Falklands veteran Andy McGregor from Ashington to return to islands for marathon

Falklands veteran Andy McGregor from Ashington is to return to the islands for a marathon to raise money for three charities

Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities
Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities

Running a marathon is not something many of us would feel is beyond us.

Running a marathon at the age of 57 is something even more of us would find a less than appealing prospect.

Especially when the literature for said event warns that “gradients, wind and the threat of bad weather make this one of the toughest marathon courses!”

The concept of a 57 year old who is a war veteran running a marathon in such conditions is one most of us would find hard to believe.

Even more so perhaps when the event is taking place in the country in which that veteran served.

Yet it is the very fact that as a 57-year-old war veteran, he is able to run a marathon that has inspired Andy McGregor to participate.

Many war veterans carry the physical scars of battle which would render running 26 miles impossible. Not to mention the mental scars which might make returning to the land in which they fought unthinkable.

Andy considers himself fortunate to fall in neither category and is taking part in the event for those who are not so lucky.

He is raising money for charities which supports veterans of the conflict in which he served and ex-soldiers and their families.

Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities
Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities

The conflict in which Andy was involved was Margaret Thatcher’s war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands of 1982.

He was a troop commander in the royal engineers of the army and arrived in the war zone that May.

Andy’s duties were twofold. He was involved in creating landing strips for harrier aircraft and bringing fuel ashore for the planes.

But despite not being involved in hand-to-hand combat, Andy was never far away from the conflict - right from his arrival.

He recalls: “We sailed into San Carlos Water on May 24 in calm sunny weather and I remember thinking it looked like the Scottish Islands.

“There were many ships there from the large amphibious HMS Fearless, the Canbera, RFA tankers and stores ships and warships.

“The most alarming sight was HMS Antelope after a bomb exploded in her, starting a fire. We watched her break her back and sink. The reality hit home this wasn’t an exercise.

“We were still on board when Argentine Air Force jets came over low and fast.

“A few of our soldiers were manning the machine guns but most of us lay below deck out of the way as the air raid happened.

“I remember feeling rather helpless and wishing I was ashore invisible in the bushes, rather than in a very obvious target!

“One bomb hit the ship’s crane but caused very little damage.

“Whilst anchored in San Carlos Water she was hit by an Argentinian bomb which cut through her crane’s steel plating and then bounced into the sea before exploding and caused minor damage.

“We were lucky!

“All the squadron’s vehicles and our heavy equipment had been loaded onto the Atlantic Conveyor, together with the Chinook helicopters some Harriers and tons of other stores.

“We were all anxious to get ashore as soon as possible, so we could start to use the stores that had been landed to create a landing and re-fueling facility for the helicopters and harriers, we also would be much safer ashore, even if deprived of the comforts of ship!

“After some nervous waiting around on board the squadron was loaded onto a landing craft for the short trip to Green Beach at Port San Carlos settlement.”

Just as he landed, Andy found out that the Atlantic Conveyor had been hit by an Exocet missile.

“We never saw our vehicles and stores. We had to work with what little equipment there was and improvise.”

Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities
Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities

Yet that August, Andy was able to return home, unscathed.

After the war, the native of Merseyside went to university to train to become an optometrist, inspired by his wife Lucy who was already qualified as such.

The couple moved to Ashington to set up a practice together there, which they run to this day.

Andy has dabbled in politics as a Liberal Democrat while a resident of the town, landing a seat on the now defunct Wansbeck District Council by the toss of a coin after a dead heat in the ballot, and serving on Ashington Town Council.

He is involved with the Ashington Town Team which is striving to regenerate the community under the tutelage of Sir John Hall.

Andy, with Lucy and the couple’s 17 year old son A-Level student Hugh, returned to the Falklands for the first time for the 30the anniversary of the conflict in 2012.

It was he recalls a “great experience.”

“Compared to the recent conflicts the army have been in, the natives are incredibly friendly to the British in general.

“You can not really imagine wanting to be able to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan where you had served.

“When we went back they could not do enough to help us.”

The very fact it took him 30 years to return was because there was no need for him to do so.

“The memories I have got of the time are surprisingly good because it was a professionally fulfilling time and we were doing what we had trained for.

“People needed to go back to exorcise their demons. I did not have any demons to exercise.”

Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities
Ashington Optometrist and Falklands veteran Andy McGregor who is running a marathon back on the Island for three charities

Andy, who lives on Wansbeck Road, considers himself lucky in that respect. He believes himself to be fortunate too to have come through a war unwounded and without any lasting physical difficulties.

The fact he has run the Kielder Marathon the last two years, following a number of Great North Runs and two day mountain orienteering events over the years, illustrates the point.

For his fellow veterans who were not so lucky physically or mentally, Andy has decided to return to the Falklands a second time for the Stanley Marathon next month.

He is raising money for The South Atlantic Medal Association 1982 which supports veterans of the Falklands conflict and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity which helps ex-soldiers and their families regardless of when they served.

Given his new profession, Andy is also supporting a third charity, Seeing Is Believing, which seeks to end avoidable blindness and is the nominated charity of the event.

He is hoping to raise £1,000 for each cause.

Anyone who wants to sponsor Andy can visit http://www.justgiving.com/teams/andymcgregorstanleymarathon

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