Ian Uzzell started his Royal Marine life as a Marine Cadet in Lincoln in one of the first units to be formed, becoming the first Marine Cadet to qualify and be promoted Sergeant and then the first to gain a commission in the Royal Marines. He joined YO 23 batch at Lympstone in May 1961 and in November 1962 joined his first Rifle Troop in 40 Commando who were in Aden where the transfer of the two Commando Ships HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion was taking place. He was surprised to find that he was actually the youngest person in the troop. It was here that he had his first experience of flying in the left hand seat of a helicopter – a Whirlwind 7. He caused alarm and consternation to the pilot when he inadvertently clamped the cyclic between his knees whist changing the film on his new cine camera whilst low flying. En route to Singapore 40 Commando were informed of the troubles in Borneo and were sent to Kuching in the first Division, and thence to Tawau in North Borneo before returning to Burma Camp in Malaya. Easter 1963 found the Unit back in the First Division for a second tour.
After returning to UK to complete YO training he returned to the Far East in 1964 joining 42 Commando, and it was here that he volunteered for pilot training. Having passed the aptitude tests he started training at the Army Air Corps Centre Middle Wallop in March 1965. One week before he was due to qualify for his wings he became the first person to write off a Sioux helicopter, when he became disorientated on a night cross country flight in November 1965. Having recovered from his injuries he completed his training and was awarded the Army Flying Badge in March 1966. He joined 40 Commando in Burma Camp as third pilot with Roger Learoyd as Air Troop Commander and Lt Richard Persse, and almost immediately the Unit deployed to Simanggang in the Second Division of Borneo. Having been taught to avoid trees and water during his flying training he found his first operational flight was over 30 miles of sea followed by 30 miles of primary jungle. As well as being a pilot he was also given the job as 40 Commando Dog Officer. The guard and tracker dogs were based at the airfield next to the Air Troop. The 5 month tour saw the end of Confrontation. 40 Commando then moved to Dieppe Barracks in Singapore. Lt Uzzell qualified as an airborne FAC at this time.
In February 1967 he was posted to 45 Commando in Aden to take over Command of the Air Troop from Lt Mike Bennett with Lt John Frost and Sgt Derek Blevins as the other two pilots. Cpl John Gilbert was an observer in the Air Troop and later went on to qualify as a pilot. Having spent much time learning to fly and navigate over 200ft high trees he now had to learn to fly over desert and mountains and a whole new technique of landing and taking off in sandy conditions. One of the Sioux had been giving trouble and after a carburettor change was given a unique tie down test – 6 heavy marines standing on the skids provided the only means of holding it on the ground whilst the full power test was carried out. The next day as Derek Blevins was about to land that helicopter on a small area on the side of a wadi, there was a bang and the aircraft turned over and crashed.
Lt Uzzell’s training as an airborne FAC was put to the test shortly after that when an Engineer convoy was ambushed and he was tasked for a FAC mission in the Wadi Matlah. He found the enemy position as his Sioux was hit in the engine compartment and put in several Hunter cannon and rocket attacks. He claims to be the first Royal Marine Pilot to have a live operational FAC strike in his log book – with two confirmed kills. His passenger on that day was Lt John Meardon who later went on to qualify as a pilot. Sgts Watson and Mackie joined the Troop as Lt Frost and Sgt Blevins completed their tours. In August the Air Troop was tasked to fly for the Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders who had just moved into Crater City, and it was pointed out to Sgt Mackie that he could be the Scottish interpreter for the Troop – until Lt Uzzell was asked by the A&SH who “the American pilot was.” Lt Uzzell handed over command of the Air Troop to Lt Richard Hawkins in September 1967.
Shortly after returning to UK he joined 41 Commando Air Troop in 1968 taking over command from Lt Peter Cameron. His pilots were C/Sgt Pete Lawrence and Sgt Eaton. Shortly after his arrival he was sent to Netheravon to be given a VIP check so that he could fly Lord Mountbatten around the Unit area to observe training. Apart from UK exercises the Unit carried out a 5 month deployment to the Mediterranean. Lt Uzzell handed over command to Lt Peter Banks in August 1969.
Lt Uzzell then became 2i/c F Coy 41 Commando before retiring from the Corps in May 1971. In 1974 he joined Royal Marines Reserve Merseyside where he commanded Commando Company and Training Company before being promoted Major and becoming Second in Command of the unit. His experience of FAC led him to be offered the mobilisation task of assistant Brigade Air Support Officer and for 6 years that was his role for all the major Corps exercises. He retired in 1993 since when he has run his business, Vikingasaga, visiting primary schools as a Viking, and giving lectures and demonstrations to clubs societies and museums.
He lives with his wife Hazel in Southport