Plans revealed for 'landmark' commemorations to mark 40th anniversary of the Falklands War
CIVIC leaders have vowed to stage a ‘landmark’ commemoration to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands conflict next year.
The tribute is set to see ‘significant’ parades through the streets of Portsmouth, with the city tipped to be the focus of a national effort to honour the war.
The 1982 conflict against Argentina lasted 74 days but cost more than 1,000 lives on both sides.
Portsmouth played a critical role in the liberation of the British territory, with thousands of military personnel setting sail from the city to reclaim the islands.
Councillor Steve Pitt, Portsmouth’s culture chief and deputy leader of the city council, pledged to pull out all the stops to mark the anniversary.
He said this year’s commemorations would have to be toned down due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Speaking to The News about 2022, Cllr Pitt said: ‘This will almost certainly be a landmark event. We recognise just how important it is. There are so many Falkland veterans still living locally and a lot of them are personal friends.
‘My own father was one of the workers in the dockyard helping to prepare those ships. I watched them go out from Portsmouth 40 years ago. Conversations are taking place, plans being developed to mark the occasion in a fitting way.’
Argentina invaded the islands on April 2, 1982, swarming the British territory and rapidly overcoming the small garrison of Royal Marines at the capital Stanley.
Britain’s military was scrambled by then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher to retake the island, with the first troops landing on the islands on May 21, 1982 – declaring victory just weeks later on June 14.
Among the proposals to mark the liberation in Portsmouth include a national conference within the city in June of next year, set to coincide with a ‘significant parade and commemoration ceremony’, Cllr Pitt said.
Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt said she was 'sure the government would support’ the city’s commemorations.
The Portsmouth North MP and former defence secretary said: ‘Portsmouth was fundamental to our response and I know so many in our city will have such vivid memories of it.
‘As well as commemorate, we also need to ensure those stories are captured for future generations.’
Diplomats from the Falklands are expected to be invited to Portsmouth, while city leaders are seeking to twin with the islands’ capital, Port Stanley.
Meanwhile, Gosport already has a date fixed in its calendar – with a memorial service at the town’s Falklands Gardens and parade through the High Street due to take place on Sunday, May 29.
Derek ‘Smokey’ Cole, chief executive of the Gosport-based charity the Falkland Veterans Foundation, said next year’s events would be a poignant moment for all those who survived the war.
He said: ‘This is very important for me. The Ministry of Defence doesn’t recognise the 40th anniversary – they do the 25th, 50th and 75th but not the 40th.
‘With the age that some of us were when we went to the Falklands this could be our last big memorial service.
‘And because of Covid, people have not been able to have any reunions over the last year. So the 40th anniversary will be hugely significant for many of us.’
Mr Cole added that during the pandemic, ‘pilgrimages’ to Liberty Lodge – a getaway for Falklands veterans and their families on the island – had to be cancelled.
More than 200 trips were called off, with the home remaining closed until October. It's hoped veterans will be able to resume travel to the lodge in January.
Meanwhile, virtual reunions are taking place this year among some veterans associations.
The HMS Coventry are planning their own commemoration over Zoom on May 25 to mark the anniversary of the destroyer's sinking.
Similar events are planned to mark the sinking of HMS Sheffield in May, with a small service expected to take place at the Falklands Memorial in Old Portsmouth.