‘Thousands cheered... it was all very emotional’

REFLECTING Iain Shickle, now 64, in front of a picture of HMS Hermes at his Shropshire home
REFLECTING Iain Shickle, now 64, in front of a picture of HMS Hermes at his Shropshire home

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They came out in their tens of thousands as Britain teetered on the brink of going to war for the first time in a generation.

The crowds stretched far and wide; from Portsmouth Naval Base, the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth and all the way along Southsea seafront and Gosport on the opposite side as HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes sailed on a mission to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina.

GODSPEED HMS Hermes leaves for the Falklands 30 years ago today

GODSPEED HMS Hermes leaves for the Falklands 30 years ago today

After a frantic weekend of activity to prepare the ships, the Task Force was on its way.

Scenes that were almost unimaginable just a few days before were playing out in front of everyone’s eyes.

Recalling those historic moments 30 years ago today, Chief Petty Officer Iain Shickle said: ‘We were just coming out through the gap by the Round Tower and you could see all the people lining the seafront. There were thousands of them and they were cheering and waving.

‘I remember our loud speakers were blasting out Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and Sailing which was the old Ark Royal signature tune.

‘We’d never seen anything like it before and it was all very emotional for us.’

Like the many hundreds of sailors aboard the ships, the 34-year-old who lived in Paulsgrove had said goodbye to his wife and young children that morning not knowing for certain if he would ever see them again.

The Hermes marine engineering artificer watched in awe through a porthole as the flagship passed hundreds of banners wishing them well.

He said: ‘It was a tearful goodbye. People didn’t want to go to war, even though we’d been training for it ever since we’d joined the navy.

‘We had been through most of the Cold War but that had faded away quite a lot. Some people were asking “where are the Falkland Islands? Are they north of Scotland? What are the Argentinians doing up there?’’

‘At that point we didn’t really know what on earth was going to happen.

‘But the reaction we got from the people of Portsmouth and Gosport really did stay with us the whole time we were away. I’m certain their support and the support of the nation helped us pull through it all.’

Tom Gisby was on the Invincible which was the first ship to leave the harbour.

The marine engineer had only joined the carrier a few days before on March 30 but suddenly he found himself at the forefront of preparations for an all-out war.

He said: ‘It was very hectic because the ship when I joined was not fully stored. It didn’t have all the necessary items you need for going to sea, let alone fighting a war.

‘From that point until the day we sailed everything had to be brought on board. It was a fairly hectic few days getting all the gear in.

‘The first real break I had was as we sailed out of Portsmouth. It was an amazing sight. All you could see for miles were people and banners. It was rather strange. There were people everywhere – it was quite surreal. God knows how many people were along the waterfronts cheering us on.

‘At the time, I remember thinking “once we get out to sea and we’re on our way the Argies will think better of it and go back home”. That didn’t happen.’

Almost overnight, Portsmouth had found itself at the heart of a patriotic fervour which gripped the nation in these dark hours.

Portsmouth City councillor Jim Patey, who represented Fratton ward at the time, recalled the ‘buzz’.

He said: ‘People were pulling together and everyone seemed to have great expectations. We weren’t thinking about what possibly could go wrong, we were just getting behind the military.

‘The dockyard had gone into overdrive, working all the hours to get the ships ready.

‘It was an incredible moment in time and it proved the navy can always rely on Pompey people to pull out all the stops.’