Lance Corporal Bill Bentley, a medic assisting Hughes, was learning this firsthand as, with a medical pack on his back and Sterling sub-machine gun slung over his shoulder, he went out into the fighting to find casualties.
‘You’re driven on by the thought that your mates are out there, dying and injured,’ he said.
One of those he brought back was an old friend, his brains blown out. As he carried a corner of the poncho in which the body was laid, Bentley’s knee kept banging against the dead soldier’s slumped head. It made a hollow, knocking sound he would never be able to erase from his memory.
On another foray, he leapt into an enemy trench and felt a body beneath a tarpaulin move under his feet. The soldier in him outweighed the medic and he fired into the bundle. This was no time to take chances.
But he did just that with another Argentinian soldier, a youngster shot through the leg and in deep shock.
‘He made no aggressive gestures, so I hoisted him over my shoulder and carried him to our own lines,’ he said.
Only later did he stop to consider that the enemy dangling down his back could have snatched his bayonet and killed him.
Even braver was his rescue of Private Dave ‘Chopsey’ Gray, who was bleeding to death in no-man’s-land after a mortar shell had practically torn off his right leg, shattered the other and filled him with shrapnel. Bob Cole, one of Gray’s mates, distraught and in tears, managed to reach the aid post to beg for help. ‘No problem, I’ll go,’ said Bentley.
He ducked down and followed Cole up a hill and through a gap in a stone wall. They could see Chopsey 25 yards away on the other side of the slope, lying in a shallow crater in a pool of his own blood and fully exposed to the enemies’ guns. Bentley crept down to him.
Para legend has it that when Gray was hit, he shouted: ‘I’ve lost me f***ing leg!’ One of his mates behind a nearby tussock replied: ‘No, you haven’t, Chopsey. It’s just landed over here.’
In fact, it was still attached, though not by much. When Bentley reached him, he realised that a desperate situation called for desperate measures. ‘I would have to amputate what was left of his right leg.’
He took out his Swiss Army knife, one blade of which he kept razor sharp for emergencies. Lying flat as bullets flew over his head, he sliced away the flesh and sinew, which was all that was keeping the leg attached.
Gray ‘just cringed’ at this battlefield amputation without anaesthetic — shock must have gone some way to dull the pain.
The medic was tourniqueting the stump when a stretcher party came racing across the hillside towards him. The enemy fire intensified and more bullets peppered into the peat.
‘The hill seemed to be exploding. It felt as if the whole Argentinian army was opening up at us,’ said Bentley.
The rescue team threw Gray on to the stretcher and, not forgetting the severed leg, ran back up the hill, chased by a line of bullets detonating in the dirt behind them like fireworks.
Back at the aid post, Hughes fought desperately to save the wounded soldier, who had lost so much blood that the doctor couldn’t find a vein in his deathly white skin. He had to cut away with a scalpel to make an opening for fluids.
Hughes put him at the top of the queue for immediate evacuation by helicopter. ‘But I didn’t hold out too much hope for his survival,’ he said.
Bentley helped lift the man he had risked his life to save into a casualty pod on the chopper’s side. The sawn-off remnant of his leg went, too.
‘I don’t think it was until that moment that he realised exactly what had happened,’ said Bentley. ‘He just stared at it.
‘I hugged him, gave him a kiss and said: “You’ll be all right.” Then I closed the top of the pod and they flew him out.’
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