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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2007, 08:16 GMT
Difficult return to the Falklands
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

British troops raising a flag in the Falkland Islands during the conflict
The Falklands conflict ended on 14 June 1982

The Falklands conflict may have begun and ended in 1982, but for many of those who served during the fierce battle for the remote UK colony, the memories are as clear today as they were 25 years ago.

Some still suffer the physical effects due to injury, but many more also struggle with the invisible trauma of being involved in such a bitter war.

Now, to mark the quarter of a century anniversary of the end of the conflict, more than 200 veterans have travelled the 8,000 miles to the islands to remember the 255 fellow UK servicemen who lost their lives.

Some are also hoping the 10-day pilgrimage - timed to coincide with Remembrance Sunday - will help to heal some of the psychological wounds.

Emotional journey

For former Scots Guard Gordon Hoggan, 48, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and who has tried to take his own life, the journey has provided relief.

"I was apprehensive before coming but when we arrived the welcome was absolutely amazing. We cannot even buy ourselves a drink here - the people are so appreciative of what we did."

You have to face your demons - when I walked off that mountain that morning, I felt like a new man
Gordon Hoggan
Former Scots Guard

Mr Hoggan, who was 23 at the time of the war, fought in the battle for Mount Tumbledown, in which eight of his fellow servicemen lost their lives. Another 47 were seriously injured.

He chose to return to the mountain last week to, in his own words, "face the demons".

In the end, he and a group of five others opted to stay there overnight, just as they had 25 years ago.

"We had tents, but we threw them away and just stayed in our sleeping bags. We lit a fire and had a couple of bottles of whisky and talked until two thirty in the morning.

"We went through the bad times during the day - and it was very emotional. But that night when we stayed up there we had a real laugh - it was like we had never been away."

Facing the future

Mr Hoggan, originally from Kirkcaldy, Fife, but who now lives near Birmingham, says he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last year after "hiding it" for 24 years.

Now he receives help from Combat Stress, a charity supporting war veterans with mental health problems, and says coming back to the Falklands has changed how he feels about his future.

Mount Tumbledown
Scots Guards were involved in the seizure of Mount Tumbledown

"You have to face your demons. When I walked off that mountain that morning, I felt like a new man. Once I get back to the UK I feel I can get on with my life. I feel stronger."

Fellow former Scots Guard Jim Gillanders, 43, from Windsor, was just 17 when he went to war.

For him the trip has also been a chance to share memories with those with whom he served and to go back to the places he remembers.

"It's been absolutely fantastic," he says. "I was climbing the walls before I came. But the support we have had here has been second to none.

"I was asked if I wanted to come back before, but I didn't think I was ready. I am just grateful I got another opportunity."

Individual struggles

Trained clinical support staff have been on hand to help the former servicemen with the trauma of the return trip, which has been organised by the South Atlantic Medal Association and Combat Stress.

Col Mike Bowles, a retired soldier and chairman of the organisers, says most who have taken the journey have found it a "very positive experience".

These are the guys who liberated us from an unwanted military dictatorship - we want to show our gratitude
Patrick Watts
Former head of Falklands radio

"Everyone is doing it in their own particular way," he adds.

Those living in the Falklands have watched the returning servicemen and ex-servicemen make the pilgrimage.

"We recognise for many veterans coming back to the Falklands it is an opportunity to clear their minds," says Patrick Watts, former head of Falklands radio and who was broadcasting as Argentine soldiers bearing guns stormed into his station on 2 April 1982 at the start of the war.

Search for sites

Most veterans want to return to specific areas where they had their most traumatic experiences, which can cause problems, he says.

"What people have difficulty in understanding is that 25 years ago it was dark, miserable and snowing. Now, for many on their first time back, it is sunny and daylight and we have to find the places they remember. We can spend hours looking for places and positions."

Veterans marking the 25th anniversary of the Falkland Islands' liberation in June
Veterans marked the 25th anniversary of the war's end in June

According to the Falklands Veterans Foundation (FVF), 320 men who served in the conflict have since taken their own lives.

And Maj Peter Biggs, commanding officer of the Falklands Islands Defence Force, says it would be naive to believe a trip back to the old battlefields is able to heal all wounds.

"It doesn't always work out that way. It often brings it all back to them."

But the trip has been a great chance for islanders to thank those who came to fight on their behalf.

Most of the veterans are staying with local people, and many residents have even taken a week off work to drive the party around.

We have roads, a self-sustaining economy - life has totally changed solely because of what they did
Richard Cockwell
Falklands legislative council

"These are the guys who liberated us from an unwanted military dictatorship. We want to show our gratitude," says Mr Watts.

Richard Cockwell, member of the Falklands' legislative council, agrees that islanders want to repay a debt.

"It is extremely important for the Falkland islanders to show their thanks and their appreciation - and to show that they [the veterans] haven't been forgotten.

"And we are able to show them that everything didn't go back to how it was before the war. Now we have roads, a self-sustaining economy - life has totally changed solely because of what they did."

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