WELCOMING a child into the world is a defining moment in many people’s lives.
But Royal Marine Stewart Bratherton says nothing will ever match the day he was welcomed home from the Falklands War.
Little ships waited in the Solent as he, 18 at the time, returned to Hampshire on SS Canberra in July 1982, having helped liberate the Falkland Islands after Britain's 10 weeks of ‘hell’ fighting off an Argentinian invasion.
The 55-year-old Mancunian, who lives in Portsmouth, was among the first marines ashore for the war but watched on today as the Union and Falklands flags were raised side by side in Old Portsmouth.
Both were flown to mark 37 years since the end of the conflict and remember the lives of 255 British military personnel and three Falklands resident who died in it.
‘Seeing the Union flag alongside the Falklands flag means so much for us veterans – it’s a proud day,' said Mr Bratherton, a warrant officer at HMS Excellence.
‘I've heard people say the birth of their children is the defining day in their life but the day we came home was the biggest in mine.
‘As the mist rose and all the flags billowed along the seafront, it was awesome. I’ll never forget it.’
It was Southsea resident David Colville, 55, who was selected to raise the Falklands flag at the ceremony – attended by councillors, other veterans and the lord mayor.
Wanting to ‘see a bit of the world’ he moved from Portsmouth to Port Stephens on West Falkland in 1975 to shear sheep, having seen a job advert in The Evening News.
However unlike Mr Bratherton, his journey home was not met with celebration.
It began with arrest, interrogation and deportation by the Argentinians, three weeks into the war, for allegedly sharing anti-Argentinian propaganda when he was later editor of the Falkland Island Times. He denies this.
But while he was homebound, locked up for eight hours in Comodoro Rivadavia, he saw something that gave him the last laugh.
‘I managed to look out of the window and count 30 Hercules aircraft,' he said.
‘When I arrived at Gatwick, the MoD took me down to a basement where they had maps and I had to point out where I could remember minefields being laid and where I saw the planes.
‘I told them about all of that, and also lengths of drainpipes the Argentines had planted to look like guns.’
On raising the flag, a gift to Portsmouth from the Falklands Government in May, he added: ‘It’s surreal. I think about the Falklands everyday.’
The flag will now fly permanently alongside the Union flag opposite the Square Tower.
Co-organiser of today's event, Barry Jones, a radio operator at HMS Intrepid in 1982, said: ‘This means all those who went to the Falklands and didn't come back will always be remembered.
‘It's a permanent reminder of what was sacrificed for people's freedom.’
The event concluded with a rendition of Requiem for a Soldier by the Fine Voice Academy Chorus, the national anthem and prayers from Reverend Tracey Ansell, the city council chaplain.