'˜I had to clear blood off the deck' - a Falklands veteran's memories
We can never imagine the horrors that our armed forces go through when they are fighting for their country in a war.
But for Kevin Porter, the memories of 100 days at sea during the Falklands War in 1982 are still very real and he suffered the after-effects for years.
Now the 53-year-old has written a book about his experiences called Fearless: The Diary Of An 18-year-old At War In The Falklands (amazon.co.uk).
Writing it became a form of therapy for him.
But how did a young Kevin, who lives in Fareham, find himself fighting in a battle 8,000 miles from home?
He grew up in a small town in Cumbria called Millom, left school at the age of 16 and joined the Royal Navy.
A year later, he joined HMS Fearless, going on deployment to the Caribbean and to Norway.
But in April 1982, after having just arrived home, the crew were called back as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced the UK was at war with Argentina and they were off to the Falkland Islands.
‘It was frightening and nerve-racking,’ Kevin recalls.
‘The hardest part was leaving home and saying goodbye to my family. Sailing out of Portsmouth was such a massive feeling of pride.
‘The way the nation got behind us and the crowds on the seafront really lifted the spirits. The backing of the people at home was just so strong that it made you realise what we were going to do, whether right or wrong, was what we should be doing.
‘Sailing down there was busy, sometimes boring, but very stressful. We were all going through the same emotions.
‘The noise, the senses, the sounds. Watching ships get blown up around you and watching people getting shot and injured was just terrifying.’
Kevin wrote a diary while he was on board and then adapted it to publish his book. He says his original diary has no emotion in it at all.
‘I knew what I felt but I didn’t know what to write,’ he says.
‘So all the feelings come out in the book.
‘I remember there were big cheers when a ship sank – but you suddenly realised there were 400 bodies floating in the water. You thought “that could be us next”.
‘One day one of my friends was shot and the whole deck was just covered in blood. I had to clear it up so we could just get on with things and do it again.’
Eventually, when the Argentinians surrendered on June 14, 1982, HMS Fearless headed home.
‘We came back to a fantastic welcome on board in Portsmouth dockyard. There were thousands of people on Southsea seafront,’ says Kevin.
‘There were cars on the seafront flashing their lights and beeping. There were so many people and there was so much noise.’
When Kevin returned to Cumbria, he was given a hero’s welcome.
He got married in 1985 and moved to Southsea with his wife Jackie.
Kevin did another two deployments, but at the age of 26 he decided it was time to leave the navy.
He got a job working for the MoD and then for IBM.
‘Throughout that whole time I was going out and getting drunk. In the evening I was drinking all the time. I would row with my wife,’ he recalls.
‘When I went to parties I would become very obnoxious. I wasn’t sleeping. I was lucky to get through four hours a night. That’s how my life was for years.’
In 2000, Jackie gave birth to twins on the couple’s 15th wedding anniversary.
In 2002 there was a big party to mark the 20th anniversary of the war finishing.
Kevin admits: ‘Jackie had prepared an afternoon tea with the children and I turned up drunk.’
The couple had a big row and several years later they split up.
In 2007, Kevin decided to see a psychiatrist and he was persuaded to take a trip back to the Falklands to help with his recovery, as he had realised he still hadn’t got over the trauma of what he went through 25 years earlier.
It was a big help and he felt a sense of relief on his return.
Now, he is a successful HR manager during the day and works as a hypnotherapist in the evenings and at weekends. He is also a life coach and a public speaker and he is planning to work with veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He says of the book: ‘I was part of a piece of history. I just felt that people needed to know what it was all about – what it was really like. We are the next generation of veterans and my story is there to be shared.’