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Penal Company on the Falklands (Paperback)

A Memoir of the Parachute Regiment at War 1982

Military > Post-WWII Warfare > Falklands Military > Regimental History P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Philip Neame, Foreword by Lt Gen Sir Cedric Delves
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos
ISBN: 9781399070751
Published: 21st May 2024


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On 1 April 1982 the Argentinian junta invaded the Falkland Islands, while the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment was on leave. Recalled to barracks, it joined the hastily assembled task force to recover the Islands. No parachutes – instead a journey of 8000 miles on a North Sea ferry to deliver the battalion into battle. Philip Neame commanded D Company, one of the battalion’s three 100-strong rifle companies, and in this compelling book he tells their story.

2 PARA was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel ‘H’ Jones, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross at the Battle of Goose Green. After winning the first major land battle on the Falklands, 2 PARA were the only battalion to fight two, going on to fight at Wireless Ridge, the final gateway to Port Stanley. D Company played the decisive role, but, in the closing moments, suffered a deadly artillery barrage – from their own guns.

D Company was the Cinderella of 2 PARA, at the back for everything: on training, always in reserve; in barracks, the parking lot for those who proved too troublesome for A and B. It was nicknamed ‘Penal Company’.

This searingly honest but humorous account explores the realities of war – the tightrope between success and disaster, comedy and tragedy; the strength of companionship and the solitude of fear.

Above all, it is a tribute to a band of brothers who, taking their nickname as a badge of honour, fought, cursed and laughed together, to win through on those ‘ringing plains of windy Troy.’

In 1982, Philip Neame was in command of D company, 2 Para when the Falklands war broke out. This is his memoir of that struggle- and it's a real pleasure to read. Lt. Col. Neame is a mountain climber and businessman now, but back in the day he was leading a bit of a wild bunch, nicknamed the "Penal company" and home to some soldiers with discipline records. But while he's being honest about his "Toms" (Tommy Adkins is the UK's older version of "GI Joe") and their foibles - the love he has for them jumps off every page as they get to the Falklands, witness the savage Argentinian air attacks- and then move inland. These are some of the men who took Darwin and Goose Green- so it gets pretty hot fast- and then races (at the slow walking pace needed without Helicopters) to the next action- Wireless Ridge. This is life at the sharp end- in charge of about 100 lads- trying to keep them alive and take every objective you've been assigned- and Neame shows you how you never have enough information or communication- and you have to make do and win through. He's always aware of the potential deadliness of the Argentinians- always trying to retain control of disparate elements- fire support- HQ- and his platoon and Squad leaders- in a truly chaotic situation. It is very compelling.

This is a unit that suffered a "Blue on Blue" casualty- what we in America call "Friendly Fire"- and his telling of that harrowing story is an important passage. A novice "Forward Observer" - his artillery liaison, had failed to understand D Company had taken the next to last Objective without a fight- and called down fire that landed amongst the Paras- instead of the last objective as Neame had requested. You are right there seething with rage alongside your author- feeling his profound sadness to lose his guys. But also needing to get the lads moving again to take that last collection of trenches- after the Royal Artillery does its job properly. The elation at a pivotal victory (Wireless Ridge was one of the last straws that broke Argentinian resolve)- the crushing weight of command and the team with casualties. I thought Neame's book a perfect foil to Julian Thompson's No Picnic- the Memoir by the Land Forces Commander.

There are some adult themes, coarse language, and some graphic injury descriptions so this is best read by the Junior Reader over 13/14 years. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast- this is an amazing resource. The gamer has a Company Commander tell you every move they made in the Falklands. there are maps and diagrams - and orders of battle in the back that will aid any scenario/campaign development. The modeler gets a tonne of diorama and build ideas- as well as some good pics both B/w and colour to peruse and use. The Military Enthusiast sits at the shoulder of lower level command in a Cold War era conflict in a way you seldom see. I think this book will be part of the Falklands Canon from now on- its that good a read.

GOODREADS REVIEW by Martin Koenigsberg

Timely publication of this 2 Para memoir, forty years after a small but determined British force set sail for the Falkand Islands and sent the invaders on their way. Philip Neame was there and this is his account of 2 Para's part in that conflict.
Well written, fast-paced and compelling. Some of the photos will be familiar to many, but there are also photos which have never been seen before, and the captions are highly illustrative.

Well done, Philip Neame, and thank you to you, 2 Para and the Falklands taskforce.

5 out 5

Amazon Customer, Paul Nixon

Review as featured in

Highlight: '...this work, which adds a sense of irony and humour well brought to numerous descriptions... It deserves to be especially noted the last chapter, which the author dedicates, with crushing sincerity, to how difficult it was to return to peacetime, to routine missions, to deal with the then little-recognized still post traumatic stress and dealing with small victories and injustices from day to day.'

Desperta Ferro

Out of the very many books written about war and warfare only a notable few stand with real credibility, and truly take the reader into the mind and environment of the writer. Penal Company is one such. It deserves to be ranked as a classic of its type. On reading this you are taken into the confines of D Company 2 PARA, its character, its professionalism and the exceptional leadership of its commander.

David Cooper, Chaplain of 2 PARA 1980 - 84

Frank and gripping, but also moving and reflective, Philip Neame’s memoir is an insight into the realities of intense combat and its aftermath. Above all, it is fitting testimony to the spirit of the young recruits of the Parachute Regiment, and of the
company he commanded during the Falklands war.

Professor Helen Parr, author of Our Boys – The Story of a Paratrooper (Allen Lane 2018)

By far the best book I have read about the true realities of combat during the Falkland Island War. Self deprecating, thoughtful and funny, it is impossible toput down ‘Penal Company’ whilst
reading Philip Neame’s gripping account of D
Company’s battles of Goose Green and Wireless Ridge. At a time, when so much emphasis is being placed on high technology to win wars, Philip Neame clearly demonstrates that it is actually the fighting spirit and humour of the soldier that
succeeds when all else fails.

General Sir Michael Rose KCB, CBE, DSO, QGM

Beyond the subject, which is very interesting, it's one of the best I have read in a very long time. Not only the combat description, but also the doubts and challenges mentioned, the assessments of battles and leaders, the personal impressions and the final chapter are worthy of the (or at least, humbly, my) highest praise. All this, with a great narrative rhythm.

Javier Veramendi, editor of the Desperta Ferro Journal

An enjoyable book, well written that found me engrossed and living the story.

4.5 stars out of 5

Read the full review here

ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

Competition as featured in

The Guernsey Press and Star

As featured in: 'Words of War'

The Guernsey Press and Star

“One of the finest Falklands accounts, written by a man who was in the heart of the action. Phil Neame brings alive both the grit of the men at the sharp end, and the decision making of their commanders.”

Dan Snow, Popular Historian and Television Presenter

About Philip Neame

Philip Neame served for six years in the RAF Regiment and twenty years in the Parachute Regiment. In 1982 he was commanding D Company, a rifle company in 2 PARA, under Lieutenant Colonel ‘H’ Jones who won the VC at Goose Green during the Falklands War. Phil led his company through a number of engagements against Argentinian forces and was Mentioned in Dispatches. He left the army as a lieutenant colonel in 1994 and went into business. Before leaving, he established the Ulysses Trust, which provides financial support to encourage members of the Volunteer Reserve and Cadet Forces to undertake expeditions. He is now deputy chairman of the Trust, and spends much of his time helping to run and raise money for it. His lifelong passion has been mountaineering and he has taken part in several expeditions to the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. His honeymoon was an expedition to China in 1981, shortly before the Falklands War.

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