ANDREW HITCHON meets the retired York military policeman who 25 years ago had the daunting job of disarming 11,500 Argentine soldiers at the end of the Falklands War.

"THERE were thousands of Argentine soldiers, who at that time were still fully-armed," Allan Barley recalls.

"Some were quite excited, some had bullets in the breeches of their guns and primed grenades in their belts, and the thought crossed my mind, as I put my feet on the ground in Stanley: If one of these guys wants to go out in a blaze of glory, he will blow us all away.' It was an unpredictable and volatile situation, no doubt about that."

Allan, then a captain in the Royal Military Police (RMP), had just stepped off a Sea King helicopter onto the lawn of Government House in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands.

It was 8am on June 15, 1982, and the Argentine forces in and around the town had surrendered to the British only hours before.

But the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment had been kept on the outskirts of Port Stanley. This made sense to Allan, as it avoided any potential reaction from the Argentines if the British troops had moved into the town too soon.

"Even so, it was a bit daunting," he says. "Initially, for a short period, apart from Major-General Moore's surrender party, the RMP were the only British military personnel in the town."

Things were not about to get any less daunting. He found the headquarters of land force commander Major-General Jeremy Moore, to be told: "What we need, Allan, is all those Argentines disarmed, searched and documented."

With help from the marines and paras, the Argentines were lined up in groups of 200. They were disarmed, with Allan having to unload some of the guns himself, then thoroughly searched, with any items which might possibly be used as weapons - even bunches of keys - taken away and put into "mountains" of gear, piled up around Port Stanley.

One thing the RMP couldn't be sure of was whether the items they had taken from the prisoners had been looted from islanders' homes. Certainly the Argentine conscripts seemed to have acquired an awful lot of torches.

So later on, they invited the islanders to try and identify their property. That still left huge piles of stuff no one wanted - so it was put in containers and dumped at sea.

Then there was the task of documenting the prisoners. This was easier said than done, and not just because of the huge numbers.

There was the language barrier, with the Spanish speakers in the task force, and English-speaking Argentine officers, brought in to help. And, bizarre as it seems now, Allan found he had virtually nothing on which to record the prisoners' details.

So he was forced to use anything he could - literally the backs of cigarette packets in some cases - to scribble down the mass of information. All this was going on in the open air, as the South Atlantic winter drew in.

Allan and his team worked in shifts, day and night, for a week, in their efforts to get the prisoners processed so they could be sent home as quickly as possible. In some parts of the islands, prisoners had to be kept in sheep-shearing sheds before they could be repatriated.

He estimates they dealt with 11,500 Argentines - a figure he accepts may be relatively rough, but the best they could do in the circumstances.

Already in charge of policing all task force personnel, Allan had his 17 "redcaps" sworn in as special constables, and took over himself as the "top cop" for the islands, overseeing civilians as well as servicemen.

The reason for this, he explains, was once the fighting was over and the troops settled to a more normal life, perhaps with a few beers now and then, the "normal problems" police deal with could result, and the RMP needed to have authority over everyone in case soldiers and civilians clashed.

In fact, with only one pub on the islands, and lots of work still to do, there was relatively little trouble.

Born in the Nunnery Lane area of York, Allan attended Scarcroft and Nunthorpe Schools, and later lived in Bolton Percy.

He had intended going into his uncle's button-making business in North Street, until that ambition went up in flames, along with his uncle's premises.

He was 19, many of his friends had been in apprenticeships for some time and, at a little under the regulation height of 5ft 10ins, he wasn't tall enough to join the local police, a career which seemed worthwhile to him. He was passing the Army recruitment office in York, spotted an RMP display, and joined up in November 1961.

His career took him across the UK, and to Germany, Hong Kong, where he encountered serious disturbances at the time of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in mainland China, and Northern Ireland.

He was in Ulster at the time of the assassination of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, and the bomb attack at Warrenpoint shortly afterwards, in which 18 soldiers died.

Allan rose from the rank of private to become the RMP's youngest regimental sergeant-major, both in age and years of service. He served in that role for 15 years before being commissioned as an officer in 1980. He also played football and cricket for the Army, and cricket for the Combined Services.

In 1982, he held the dual roles of second-in-command and operations officer of the RMP element of 5 Infantry Brigade at Aldershot, when news came through that Argentina had invaded the Falklands.

5 Infantry Brigade had an "out of area" role, though in the end only its paratroop battalions sailed with the task force, being joined by Guards battalions and Gurkhas.

Allan set out on the QEII, the only RMP officer heading south. He landed on the beach at San Carlos overnight on June 1 and 2, shortly after the paras took Goose Green.

The RMP set up an information post on the beach to direct troops to where they should be, and also had the task of marshalling helicopters bringing essential supplies into what became known as "Bomb Alley". Allan recalls: "We only had eight hours of daylight, and in those eight hours the Argentine air force was attacking us."

On June 8, Allan had set off for Fitzroy and Bluff Cove to discuss setting up a prisoner-of-war cage, when his helicopter turned back to San Carlos. The task force ships the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram had been bombed.

The next day, Allan recalls, things were "chaotic", with the ships still burning. "But again, out of adversity came heroes, and everyone who was based there, especially the medics, did a fantastic job."

A few days after that came the British victory, and the new headaches it brought for Allan and his RMP contingent.

Allan left the islands in August, 1982, but his Falklands-related duties were not quite over. The commanding officer of the Welsh Guards had asked him to speak to the family of Andrew Walker, a young guardsman from York who was killed on the Sir Galahad. "They had received the news, but he wanted someone to speak to them who had been in the conflict. It wasn't easy."

Allan retired from the Army in 1984, then worked as an administrator for the Royal Army Medical Corps. He retired from that post in 2002, and moved back to York with his wife, June, in 2003. He lives in the Stockton Lane area, and many family members are still living in and around the city. But he is also being kept busy in his "second" retirement, for he is now national events co-ordinator for the Royal Military Police Association.

And the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War is being marked this year. Allan has already attended some get-togethers, and will be going to Horse Guards in London on June 17 for the big memorial event. "It will be massive, and a marvellous opportunity to meet old friends."

Looking back, Allan has mixed feelings about the Falklands War. He thinks it was right to fight for the islands, and with hindsight he would not have missed the experience. "But you can never lose sight of the fact that some awful things happened, and part of you wishes it had never happened."