Falklands 40: HMS Sheffield veterans gather for poignant service at memorial in Old Portsmouth

VETERANS of the Falklands conflict have gathered in Portsmouth to remember fallen friends as they commemorate the 40th anniversary of the attack on HMS Sheffield, a day that has sparked a lifetime of pain – and pride.

Monday, 2nd May 2022, 4:55 am

Dozens of servicemen who sailed on board the sunk destroyer – as well as crew from Royal Navy ships that rushed to the rescue – held a service at the memorial for the Falklands conflict by Old Portsmouth’s Square Tower on Sunday, with veterans travelling from across the country to pay their respects.

HMS Sheffield, which had been based in Portsmouth, was struck by an Exocet anti-ship missile from an Argentine aircraft on May 4, 1982, resulting in the loss of the ship and 20 sailors dead with 26 injured.

Veterans at the event said they feel proud of their service in the conflict, but they are still pained by the resulting mental scars – and the lack of public awareness about the sacrifices made.

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Standards were lowered while the names of the fallen were read aloud. Picture: Mike Cooter (010522)

Guy ‘Tug’ Wilson, who organised the event, said he still vividly remembers the day when he was a 30-year old petty officer gun serving onboard.

The Paulsgrove resident said: ‘Obviously I remember the missile coming in and the after effects.

‘The flames – we were doing the hot-shoe shuffle as our shoes were melting to the deck.

‘But it takes a long time to explain to families about what happened, what we saw.

HMS Sheffield after being hit in the Falklands conflict, 40 years ago.

Scores of men were left to tackle the floating inferno with just buckets of water as a large amount of fire control equipment was lost below deck – but there was no signs of fear from the crew, according to HMS Sheffield veteran Clive Carrington-Wood.

The 63-year-old Emsworth resident said: ‘What really struck me at the time is that it wasn’t frightening. There was no panicking. We just got on with our jobs. It was because of our naval training. Our naval training was absolutely first class.’

‘HMS Sheffield did sober up the navy. One of my friends had been very gung-ho – and that changed.’

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Former members of the ships company from HMS Sheffield at the service. Picture: Mike Cooter (010522)

Fellow sailor John Coles, from Northampton, agreed: ‘The training kicks in. Everyone just went into automatic mode.

‘The passage of time just seemed to fly by.

‘It felt like 20 minutes – but it was a whole day.’

Some injuries sustained in the attack were less serious – and even solicit a smile forty years later, according to the veterans.

Former members of the ships company from HMS Sheffield at the service. Picture: Mike Cooter (010522)

Remembering the much-appreciated rescue efforts made by sailors on HMS Arrow, Guy said: ‘Sailors on HMS Arrow, they were throwing bags of sweets and drinks at us – I think we got more injuries from that than from anything else.

John added: ‘I was nearly KO’ed by a can of Coca-Cola someone had thrown at us.

But speaking at the Portland Arms pub in North End after the service, members of the ships crew said they still carry the grief and trauma of the attack to this day.

Guy said: ‘Mental health is still not properly recognised as a battle injury. We need to do more. PTSD can never be cured but you can develop strategies to deal with it.

‘I still get up in the morning and do a body check – clenching my teeth, checking my arms, listening to my heartbeat, and then I will spend five minutes doing meditation to calm down.’

Alan Knowles, the son of sailor Alan John Knowles, who died in the attack at the age of 32, said the general public’s lack of knowledge about the Falklands conflict and HMS Sheffield is ‘extremely frustrating’.

The 51-year-old said: ‘I have asked some of the kids I work with if they have heard about the Falklands – and they haven’t.

‘It’s something the should have heard of and it isn’t.

‘We should show more respect for our armed forces.’

Speaking of the efforts to reclaim the Falkland islands from the Argentine military dictatorship, John added: ‘A lot of people take it for granted.’

‘People forget that navy was going through a massive shrinkage at the time. It was a shoe-string operation, to do what we did with what we had.’

Having come through fire and fear together, respect and admiration for the Royal Navy remains high among those who served.

Speaking of young recruits joining the Royal Navy today, John said: ‘I would want them to know the joy of military service and serve with pride and not worry too much about being in action.

Clive agreed and added: ‘It’s the best club in the world. Here we are, 40 years later, chatting away like old chums.’

A memorial for HMS Sheffield and her crew will be dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Wednesday, May 4.

Guy said: ‘We’re now in the same position as the guys from the Second World War when we were fighting.

‘My aim is remembrance. I’m not just talking about 1982 – we need to remember the First World War, the Second World War, and all the wars before them.’