Gosport veteran to attend Thatcher funeral

Derek "Smokey" Cole laying wreath at San Carlos cemetery.''Falklands Islands in 2005
Derek "Smokey" Cole laying wreath at San Carlos cemetery.''Falklands Islands in 2005
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HE MET Baroness Thatcher many times because of the part he played in the Falklands Conflict.

Now Derek ‘Smokey’ Cole said he is ‘honoured’ to have been invited to her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday.

The 57-year-old from Gosport is chief executive of the Falklands Veterans’ Foundation.

He will be among thousands of other people who will have travelled from across the world to attend the funeral of the former prime minister in London.

Mr Cole introduced Margaret Thatcher to many other veterans and family members when she visited the area, most recently on the 25th anniversary of the Falklands war in 2007.

He said: ‘It’s a true honour for me to be invited to St Paul’s Cathedral as one of the lucky few.

‘It will be a very emotional day.

‘It will be a real honour to be in there among some of the world’s greatest people.’

And Mr Cole said he was lucky to have known Lady Thatcher.

‘I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Thatcher on several occasions going back to 1997 on the 15th anniversary of the Falklands war,’ he said. ‘I also met her when I went to the British Forces Foundation Gala Dinner, which she was president of.

‘She was keen to meet as many of the veterans as she could.

‘Her main aim was to thank every one of the veterans for being a member of the task force back in 1982.

‘She was very sincere.

‘Some of the families who were there who had lost people during the war she met too.

‘She expressed her deepest sympathy.’

And he added he is looking forward to being able to pay his respects to Lady Thatcher.

‘My thoughts will be with her all the time,’ he said.

‘I’m sure I will reflect back on all the occasions that I had the pleasure of meeting Lady Thatcher.’

It comes as the Portsmouth-based Royal Marines Band will lead the procession at the funeral.

The procession goes from The Strand to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Another 700 members of the armed forces will line the route. Carrying the coffin will be a party made up of all three services, including those from ships, units and stations notable for their service during the Falklands campaign.