Royal ‘thank you’ for Falklands veterans aboard Royal Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth

Topic: PeopleRemembrance Storyline: South Atlantic

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall today thanked Falklands veterans at a unique ‘garden party’ on the UK’s flagship.

The gathering in the hangar of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth marked the end of official 40th anniversary commemorations of the conflict.

A select number of members of the South Atlantic Medal Association – the principal group representing the men and women of 1982 – were invited to join Their Royal Highnesses, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and two of the nation’s three most senior naval officers (Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Burns and Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Martin Connell) on the aircraft carrier. 

The event drew around 200 veterans of all ranks, from every Service – many wearing the distinctive SAMA82 tie of red, green, light and dark blue stripes – plus their families.

After being saluted by a Royal Guard – drawn from both Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – on the jetty, the VIPs spent a good hour chatting and mingling with veterans aboard the flagship.

SAMA82’s Honorary President Commodore Jamie Miller – who survived the sinking of destroyer HMS Coventry – thanked the Royal couple for attending “a very significant, unique occasion” and for today’s Service personnel “making us feel so welcome and happy”.

He continued: “For veterans and families – your support is as important to us today as it was 40 years ago – we can look back with pride and look forward with our heads held high.

“The Falklands campaign saw the best possible courage and determination of Great Britain and showed the quality of our people. Looking around the nation’s flagship today, this generation possesses those same attributes.”

Listening was Andrew Welch, in 1982 the air warfare officer of destroyer HMS Cardiff, which was in Mombasa when the Argentinians invaded the Falklands.

The ship was told she was not needed, only to be ordered south a few weeks later as the campaign took its toll of the Fleet. Cardiff arrived in theatre the day her sister HMS Coventry was sunk.

The ‘garden party’ on the carrier came on the back of an anniversary for the destroyer’s crew in her namesake city a few weeks ago.

“So many of the sailors were able to share their experiences,” he said. “They had worried about events, mistakes, minor things for 40 years. We could tell them that it didn’t matter and put their minds at rest.”

Cardiff went on to take the surrender of Argentine forces in West Falkland – a ship of 280 sailors taking upwards of 1,000 soldiers prisoner. The destroyer’s Lynx helicopter returned to the ship with a huge net slung beneath it, filled with Argentine helmets as souvenirs.

Cook Martyn Merckel, who served in HMS Yarmouth (aka ‘The Crazy Y’) in 1982, had avoided all Falklands 40 events – except this one. 

The relaxed nature of proceedings, the setting and the chance to see his 20-year-old son Lewis, a weapons engineering technician aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, made it an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

“The Falklands is always there,” he said. “Not every day, but sometimes it strikes you and the memories come back. It certainly had an impact on me.”

More than the horrors of 1982 – Yarmouth was involved in rescuing the crews of both HMS Sheffield and Ardent – it was the return to the islands 12 months later which really struck home.

“I’ve seen the Falklands at war, in the aftermath of war and in peace. 1983 was by far the worst: everything was still destroyed, minefields everywhere, and mud, endless mud,” Mr Merckel added.

Conscious of the impact of war, the now-60-year-old, who lives near Kendal, Cumbria, has opened his home to the families of Ukrainian soldiers fighting the Russian invasion.

“Being nice to people affected by war is one of the greatest lessons of 1982,” he said.

His son, who has spent two years in the Royal Navy, is reminded daily of the sacrifices his dad and comrades made in the Falklands: posters around the flagship (and the rest of the Fleet) underscore the lessons of the campaign to today’s sailors.

“There are so many lessons from the Falklands, even down to the clothes we wear, but especially our training when it comes to damage control and fire-fighting,” the 20-year-old said. “I have tried to understand the Falklands story, to read the books, and because of dad’s involvement, I’m definitely interested in it.”

Shipmate Able Seaman Jamie Brook was one of the scores of sailors from both of the RN’s carriers toiling behind the scenes to make the event a success.

Barely a month into his front-line career as a qualified Royal Navy chef, the 17-year-old from Halifax found himself charged with overseeing providing desserts for 500 people: lemon and carrot cake, scones (“cream first, then jam”) and trickiest of all, more than 400 French meringues (“you don’t bake them as long, so they are gooeyer.”).

He worked five days solidly, including over the weekend, to prepare for the event, spending 15 hours at a time in the galley.

With one eye on joining the RN Culinary Arts team in the future, he enjoyed the experience.

“I love functions – I am always up for something like this. I’ve only been on board a matter of weeks, but I am properly enjoying it,” he said. “I don’t ever want to see another French meringue though.”

The Falklands campaign saw the best possible courage and determination of Great Britain and showed the quality of our people

Falklands veteran Commodore Jamie Miller