adm Tony Johnstone-Burt OBE either. If Black Hawks or Sea Kings had come to lift Wright and his comrades from the minefield sooner, they would probably have set that mine off anyway as they hovered overhead, but at least Wright would have had full medical attention within the hour. Whether that would have saved him depends on the exact nature of his injuries. Princess Diana was recovered alive from the Paris car crash, and quickly, but died because the surgeon could not reach and repair the torn pulmonary artery without damaging vital organs. I have myself attended a casualty scene – a stabbing – where the same applied. The police were giving first aid in five minutes, the ambulance was there in 15, but the casualty died in theatre three hours later because they couldn’t stop the internal bleeding. You cannot always save them all.
    I’m sorry you thought I was sarcastic, but you were using the most abrasive terms about someone I know, who is a good bloke and a good officer. British people are all too fond of that ‘lions led by donkeys’ thing – but as a number of writers have pointed out, that wasn’t even true in the Great War, not really, and certainly not now. However, I note and appreciate that you roll with the punches.
    Regarding the Chinook Mark 2, I am of course an idiot and that should read Mark 3. Yes, we bought eight of them and the MoD failed to realise that the US would not release the codes to unlock the flight software. Apparently they’ve had to be downgraded to Mark 2 standard to make them work, at enormous expense. Check, say, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7923341.stm

    Hugo Barnacle

    September 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    • Your contribution is very welcome and greatly appreciated. Thank you.

      However, I’d really like to know a little more about you, what you do, what you did, who you are? It’s entirely up to you if you want to introduce yourself. You can post here or email me direct at:
      peter@peter-reynolds.co.uk

      Peter Reynolds

      September 17, 2010 at 9:08 pm

  6. Oh, I’m just a writer, of no great account, but I’ve known Tony since college. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the four casevac missions flown that same day in 2006, to Sangin and Musa Qaleh, under heavy ground fire, by Maj Mark Hammond RM and crew. By the end, in the middle of the night, with all hell breaking loose in Musa Qaleh, Lt Col Tootal advised Hammond he didn’t have to go again. Hammond of course volunteered, went in, and his aeromed team brought out the two casualties, one critical. (Both survived.) Hammond was awarded the DFC. The Chinook crews and aeromed teams do wonderful work, it seems to me. And the work is so draining that the flight crews can only serve two months a year out there, or they start to get ‘skill fade’, which is dangerous. This does limit the possible size of the detachment, which bears on the famous ‘More helicopters now!’ issue.
    Looking into it, I see Tony and his predecessor couldn’t just pull more from the toybox either. The Pumas, Sea Kings and Merlins and some Chinooks were committed to Iraq (and the old Pumas’ and Sea Kings’ engines wouldn’t work in Afghanistan, where there’s no ground level lower than 5000ft.) The Merlin squadron has now gone there since the Iraq drawdown; they barely had time to brush the sand off their kit before they had to refit and then retrain ‘hot and high’ in the California desert to acclimatise people and machinery. The Pumas can only go if they get the planned new engines despite the coming cuts. But in September 2006, the revived Afghan campaign had only been running five months, and only at high tempo for three, and it wasn’t supposed to be that intense and everyone was still wondering what hit them. There hadn’t been time for the MoD to reinforce 16 Air Assault Brigade even if John Reid had had a sudden nasty feeling and made very swift decisions. And of course our forces are always under-resourced because we don’t want to pay the same slice of GDP for defence as the Americans do.

    Hugo Barnacle

    September 19, 2010 at 5:50 pm

  7. I have since discovered that Cpl Wright’s own official London Gazette citation for the George Cross states unequivocally that he himself detonated the fatal mine. I feel that settles the matter.

    The coroner’s other remarks, regarding the failure to give the Paras the necessary map with the old Russian minefield actually marked on it – the map was available – and the army’s failure to train its men to deal with minefields, were far more pertinent and were wholly ignored by the media.

    Hugo Barnacle

    January 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm


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