Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, is relaying his experiences of the Battle of Two Sisters – a decisive engagement in June 1982 that came just days before Argentina surrendered and the Falklands War ended. With the 40th anniversary approaching, Brown is starting to look back on his experiences in the Falklands once more. 

“I probably don’t talk much about it,” Brown tells us. “Unless I’m meeting up with people who were there. I suppose it tends to be a kind of shorthand – if somebody else was there, they know certain things, you don’t have to go over them.” 

That’s not to suggest that his time served on the Falklands as a mortar troop signaller has been put to the back of his mind. His experiences in the Forces encouraged Brown to put himself forward as Veterans Minister in 2011, a position he was reappointed to last year. His motivation, he says, is not to give veterans an advantage over everyone else, but to ensure they do not suffer any disadvantage from having served. 

Signing up to the Royal Marines was never part of the plan for Brown. “I had lost a job and I wanted to get fit, so I thought I’d try the Armed Forces. The first recruitment office I went into was on Lothian Road, in Edinburgh, which was a Navy recruitment office. There was no big family tradition, it was just something that I did at the time.” 

Most of his memories of the Falklands War, which lasted from 2 April until 14 June 1982, are the key moments: the journey there, the Battle of Two Sisters and the return to Scotland. Brown was part of the 45 Commando battalion and says the first indication of trouble he got was when all the battalion’s leave was cancelled. Even on the way to the Falklands, it was assumed that a diplomatic solution between the UK and Argentina would be found, and the troops would be sent back home without having ever reached their intended destination.


This idea evaporated when 45 was told to land on East Falkland – “It was meant to happen at night but for various reasons it was still going on in broad daylight” – and march their way right across the island. Their arrival was met by small arms fire and air attacks, and Brown wryly admits that they had been promised “total air superiority” but actually suffered repeat air attacks.


When 45 reached Two Sisters ridge, they were met with artillery, mortar and anti-tank rounds. “Halfway up the hill, we’d gone to ground – as you would do with all this going through you,” says Brown. “And it was a bit like a Western movie. There were bullets between me and the troop commander’s head and you could feel the air displacement. And then we were told to go forward, and it was right into the teeth of all this stuff.”


The battle ended and other than hot shrapnel burning through some of his denims, Brown was unharmed. Because they had had to trek the length of the island, the 45 were offered the first trip home. For Brown, this was an unexpected relief. “There was a massive naval jamboree in Portsmouth when all the fleet came back,” Brown says. “We didn’t come back that way, we got an RAF BC 10 that took us back. So we came in at eight o’clock in the morning to Leuchars – there was fog, mist and a piper. And you can imagine why that’d be much more acceptable, if you think about the families who have lost people, rather than being part of a jamboree down in Portsmouth.” 

What role does he play in supporting veterans today? “I think the first thing to say is the Scottish Government has no statutory responsibilities and receives no money to do anything for veterans,” he explains, before offering a whistlestop tour of the Scottish Government’s achievements in this area. The fact that there is a Veterans Minister at all is one such highlight, as is the establishment of a Veterans Commissioner. Applying pressure on the MoD in terms of education and employment, health and housing is another. 

“If you get those things sorted when you come out of the military, then you’ve got a good chance of cracking on,” Brown says. He details how someone who has served for a long time can find the transition to civilian life difficult. “Sometimes scarier than getting shot at is the idea of having to deal with Council Tax,” he adds, raising the idea that without proper support for veterans, difficulties in adjusting can lead to alcoholism, drug addiction or mental health problems. 

Brown is keen to acknowledge the role that Legion Scotland and Poppyscotland play in supporting veterans across the country and advocating for their members. “For a government which doesn’t have powers that Westminster has, to have partners like Poppyscotland and Legion Scotland has been absolutely crucial to what we’ve achieved over the years.”


This is an adapted version of an article that appeared in the Spring/Summer 2022 edition of Legion Scotland Today.