Every spring, swathes of daffodils bloom around the south west side of Killingworth Lake; a sight local residents will be very familiar with, while perhaps being unaware of the reason they are there. Despite growing up in the area and moving back there several years ago, I had no idea of the poignant story behind their appearance four decades ago.
They were planted in October 1982 as a living memorial to Lance Corporal Colin Davison of the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines, killed in an enemy bombing raid on Ajax Bay (East Falkland) on 27 May 1982 during the Falklands War.
Lcpl Davison (PO37269B) was born on October 9 1960, and grew up in Garth 9, Killingworth prior to joining the Corps. Known as ‘George’ (still a common nickname for Geordies serving in the military) to his bootneck pals, he was engaged at the time of his deployment to the South Atlantic, which came after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on 2 April 1982.
His closest friend, Marine Ronnie Dunnett, recalled how:
“Colin was a Lance Corporal, which he was very proud to be. He had big plans in the Corps and he was fully intending to spend his full 22 year career in the Royal Marines. He often forced his point of view on me about promotion and the need to gain rank as he wanted to be a Sergeant Major.”
Sadly, Lcpl Davison’s dreams of a long and successful career in the Royal Marines were left unfulfilled. The bombing raid in which he lost his life came less than a week after the amphibious landings by 3 Commando Brigade in San Carlos Water on 21 May and the subsequent establishment of the Brigade Maintenance Area (BMA) at Ajax Bay. The area where the landings took place came under constant enemy air attack, as the Argentine forces attempted to disrupt the supply of equipment and provisions to the forces ashore. The 27 May attack on the BMA destroyed a significant number of rounds of mortar and artillery ammunition as well as causing a number of casualties, of which Lcpl Davison was one.
Following the landings, the UK forces advanced eastwards towards the capital, Stanley. After a number of gruelling battles for key positions, by 11 June they were in a position to begin the final assault that would lead to the Argentine surrender on 14 June. In all, the conflict lasted for 74 days from the original invasion to the surrender of the Argentine forces.
Back in the UK, Lcpl Davison’s family arranged to plant thousands of daffodils at Killingworth Lake, a place where Colin spent many happy hours. His sister Catherine recalls:
“My parents chose the daffodils because Colin was a keen fisherman, and spent hours and hours sitting fishing the lake in all winds and weathers. And of course the daffodils bloom anew every year, so it was a living memorial to him. They also lived very close to the lake in what was then Garth 9, and could see the daffodils from the upstairs windows of their house. The original memorial stone was damaged, as it wasn’t very visible- I remember Dad trying to file it to remove damage done by horses’ hooves.”
Eventually, the plaque was rededicated by North Tyneside Council in November 2005, and now resides at the Jigsaw Memorial at the White Swan Centre in Killingworth. The new plaque reads:
‘In Memory of Colin Davison Royal Marines Killed in Action San Carlos Bay Falkland Islands May 27 1982’.
“When all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils: Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze” (William Wordsworth 1807)
The daffodils remain decades later, and in spring they produce a carpet of green and yellow in the south west corner of the park at the southern end of the lake.
2022 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands War, and a series of memorials and other events are planned both in the UK and the remote, windswept group of islands in the South Atlantic. They will mark the sacrifice made by the 255 UK service personnel who were killed while liberating the islands in a war that also cost 649 Argentine lives. With the war still very much within living memory for many, including Lcpl Davison’s surviving family, it promises to be a time of reflection and commemoration. If you visit Killingworth Lake in the spring, enjoy the natural spectacle of the daffodils and remember a local lad who didn’t return home.
(Marine Ronnie Dunnett’s quotes are reproduced with the permission of the South Atlantic Medal Association 1982, from their Garden of Remembrance // sama82.org.uk)