Sidmouth’s Falklands veterans share their memories after 40th anniversary service

The Falklands anniversary service at Sidmouth war memorial

The service was conducted by parish vicar Rev. Matt Selman, the RNOCA’s Rev. Peter Leverton read the prayer of the South Atlantic Medal Association, and Fiona Harvey of Sidmouth Town Band played The Last Post. - Credit: RNOCA

On Saturday, June 18, officers and members of Sidmouth & District Royal Naval Old Comrades Association (RNOCA), the local branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL), the Town Clerk and members of the public gathered at the parish war memorial for a short service commemorating the sacrifices and achievements of British forces in the Falkland Islands 40 years ago. 

RNOCA President Chris Pink said: “Whilst we mark Armistice Day each year without fail, on milestone anniversaries it is also important to remember specific campaigns. I served in HMS Coventry until a few months before the conflict, and knew the whole crew. I felt her sinking very badly.” 

Local RBL President Ralph Hickman said: “It was a short, sharp scrap, but the fighting on land was made much harder because the Argentine air force had taken out ships, destroying a lot of stores, tents, ammunition and helicopters. All our soldiers - Paras, Scots Guards, Gurkhas and support, not forgetting the SAS - were exhausted, but they stuck to their task. We should be proud of them.” 

Martin Dunkin was 19 when he was ‘sent South’ as a crew member of the amphibious assault ship HMS Intrepid, which had just been mothballed. The crew worked tirelessly to get her re-stored and ready for sea in just over a week. Intrepid landed her Marines in San Carlos on 21st May, and was then tasked to protect the liner Canberra. Her next job was to transfer the Welsh Guards to RFA Sir Galahad to land at San Carlos.  

The story of what happened to this vessel and RFA Sir Tristram at Bluff Cove on 8th June is well-known, but other details of that day not so. The Intrepid became a casualty clearing station. Already pressured after being under daily air attack warning, helping scores of severely wounded and burnt soldiers was a mental battering, but Intrepid’s crew got on with it.  

Like many other veterans, years later Martin underwent a dark period. Falklands veterans began to realise that returning to the islands could help their recovery. Martin did this himself - alongside his friend Ray Colborne - in 2002, and afterwards they became members of a project to develop a special accommodation block in Stanley for visiting veterans.  

The late Sidmouth RNOCA chairman Ray Colborne was a Wessex helicopter pilot of 847 Sqn FAA, and after an ammunition drop at Mount Longdon, he rushed to Bluff Cove to take casualties to field hospital at Ajax Bay. His daughters Nicola Colborne and Andrea Bass attended the commemoration service. Nicola said: “We’re very proud of Dad’s contribution, and we’re sure that he would be very pleased to know that the RNOCA and Legion are marking this anniversary.” 

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In spring 1982 Nigel ‘Moose’ Elks was also aged 19, not long out of chef’s training school, and drafted to HMS Broadsword. The frigate was patrolling off Naples when she was ordered back to Gibraltar to ‘store-up’ and ‘head South’. On 25th May, the Broadsword was working in tandem with the Coventry when they were attacked by two pairs of Skyhawks. The first pair launched a 1000lb bomb that passed through Broadsword’s stern without exploding, the second pair hit the Coventry, dealing her a fatal blow. The Broadsword went in close to take 170 wounded and uninjured survivors off the vessel; they then witnessed the Coventry capsize and sink inside half an hour. 

 ‘Moose’ said: “I cannot forget that. There was pandemonium, but it was controlled, and we just got on with our jobs. It was not until quite some time afterwards that I realised what a bad situation it had been. For many years now, I have laid a wreath every 25th May.” 

RBL Secretary Megan Bellfield said: “The men who went to the Falklands - Army, RAF, Navy, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Navy - and those who helped them get there, demonstrated incredible professionalism, resilience and courage. It really was an astonishing accomplishment, God bless them all”.