What does the Falklands war mean to you? For many people the answer’s probably ‘not a lot’ as it happened almost 30 years ago.
I have slightly odd memories of the conflict as I was living abroad at the time and when I did return to the UK, the fact that almost a thousand British and Argentinean servicemen died in a brief but bitter war the other side of the world was always rather unreal.
However this week I met two men who made it very real for me indeed.
James Dunphy who lives near Cardigan was at a ceremony in Carmarthen to receive the Elizabeth Cross – an honour designed to pay tribute for the families of servicemen and women who’ve died serving their country.
James’s brother Michael was a 21-year-old Welsh Guardsman who was on board the Sir Galahad in June 1982. He and his comrades were waiting to be taken ashore when the ship came under fire from Argentine aircraft. Michael was one of almost 50 men who died that day – 32 of them from the Welsh Guards.
James remembers how his family got the news of his brother’s death – it took five days for them to find out because of a news blackout that was in force. The local priest was the first to tell them. He said the effect was devastating – especially on his mother who sadly died last year.
Also at the ceremony was Phil Hubbard, a retired army colonel who was working as a medic in the Falklands. He watched on shore as the Sir Galahad burned off Bluff Cove.
He knew many of those on board. Phil says the memories are as vivid as if it happened yesterday.
James and Phil had never met before the ceremony in Carmarthen. It was a strange moment to hear Phil introduce himself as someone who’d seen the attack that had claimed the life of James’s brother.
I think James would be the first to admit that he’s a man of few words but it’s clear that shaking the hand of a man who was there when his brother was killed meant a lot.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, there was a connection – a shared history and a shared aim of keeping alive the memory of a man who died for his country.