Mother of dead Falklands soldier: ‘I think of all the things I miss every day’

Debbie Pick (right), the sister of Private Neil Grose who died in the Falklands, with their mum Ann Townsend
Debbie Pick (right), the sister of Private Neil Grose who died in the Falklands, with their mum Ann Townsend
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The scenes of jubilation summed up the mood of the country.

MPs cheered in the House of Commons as the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, announced Argentina had surrendered to British forces on the Falklands Islands.

Private Neil Grose

Private Neil Grose

After months of bloodshed and worry it was the news that everyone had been waiting for.

More than 900 people had lost their lives since the first British warships reached the remote UK territory on April 22 – 20 days after Argentina invaded South Georgia.

For the many families with loved ones involved in the conflict, June 14, 1982, was the day of joy, pride and immense relief.

But for Ann Townsend the date marks the day she was dealt the news she’d dreaded to hear – her son had been killed in action.

Private Neil Grose, of Gosport, was shot dead in the early hours of his 18th birthday during the Battle of Longdon.

On June 11, he and his comrades from Third Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) came under heavy fire as they bravely attempted to storm an Argentine gun position.

Neil was shot in the chest and died three hours later in the arms of one of his friends on the freezing hillside.

Ann, who was a nurse at the time, didn’t find out about his death until the morning of June 14.

Now the grieving mum has told of her 30-year struggle to come to terms with losing her son in the Falklands Conflict.

‘It started just like any other day,’ she remembers.

‘I was due to go to work at midday so I had gone to get the shopping in and when I came back a neighbour said “there’s been an army chap at the door”.

‘I thought Neil had been injured because we were led to believe that when there’s one at the door it’s an injury and two if he’s been killed.

‘He was a young captain from St Georges Barracks and he must have been hovering somewhere waiting for me because he came and knocked the door again pretty soon after I got in.

‘I can’t really remember the exact words, but he said something like “I’m sorry but your son has been killed in action in the Falkland Islands”.’

In that moment, Ann knew her life had changed forever.

As she dabs away at tears, the 72-year-old recalls: ‘The frustrating thing was he couldn’t tell us how or where or when, or whether he had suffered. He had no details at all.

‘It was strange. There was nothing to do because they’d buried him there in the Falklands, so it was not like I had to arrange a funeral or anything.

‘One of the hardest parts, being in Gosport, was seeing all the navy chaps coming back from the war soon afterwards and everyone going to see the ships come in and all the flags. It was all around us.’

The last time Ann had spoken to her son was shortly before Neil left for the Falklands aboard SS Canberra in April 1982.

She says: ‘Initially, when he went to the Falklands I was not that worried.

‘I was more worried about his brother Mark, who was also a soldier, and was serving in Ireland at the time where pretty horrific things were happening.

‘I never thought it was going to end up the way it did.’

The family had moved to Gosport from the West Country in 1972 when Neil was only eight years old.

He went to the town’s Leesland Junior School and St Vincent Secondary School, now a sixth-form college, before signing up to join the British Army at Portsmouth careers office at the age of 16.

At midday on Monday, Neil’s former school friends joined his relatives at St Vincent College to rededicate a tree that was planted in his memory in the school grounds in September 1982.

It was a poignant moment during an important week for Neil’s family as they look back on the loss of the young man they lost so tragically.

Ann, who is a trustee of the South Atlantic Medals Association and draws on her experience in her role as a volunteer bereavement counsellor for The Rowans Hospice in Purbrook, says she thinks of Neil every day.

‘It could be a certain date or hearing a piece of music which sets you off – he liked Barry Manilow and John Denver,’ she adds. ‘It can be odd things really and you don’t really remember why.

‘I think of all the things I miss. I miss not seeing what he would have become the most.’

But despite the pain, Ann insists that she is not bitter about losing her son at such a tender age.

‘He was doing what he wanted to do and what he had been trained to do,’ she explains. ‘He was no more unlucky than any of the others who were killed.

‘There’s no bitterness there. The Falkland Islands are British territory, we needed to do what we needed to do. It would be like the French coming along and saying “the Isle of Wight is ours”.

‘I admire Margaret Thatcher for making the decisions she made. Unlike what’s going on in Afghanistan at the moment, where we are not achieving anything apart from losing loved ones.

‘When I hear on the radio or the television that another soldier has been killed, I think of the pain the family will be facing and how that will last forever.’

A SISTER’S STORY

Debbie Pick was only 14 when she lost her big brother Neil.

‘I remember coming home from school and walking past the front window and glancing in and seeing my mum in floods of tears,’ she says.

‘Dad met me at the back door and told me. For me, it did not sink in. I almost brushed it off.

‘I was being a typical teenager at the time, I guess. It didn’t hit me until around 10 years later when the first Gulf War happened. I had to have counselling because I was having nightmares.’

Describing Neil’s personality, she says: ‘He was very quiet. He kept himself to himself but he also had a lot of friends. For some reason everyone wanted to be his friend.

‘He was always the sensible one. He was good at athletics and he was a great swimmer. He also liked fishing and he wasn’t interested in girls or going out drinking.

‘I was shocked when he joined the army. He didn’t really seem the type. He was quiet and unassuming, but he excelled in the short time he was there. ‘He became Junior Sergeant during his training and sadly I think he would have gone far.’