Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Jones, VC, OBE (14 May 1940 – 28 May 1982), known as H. Jones, was a British army officer and posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross. He was awarded the VC after being killed in action during the Battle of Goose Green for his actions as commanding officer of 2 Battalion, Parachute Regiment during the Falklands War.
ABOVE AND BELOW : COMMEMORATIVE BRONZE FIGURINE DEPICTING COLONEL H JONES , 2 PARA ON DISPLAY IN AND AMONGST THE UK SPECIAL FORCES EXHIBITION AREA AT THE CRIME THROUGH TIME COLLECTION , LITTLEDEAN JAIL
On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a remote UK colony in the South Atlantic. The move led to a brief, but bitter war.
Argentina’s military junta hoped to restore its support at a time of economic crisis, by reclaiming sovereignty of the islands. It said it had inherited them from Spain in the 1800s and they were close to South America.
The UK, which had ruled the islands for 150 years, quickly chose to fight. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the 1,800 Falklanders were “of British tradition and stock”. A task force was sent to reclaim the islands, 8,000 miles away.
In the fighting that followed, 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen lost their lives, as did three Falkland Islanders.
Was Colonel ‘H’ a mad fool?
Last updated at 00:39 12 May 2007
Much has been written about the hero’s death that won Colonel ‘H’ Jones a Falklands VC.
Here, for the first time, is the brutally honest and vivid account of one of the Paras who fought with him.
It raises some deeply unsettling questions
My breath sounded like a storm in my ears. Surely they could hear it? They were only a dozen metres away – no distance at all.
You know you’re really scared when you think your own breathing is going to betray you.
Sliding my weapon into the crook of my arms, I inched forward on my elbows, pushing slowly, very slowly, with my feet.
The slightest sound could lead to catastrophe for our patrol. Every movement I made was carefully measured and weighed.
I was soaked to the skin, and my knees and thighs were bruised by the rocky ground I’d crawled over.
My hands were numb with cold, and the muscles on my neck and shoulders were clenched like a vice. But I had to concentrate.
There was an Argy trench directly in front of me. No enemy visible. One heavy machine gun in place. Couldn’t miss that. I was staring straight down its barrel.
Another trench 20 yards to the left. Two enemy talking – and pink toilet paper everywhere.
The dirty devils had not dug latrines, they’d just walked out of their trenches and fouled the ground in front of their own positions.
This was encouraging. It told us they’d been worn down by the wind and weather and couldn’t be bothered to dig pits in the freezing cold.
If they were similarly sloppy about sentry duty, that was good news for our lads.
Surprisingly, no one seemed to be manning the gun pointing straight up my nose. What was going on in that trench? Better take a closer look.
As I inched forward, I could hear the Argies still chatting away in a low murmur. What were they talking about? Girlfriends? Mothers? The price of penguin meat?
All that mattered was that there was no edge of alarm in their voices; no hint they’d heard anything. I didn’t need Spanish to know they hadn’t rumbled us.
One more push and I was nearly close enough to touch the ice-cold barrel of that machine-gun.
Cloaked by the mist, I lifted myself onto one knee, rifle at the ready, and peered down into the gloom of the trench.
There they were. Three of them. Sleeping like babes, tucked up nicely in their sleeping bags, counting Falklands sheep in their sleep.
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I could have killed all three before they could say their Hail Marys. This was a unit that was exhausted and couldn’t give a damn. More good news for our lads.
It was time to pull back. But as I crawled away in reverse, slowly and deliberately, I had a hunch that we hadn’t discovered all the Argy positions and decided we should look further over to the east.
There was no way that we’d let our mates run into a lead storm that they hadn’t been warned about.
They were depending on us to recce these outlying positions before we launched our attack on Goose Green.
As we began eyeballing the ground we hadn’t covered, we were ready for anything. Or so we thought.
It was Pete Myers, the youngest member of our patrol, who spotted them first, swirling around like spirits in the mist.
“What’s that over there?” he growled.
“Get down,” I ordered. We hit the ground and tried to make out what the hell we were looking at.
One thing was for sure, they weren’t spirits. These things were neighing and whinnying.
“They’re f****** wild horses,” said Steve Jones, our Welsh lead scout. At that moment, they came thundering straight for us. It was scary as hell.
“F*** it. Let’s drop the b*******,” I spat.
“No, don’t!” said Jonesy. “Just lie still and flat! They’ll run over you! Horses hate stepping on living things!”
What did he know that I didn’t? Had he been a hussar before he joined the Paras? I didn’t think so.
There was no time to argue. The herd was upon us. I looked up at them for a moment before pressing my nose to the ground and squeezing my eyes shut.
Heads and manes tossing, they charged over us, pounding the ground in every direction, filling our senses.
I opened one eye and looked up as a mustang leapt over me. I could see the blur of its legs for a split second before one of its hooves slapped into the peat inches from my head.
Then gun shots! One, two, three! The Argies must have stampeded the horses to flush us out and pinpoint our position.
We were done for – laid out in the middle of nowhere with only horse-dung to hide behind.
As the horses vanished into the darkness, I snatched up my rifle and took aim. But it was OK. The shooting had stopped.
The Argies had only been firing to scare the horses off, turning them away from their trenches.
A few relieved shouts and nervous laughter from the enemy. The sight of wild animals coming out of the dark had rattled them, too.
“Everyone all right?” A quick head check confirmed that no one had been hoof-minced.
“How did you know they wouldn’t stamp the f*** out of us?” I asked Steve. “Some ancient bit of Welsh folklore?”
“Nah,” he answered, “Grand National. You know when those jockeys come off at Beechers Brook?
“They just roll into a ball and stay still as f***, then the horses do anything they can not to put a hoof on ’em.”
“Really?” I said. “Interesting.” My heart was pounding, I’d just produced enough adrenaline to fuel a rocket, and my second in command was telling me the reason we’d lived through it was the Grand National.
Still, the Argies didn’t suspect it was us who had spooked the horses or they would have mown the grass with machine guns. God, they were sloppy.
Careless soldiering costs lives, I reflected as we made our way back to base.
Those poor devils were going to discover the truth of that within the next three hours when our lads got stuck into them. The trouble was, so would we.
FLASHBACK. December 1981. Kenya. An hour after dawn.
As I gazed out over the African plain stretching far away into the heat haze, I blinked the salty sweat out of my eyes and tried to concentrate on the view through the sight of my rifle as I searched for the enemy.
Movement was not an option. One absent-minded swat at the cluster of flies drinking on my sweat and the game was up.
We’d laid three long snakes of green parachute cord across the bush and they slithered invisibly through the landscape.
Suddenly one came to life with a rapid tattoo of tugs – a signal from one of the other lads that the enemy was advancing into our trap.
We watched them every step of the way. They were inching forward, knowing we were out there. And every second took them deeper into our ambush.
It was only an exercise. The yellow blank-firing attachments on the muzzles of our rifles showed that. The enemy were just other lads from 2 Para.
But the stakes were high. To the victor went the spoils and that meant the right to taunt the losers over free beer for weeks to come. A prize not to be scoffed at.
Then I spotted him, moving up through the scrub to the foot of the ridge we were lying on, right up with the enemy’s lead section.
It was our boss, 2 Para’s commanding officer, Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones.
What the hell was H doing there? He should have been back with his tactical headquarters unit conducting operations, not up with the front platoons.
Mark Sleap saw him too. Sleapy by name but not sleepy by nature, Mark was sharp as a tack and one of our top guys. As H handed out instructions to his men, Sleapy opened up.
The ambush erupted as rifles and machine guns raked the enemy. It was fast, brutal and effective. The colonel was dead. Direct hit.
He wasn’t happy. No one likes to be killed and H humped and grumped about it. “It wouldn’t have happened,” he told Mark later.
“We’d have got you lot with our artillery when we softened up your area before moving in.”
“Maybe, sir,” said Sleapy diplomatically. “But I did get you, sir.”
It was a prophetic moment, a glimpse into a future some six months ahead. Next time, though, 2 Para wouldn’t be sweltering in Kenya; we’d be freezing our backsides off in the Falklands.
ONCE again, H would be leading from the front, where he shouldn’t be, but this time it wouldn’t be an exercise. It would be live rounds and H really would be dead.
The posthumous Victoria Cross he earned at Goose Green is probably the most controversial VC of all time.
The accounts of the events surrounding his death have mostly been written by former officers and military historians.
They’re fine as far as they go, but they can’t tell it like a front-line para – or Toms as we call ourselves – and they haven’t told the whole story. But I can. I was there.
The first thing to say is that H was a cracking bloke, the best boss I ever had in the army.
He was what we called a “crap-hat” – a soldier from a non-Para regiment, and thus a stranger to the coveted red beret – but he made an immediate impact the moment he joined us.
The hard-core Toms loved the way he called battalion meetings in the drill hall and then announced:
“Right, now that you’re all here we’re going on a ten-mile run.”
All the fat HQ wallahs, drivers and officers, who normally skived off battalion runs, were trapped and H ran the life out of them.
Like any good commander, H wanted action and if there was any glory about, he wanted it for his men and not the “Booties”, the Royal Marines who led the task force sent to the Falklands after the Argentinian invasion in April 1982.
H’s distrust of the “Booties” was apparent from the moment we tried to come ashore on the night of May 21, scrambling off the converted car ferry which had brought us south and cramming into landing craft driven by the marines.
As the boats swayed and dipped in the swell, sea-sickness was only part of the problem. There was something else in the air.
Raw fear. Any minute now a fusillade from the shore might cut us into pieces.
We thought we would head straight for the beach but, instead, we went round and round in endless circles like day-trippers on a municipal boating lake.
Just in case the enemy might have any problem spotting us, the whole performance took place in the light of a near-full moon.
Boat engines throbbed, chains rattled and clanked, and friendly Booties flashed lights and called out to one another across the water.
I was not impressed – and neither was H. We heard him bellowing as he verbally castrated a few gobby marines.
When we finally got ashore, we holed up for two days on the freezing slopes of Sussex Mountain before London gave us the go-ahead for a raid on the airfield at Goose Green to the south.
H was on top form. He had plans to formulate and there isn’t an officer on the planet that doesn’t love planning.
Critics now say his plan was too complex, with lots of overlapping waves of attack. It certainly started to come unstuck pretty quickly.
On the night of May 23, we pressed through dense mist and rain towards Camilla Creek House -a sheep farm which was our initial base for the attack.
But after seven stumbling, mind-numbing, muscle-tearing miles in full kit, we were almost there when we were told to turn back.
Bad weather had grounded the Sea King helicopters that were supposed to be moving our artillery forward and Brigadier Julian Thompson, the Bootie in charge of the task force, had called the mission off.
H kicked off like a firecracker. “I’ve waited 20 years for this,” he snarled. “Now some f****** marine’s cancelled it.”
There was nothing for it but to slog back to Sussex Mountain. With the gallows humour typical of the paras, me and the lads from the Patrols Platoon started belting out a song: John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance.
Suddenly a head popped out of the command HQ tent flap. It was H. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at us with an expression that said:
“Oh, it’s those f****** nutters from Patrols.”
H loved the Patrols Platoon – fit, aggressive soldiers whose speciality was getting up close to the enemy, acting as the eyes and ears of the regiment.
He just looked at us like a patient father with some naughty kids and never said a word.
Four days later, the battle was on for real -but there was more grief for H. On the morning of May 27, we were awaiting orders at Camilla Creek House when suddenly a melee of officers and sergeants appeared among the men. They were in a right flap.
“Move out! Move out! Away from these buildings on the double!” one of them yelled. “Grab your kit and f****** get out of here!”
It turned out the BBC had announced that we were about to attack Goose Green and, according to some of the men, had even revealed our position at Camilla Creek House.
Ironically, it turned out later that the Argy high command thought the bulletins were a double bluff, designed to wrong-foot them.
But the BBC announcement was a real jolt for H and left him wondering how much the enemy knew about his intentions.
It wasn’t his day. The chaos caused by the BBC meant that several officers failed to make a vital briefing meeting.
On top of that, the Special Forces recces that he’d been relying on to assess the readiness of the enemy were turning out to be a fairytale, while a Harrier jet had just been lost in a raid that left the enemy unscathed and on full alert.
All of which was enough to put any colonel into a spin on the eve of a battle.
Nothing travels faster in a battalion than news of the boss’s mood and the word was out. H was not a happy man.
CLICK, click. Click, click, click. It sounded like sinister insects calling out to each other in the darkness and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
For this wasn’t insects. It was our lads fixing their bayonets and preparing to advance down the narrow isthmus of land leading to Goose Green.
I was thrilled and I’m not ashamed to say it. I was a soldier and the thought of the fight to come gave me a warrior’s rush.
One or two hands reached out and briefly clasped mine as they slipped by me into the darkness. Somewhere in the gloom a young para puked up with the tension.
He got that off his chest and went on to fight like a demon.
Things kicked off around 3am when one of the lads from B Company spotted a silhouette in the middle of a field. “It must be a scarecrow,” whispered a young officer.
A scarecrow? He was on the Falklands, the place was crawling with Argies and he thought he was seeing a scarecrow.
“Hands up!” shouted one of the lads. With that, the scarecrow came to life. “Por favor?” he said and reached under his poncho for his weapon.
Two rifles and two machine guns opened up on him without a moment’s hesitation. Bullets tore through him and tracer rounds ignited his clothing, lighting him up like a Halloween pumpkin.
Soon B Company had taken out nearly 20 Argy trenches, tearing through them with machine-guns, grenades and bayonets.
It was a good start to their advance but elsewhere H’s plans were evaporating as fast as a bottle of port in the officers’ mess.
We were supposed to be receiving support from HMS Arrow, softening up the enemy positions with bombardments of huge shells at the rate of 30 a minute. This would have shortened the engagement by hours.
In the event, Arrow had fired just one shell before her gun jammed. Meanwhile, the Harrier jets we had been promised were fog-bound on their carriers.