‘We will always remember our friends’

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THEY came from all over the country in remembrance, sadness and pride to pay their respects and honour their fallen friends and comrades.

More than 200 Falklands veterans yesterday marched stoically through Old Portsmouth in a poignant tribute to the men who never returned home from war.

POIGNANT Portsmouth Cathedral is packed for the remembrance service.  (121591-2)

POIGNANT Portsmouth Cathedral is packed for the remembrance service. (121591-2)

The conflict 30 years ago may have lasted just 74 days, but the memories will never fade for this band of brothers.

They sailed 8,000 miles to fight for the freedom of a far-flung piece of British land.

Many of them were mere youngsters in their late teens and 20s when the call came.

To borrow the old Nelson adage, England expected.

SOLEMN Mike Norman OBE, centre, lays the HMS Sheffield poppy wreath, with fellow veterans.  (121591-8)

SOLEMN Mike Norman OBE, centre, lays the HMS Sheffield poppy wreath, with fellow veterans. (121591-8)

And those young men delivered – at a terrible cost of 253 British lives – a victory.

Wearing their war medals with pride, the survivors stood solemn as wreaths were laid at the memorial plaque near the Square Tower.

It followed an emotional remembrance service at nearby Portsmouth Cathedral, which was packed full with standing room only at the back.

With the wreaths laid, it was time for these brave men to puff out their chests and march back up the High Street – the spitting rain providing cover for any damp eyes.

Among them was a strong contingent of sailors from HMS Sheffield, who 30 years ago were reeling from the loss of 20 of their number in an Argentine missile attack.

Recalling the horror of May 4 1982, radar operator Bob Mullen, 53, said: ‘I will never forget my friends who died.

‘It’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life. It’s always in the back of your mind every day.’

Commander Mike Norman, 63, who was second-in-command of the stricken warship, travelled from Yeovil to be there yesterday.

He said: ‘There’s a strange mixture of feelings. It feels good because there’s so many people here I haven’t seen for such a long time. But also I’m thinking about the people who are no longer with us, and their widows and families.’

Hundreds of people turned out on the Old Portsmouth streets to watch the parade and give the veterans a huge round of applause.

‘What they did has gone down in history,’ said David Cole, 47, of Milton, who was there with his partner Debbie Burns, 41, and children Christopher, seven, and Oliver, three.

He added: ‘I was 18 at the time. A lot of my friends went down there and a lot came back. I was brought up around here so I remember it well.

‘I realise how important these men are and there should be more done for them.’

The veterans were joined by a procession of Portsmouth city leaders, including the Lord Mayor Cllr Cheryl Buggy who was performing her last civic duty before she hands over the role next week. She said: ‘It was a wonderful service. Portsmouth did the memory of the Falklands proud. It was a great honour to be here to look back. It’s just amazing how quickly 30 years have passed by.’

Representing the Royal Navy at the event was deputy fleet commander Vice-Admiral Philip Jones, who served in the war as a 22-year-old Sub-Lieutenant in HMS Fearless.

He said: ‘Today has brought back very poignant memories for me, and it’s a brilliant how the Royal Navy, the church and Portsmouth authorities came together to do this. It shows the special bond we have with this city.’

Falklands flagship chaplain leads service

THIRTY years ago, Canon Roger Devonshire was the naval chaplain aboard HMS Hermes, the flagship of the Task Force in the Falklands.

Yesterday, he gave an address to the service of remembrance at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral.

He told the congregation: ‘We are here in remembrance to those who lost their lives and those whose lives are scarred by the loss of those that they held dear.’

Afterwards, he told The News: ‘It was a great privilege to be here and to be invited to give the address.

‘It brought back memories of getting very close to people and the questions I was asked at the time.

‘The thing I was most conscious of today was the sense of camaraderie here.

‘The cathedral was full and there was a tangible sense of everyone being joined together by a common experience. The war may have lasted just a few months, but the affect on people’s lives has been immense.

‘People are still living with the memories and they are not memories that you can walk away from. That’s why this was a very important thing to do.’

Islander reads a prayer

A FALKLAND Islander yesterday led tributes to Britain’s armed forces who liberated her home.

Professor June Purvis, who was born in Port Stanley, read a prayer at the remembrance service at Portsmouth Cathedral in Old Portsmouth.

She had moved to Portsmouth in 1972 – a decade before Argentina invaded.

But she remains grateful that Britain took back the territory and freed her family and friends who were invaded.

She said: ‘I feel very proud and I’d like to give thanks to the people of Portsmouth and all the armed forces that helped liberate the islands.

‘I still know a lot of people living there, obviously, and they all think of themselves as very British.

‘They were all horrified that Argentina invaded and they are very grateful to all those who liberated the islands.’

Prof Purvis, who lives in Farlington, is Professor of Women’s and Gender History at the University of Portsmouth.

She said: ‘I feel honoured to have been asked to read a prayer today.

‘I was quite nervous about it to be honest, but it was a good way of honouring all those people who died and all those who suffered horrific injuries to free the Falkland Islands.’

Also present at the Falklands 30 service was Portsmouth City Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

He said: ‘It’s a day to remember the people who sailed from this city to defend the Falklands and to defend people’s right to choose who governs them.

‘It’s right that we remember them in Portsmouth. This is where the Task Force left from and this is the home of the Royal Navy.

‘We need to remember conflicts this way – not just the ones from history but also the ones we’re involved in today.

‘There are brave people who do not come home from war and people grieve for them each and every day.’