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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
Veterans honour Falklands fallen
By Paula Dear
BBC News, The Mall

Marchers heading towards parade, 17 June 2007
Thousands of veterans took part in the commemorations
Veterans of the Falklands gathered in London with loved ones, the bereaved and dignitaries for the UK's national commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

Many who served in the war with Argentina have found it near-impossible to forget the horror of the campaign to reclaim the islands, which left some 1,000 dead on both sides.

But Sunday was a day of remembrance in which they were willing and proud to take part.

As final preparations got under way on Sunday morning, uniformed veterans and their families mingled with tourists and sunbathers in London's St James's Park.

Signs all along Birdcage Walk indicated where each regiment was to muster for the march to the parade ground that had been many months in the planning.

Argentine bombing

Old friends and colleagues Tom Eadie, 56, and John Shannahan-Creasey, 49, had travelled to the event from Dorset to take part in the march along with nearly 2,000 of their 1982 comrades.

The retired Royal Marines, who were serving in the Commando Logistic Regiment during the war, said they had a "rough" journey to the South Atlantic in landing ships and were transferred to the RFA ship Sir Galahad at Ascension Island.

Tom Eadie
I don't like loud bangs any more, or hunger. We had 24-hour rations that had to last four or five days
Tom Eadie
Retired Royal Marine

"Food rationing had started on day one. But up until we left Ascension we thought we would probably be going back home again," said John, who added there had been hope the political situation would be resolved before a shot was fired.

After their arrival in the Falklands, Tom was still aboard the Sir Galahad when it took its first hit from Argentine fighter-bombers in Ajax Bay.

"Fortunately those bombs didn't go off. We abandoned ship and I got on the last boat off, which then broke down during an air attack. Our war started then."

He later had another close shave on land when Ajax Bay was bombed.

"I don't like loud bangs any more, or hunger. We had 24-hour rations that had to last four or five days," he added.

Meanwhile back in the UK, Tom's young wife Margaret was waiting with their two children - aged just 10 months and three years old.

"Tom had been away in Norway for three months and had only just been back two days when he was sent to the Falklands."

'It was awful'

She knew he was on the Sir Galahad - which was bombed again after Tom had left, killing 48 on board - and endured an agonising wait to hear if he was safe.

"It was awful. It was five days before I was told that he was okay."

On a park bench nearby, John McRobb and his wife Julie relaxed in the sunshine ahead of a day they knew would be emotionally draining.

John and Julie McRobb
It's not remembering it clearly that's the problem, it's trying not to remember it clearly
John McRobb
Former Scots Guard

John had a more luxurious passage to the South Atlantic than most, having sailed there in the QE2, before ending up in Bluff Cove and right in the path of Argentine jets targeting British ships in the bay.

"That was when the fireworks started," said John, who served in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and is now a truck driver.

Later in the conflict he was involved in some 14 hours of "hand-to-hand fighting" on Mount Tumbledown.

But it did not seem like 25 years ago since it all happened, he said.

"It's not remembering it clearly that's the problem, it's trying not to remember it clearly. It's the nearest thing to having a tattoo on your brain."

Julie, who was at home in London then with their two-year-old son, said: "The best thing was when I got the telegram saying it was all finished. It said, 'On the advance party home. How's my bike?'"

John, a keen motorcyclist, added: "I knew if I put that she'd know I really was okay."

Veterans embracing at commemorations, 17 June 2007
It was an emotional experience for many veterans

Their story would sound familiar to hundreds of families who had gathered at Horse Guard's Parade for the climax of the year's commemorations. Others did not have such a happy ending.

As the applause sparked by the arrival of Baroness Thatcher died away We are Sailing began to play on the PA system.

On huge TV screens the dated graphics of the BBC's 9 O'Clock News circa 1982 flashed up, with snapshots of the build-up to the war reminding the crowd of the events of 25 years ago.

In a live link-up screened from the Falklands, islanders - who were joined by Prince Edward and 1982 government minister Lord Parkinson - shivered in the buffeting winter wind at San Carlos cemetery.

It was a stark reminder of the bitter conditions the troops had endured 25 years ago.

In London, the tears started to flow with the rousing arrival of the bands of the RAF, Army and Royal Marines. And then the veterans came in their hundreds.

Some marched with walking sticks, others in wheelchairs.

'Fitting occasion'

When live footage of four buglers playing the Last Post in San Carlos belted out into the parade ground, some in the audience finally broke down.

It was a "fitting" occasion, said Tracy Bolton, from Somerset, who watched from the stands as her partner of 22 years WO2 Neil Hodgson took part in the march.

She said she did not know if he had lost friends during the conflict, adding that she had learned more from the footage shown during the ceremony than she had ever gleaned from him.

"He doesn't talk about it," she said.

Afterwards, as the crowd followed the marchers down The Mall to watch a fly-past of aircraft, it seemed as if they couldn't help but step in time to the band.

A final loud cheer went up as the Red Arrows roared overhead, streaking red, white and blue behind them, before the crowd dispersed again into St James's Park.




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