The accolades – the highest honour Portsmouth can bestow – were presented to all veterans of the conflict as well as members of military charities the Royal Naval Association, Royal Marines Association and the Association of Wrens.
Chief Petty Officer Alan ‘Sharkey’ Ward, who is one of Britain's longest-serving sailors, collected the freedom of the city on behalf of all Falklands veterans.
The 61-year-old, who will retire from the navy on June 9, 2024, having helped treat horrifically burnt sailors and soldiers on HMS Herald during the Falklands War, said: ‘To receive the freedom of the city scroll was such an honour. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’
Sharkey, who has his fifth and final ‘swansong’ deployment to the Falklands coming up next year, added the thoughts of all the 255 British military characters was a trauma that remains as painful now as it has ever been.
‘This scroll isn’t just for all the veterans who were here today but it is for those who never made it back, too,’ he said. ‘They all get the freedom of the city because we carry them around with us all the time in our hearts.’
The presentation of the freedom scroll to the Association of Wrens also left the charity’s trustee, Lyn Gannon bursting with pride.
She said: ‘This means everything to the association. It means the world to us. The fact that for once the Wrens have been noticed and honoured is incredible.’
Lyn served during the Falklands War in HMS Drake, Plymouth, working in the families’ information cell.
She had to deal with scores of distraught people desperately trying to find out if their loved ones were still alive following the destruction of HMS Sheffield, Coventry, Ardent, Antelope and RFA Sir Gallahad.
‘I had to deal with 23 different discharge papers – it was not a nice time,’ she said. ‘It was so hard, especially when you couldn’t say anything.
‘People were phoning in and you knew their family member hadn’t made it because you had the paperwork in front of you but you just couldn’t say anything about it. That was very difficult.
‘I’ll never forget the Falklands. You can’t when you’ve been in something like that.’
Nancy Hill, chairman of the association, said the Wrens have played a crucial role in supporting the naval service for more than a century.
Speaking of the freedom of the city, she added: ‘It was incredibly emotional. To actually be recognised in our own rights at last is just tremendous.’
And there was long-overdue recognition too for members of the army, RAF and civilians who were killed in the war as their names were added to Portsmouth’s Falklands Memorial.
The tribute, unveiled at the service, left Merseyside-based paratroopers Craig Hale and Scouse Wilson, overwhelmed.
Craig, who served 18 years in the elite military unit and fought with the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment during the Battle of Mount Longdon on the Falklands, said: ‘This is enormous. This means everything to us. It’s been overwhelming.’
Scouse, 65, added: ‘This means so much to us to come down. It’s just an honour to be here.’