I've been very busy of late, not least in doing the right thing for my old buddy Steve. On Friday I read the following Tribute, which I had also written, in the Falklands Chapel in Pangbourne College. There were at least five generals and almost 200 of our 2 Para comrades, not all of whom were down south but who Steve had helped in some way:
His family and some of his closest friends laid Doctor Steven Hughes, also known as 2 Para Doc, to rest on the 24th of May. He had died on 4th of May, but his spirit lives on.
That is why we are gathered here, in this impressive Falkland’s Memorial Chapel, at the invitation of Steven’s parents and family, to celebrate the life of this extraordinary man.
Amongst us are his family, former student friends, former comrades in arms, fellow Doctors and nursing staff, and former patients, some of who thank Steven for their very lives.
Other friends who are unable to attend have assured me that they are with us and Steven, in spirit, because ‚ ‘There Is No Such Place as Far Away’.
Even before Steven joined the Regular Army he had been recognized for his tactical talent and direct manner. Episodes of which have been published in the book of a student friend. Copies are available to order !
Having qualified as a doctor, Steven joined the Army and became the Regimental Medical Officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.
As fate would have it we were deployed, along with the Task Force, in April of 1982, to the Falkland Islands.
His Regimental Aid Post consisted of just six professional medics, his signaller and an admin Sergeant. Alongside of us would be our Padre, the Reverend David Cooper; who’s task became the hardest job of all; yesterday and today.
To Steven it was immediately clear that, if things got serious, his team would not be able to cope with the number of battle-field casualties. So, he made it his mission, during the voyage South, to teach Combat First Aid to as many of the fighting soldiers as possible. This was not an easy task, as all field skills also had to be revised, and training time was very tight.
In the absence of the Commanding Officer, who had gone ahead to Ascension Island, Steven won the support of our Acting Commanding Officer, the Second in Command, Major Chris Keeble. By the time we reached the Falkland Islands about 500 soldiers had received specialist training in advanced first aid and the treatment of gunshot and blast injuries and every Company and Platoon had several skilled Combat Medics.
During training, controversially, Steven introduced the rectal infusion, a sensitive subject for hairy arsed paratroopers !
He convinced everybody that it was‚ better than nothing, if your buddy was bleeding to death. In the event, every soldier was happy to carry HIS PERSONAL LIFESAVER; half a liter of blood volume booster liquid.
This was a brilliant piece of psychological marketing and gave the fighting soldiers a vital feeling of security and a better chance of survival, should they themselves become wounded.
How our medical training would have helped us, out at sea, was thankfully never put to the test !
During the voyage South, one of our own submarines sank the General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives and the ships in our own convoy were under regular attack, particularly from the air.
Can anyone, who was not there, even begin to imagine the stress for paratroopers,
who have conquered their fear of the sky,
understand ground tactics,
and regularly play with gun-fire,
feel on a ship a thousand and more miles from land,
just days after a helicopter had crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 20 of our nations finest Airborne soldiers,
when an enemy submarine alert is sounded ?
On the 21st of May, after being spewed out of the Beach Landing Craft, at night, chest deep in the freezing cold water, with each soldier carrying about 100 pounds of equipment,
2 Para were the first fighting unit to set foot on land.
Steven led us medics from the front, setting a fine example from those very first, critical moments. Although our landing was not opposed Steven’s medical team was immediately in action. There had been an accidental discharge on one of the Landing Craft, some soldiers had almost drowned under the burden of their equipment and everyone was wet through, freezing cold and sweating profusely at the same time.
One young soldier had a nervous breakdown and another went quite mad, a situation which ONLY Steven and the Padre were able to resolve.
The land war had started !
From our vantage point on Sussex Mountain we watched, almost helplessly, as our ships were bombed down in the bay, which became known as ‘Bomb Alley’.
Who can forget the awesome explosion and the sight of HMS Antelope as she was torn apart and slowly sank before our eyes.
A few days later, 2 Para were selected to be the first unit to make a formal assault. It would be against the Argentinian reinforced Battalion garrison at Goose Green. Our Regimental Aid Post could only take what medical stores and equipment we could carry. Under the circumstances Steven argued that we needed a second doctor and, as luck would have it, our former Regimental Medical Officer, Doctor Rory Wagon, was allocated to us for this action.
This allowed Steven to employ a new tactic. He decided to have two smaller aid posts, each led by a doctor, just behind the front line, instead of a larger Regimental Aid Post a safer distance away; an unquestionably daring and risky decision !
On the 28th of May we attacked Goose Green. During the fiercest of fighting, over the radio, came the message: ‘Sunray is down’! The Commanding Officer had been hit.
Steven did not send one of his medics to attend to this casualty rather he raced forwards himself. Sadly, he was only able to pronounce the C.O. as dead. Lt. Col Herbert Jones was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, indicating clearly the level of danger that Steven had exposed himself to.
Now under the command of Major Chris Keeble, who unleashed the initiative and the devastating manoeuvre of his Company Commanders, the Argentinians were, the following morning, persuaded into surrender, an option that undoubtedly saved many lives on both sides !
Nevertheless, the battle for Port Darwin and Goose Green had cost a total of 65 soldiers their lives, with an additional 190 wounded. That many more did not die was very much due to the excellent medical training given to our fighting soldiers under Steven’s direction.
Indeed, the record shows that not a single 2 Para casualty died once they had been reached alive by one of the professional medical staff. This would not have been so, had Steven not, in spite of having lost personal close friends, always been there to guide and correct the potential mistakes of us medics.
By the 8th of June we were in Fitzroy and witnessed the spectacular bombing of our ships, the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. Steven fearlessly led a team of medics and soldiers into the freezing water, large areas of which were on fire, with choking smoke from the burning spilt oil.
48 comrades, mostly from the Welsh Guards, died and hundreds more were injured. Again the excellent medical training of our 2 Para soldiers saved many lives.
Steven had injured his ankle and was in great pain and so missed the march forwards to Wireless Ridge. But he was not going to miss the battle and took a helicopter ride to re-join us, on his own 25th birthday, before the fighting started.
The battle for Wireless Ridge started on the 13th of June and a total of 28 soldiers were killed with a further 136 casualties. And, yet again, the soldiers that Steven and his team had trained had prevented even more loss of life on both sides.
Very conscious of the likelihood of civilian casualties in Port Stanley, Steven led his medical team, one step behind the most advanced 2 Para troops, into the city, thus ending the fighting.
Thankfully, the war was over!
It was then, that every Tom, Dick and Harry, reported sick with trench-foot, haemorrhoids, toothache and every other ailment under the sun. Clearly doctors and medics are never off duty.
Somewhere amongst all of this madness Steven had his first taste of natal care, tending to a mother and her newly born baby.
Steven did not receive a distinguishing medal as such, many deserving warriors didn’t. Medals alone are not proof that the wearer is any more worthy than the men on either side of him. It is the respect and recognition from those with whom one shared those sacred moments that really counts, and your presence here today is testimony enough to Steven’s airborne character.
Of Stevens further military service, it’s worth remembering that, in a jungle village in Belize, he actually delivered a baby by caesarean section, and by all accounts saved the life of both mother and child.
After his military service, like so many other comrades, Steven was plagued by the demons we call PTSD. The question of whether he had done enough, and what could he have done better constantly chewed him up.
Steven did not give in to his demons, even though they were with him to the very end. Instead he continued to study and further his knowledge of medicine.
He was actively involved in the Advanced Trauma Life Support program from the beginning, and trained other doctors who have in turn trained ever more doctors. It is reasonable to assume that many thousands of lives have been saved and that casualties have been enabled to recover from their injuries much more easily than had previously been the case.
At Heartlands he worked to get the fracture Clinic built, complete with a Helicopter Pad on the roof.
As a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon he gave many, many people their mobility back and relieved them from years of pain and swallowing tablets.
As if this was not enough, he did a lot of research into PTSD and published an article in the British Medical Journal about his own experience.
Throughout the 36 years since the Falklands Conflict he has supported many of our former comrades, who’s PTSD had brought them into conflict with the authorities.
He was involved in the Class Action by Falklands veterans versus HM Government, over ‚their duty of care to soldiers’.
Steven also did charitable work with Pathways, supporting veterans with PTSD.
This is why Steven’s family have chosen ‘Combat Stress’ to be the beneficiary of todays collection. So please give generously to support people, like Steven, who’s battle is not over, even though their military combat has long since ended.
This Chapel, in which we now celebrate and remember Steven, was built and dedicated to those who lost their lives around those far away islands in 1982.
But let us not forget those, like Steven, who carry the scars, both physical and mental, as a direct result of their service to their country, for the rest of their lives.
Let us also not forget to thank those that maintain and administer this Chapel on our behalf, and those that have enabled us to recognized Steven in this way.
We, who knew Steven, never had anything less than the highest regard for him; professionally and as a person. It is to me tragic that the one person who did not recognize his worth, his own skill, and the high regard, in which we all held him, was Steven himself.
May he now forever Rest in Peace. May he long be remembered by his family, by us his friends and comrades, and by the generations to come as a fine Doctor and brave Warrior, who served his country at a critical moment and who contributed to the history of the Parachute Regiment, as well as saving the lives and limbs of so many of his fellow Human Beings.
I hope that you all don't mind my sharing my personal memories of a dear friend. As is now fitting this link is, like Steven, being laid to rest.