Duke of York's Falklands Anniversary Visit to Yeovilton
The Duke of York visited the Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton to attend a service of commemoration at The Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. His Royal Highness also visited in his capacity as Patron of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Royal Navy Historic Flight.
The Church service was especially significant because the Duke saw active service as a RN helicopter pilot with 820 Naval Air Squadron onboard HMS Invincible in the Falklands War. Serving Airman from the Navy alongside Falklands Veterans some who had also served with the Prince during 1982, paid there respects to fallen comrades. The service was also attended by senior officers from the Fleet Air Arm including Rear Admiral Tom Cunningham Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation & Carriers), Commodore Paul Chivers OBE, CO of RNAS Yeovilton and Captain Matt Byres CO of the Commando Helicopter Force.
Veterans from across the Fleet Air Arm who served in the Falklands War found the date poignant because 14 June coincided with the Argentinian surrender 30 years ago. The Organiser of the event was Tina Cullen the Verger at St Bartholomew’s, who served at Yeovilton as a Wren Engineer during the Falklands War and saw the Wessex, Sea King and Harrier squadrons departing at the rush to the South Atlantic, recalls an important moment. “I remember the day when the Atlantic Conveyer went down. We were sitting in the crewroom listening to the radio; I saw the look on everyone’s faces, it was all a bit surreal really. Not very pleasant, we worried a lot about the people we knew.”
Warrant Officer Aircrewman John Sheldon who was a Petty Officer with 846 Naval Air Squadron saw three Sea Kings from the squadron lost during the war, killing fellow aircrewman, PO Ben Casey and Cpl Doc Love. The pace of life was hectic, “The Aircraft would go off tasking throughout the day, flying for 10 or 12 hours, probably take off in the dark and landing back on in the dark. The engineers would then be all over the aircraft, we'd eat and sleep then start again on the next day’s tasking.”
Recalling the end of the war and also attending the service was Lieutenant Commander Phil Thornton who was with Prince Andrew in 820 NAS on board HMS Invincible through out the war. “After the surrender the ship was sent north from the Falklands to get some sunshine. It was a memorable moment when the Ships Commander Air came over the intercom, after 89 days, and he stood us down from flying stations. It was my 23 birthday and it was the first time since the war started that we sat down in the Wardroom for a mess dinner.”
The Duke of York’s day was not complete; he went onto the Fleet Air Arm Museum to look at the New Falkland’s Exhibition due to open next week. After a briefing and lunch with Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB Chairman of the board of Directors to the FAA Museum and Graham Mottram Museum Director, he took time to inspect the New addition to RNAS Yeovilton itinerary; the Wildcat AH 1. His final stop over the busy day was to the Royal Navy Historic Flight to fly in the Iconic Swordfish. Experiencing the open cockpit of the Fleet Air Arm’s legendry World War 2 Carrier based workhorse.
But it was the service at the Fleet Air Arm Memorial Church, St Bartholomew’s that was the highlight. Commander Nick Foster a Pilot who served onboard the MV Atlantic Conveyer in 1982 summed up his feelings for the day, “I was a pilot in 845 NAS and on the Atlantic Conveyer when she was hit, two Exocet Missiles hit us. I lost some of my sailors that day and my thoughts were of them today as we remembered the War.”