Yeovilton remember the ‘Falklands 1,400’ and the 12 men who never returned
Serving personnel, Falklands’ veterans and relatives of those who were deployed to the South Atlantic attended a commemorative service at the home of naval aviation to mark the 40th anniversary of the conflict.
Four decades ago 126 aircraft and 1,400 personnel from Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset set off on the 8,000-mile voyage to the South Atlantic on Operation Corporate, to liberate the Falkland Islands.
All Yeovilton’s squadrons were brought to immediate readiness in the spring of 1982. The four resident Naval Air Squadrons, 800 & 801 NAS with Sea Harriers, 845 NAS with the Wessex 5 and 846 NAS with the Sea King Mk4, were joined by the newly-created 809 NAS (Sea Harrier) and 847 and 848 NAS (Wessex 5). Lynx helicopters from 815 NAS were already embarked in many of the surface ships, dispatched almost at once to the South Atlantic.
Twelve Sailors and Royal Marines from the Somerset base died in the conflict, and an avenue of 12 hornbeam trees and a Portland stone memorial commemorates their loss, alongside the sports pitches at the air station.
Barbara McAulay’s husband and brother were among the 1,400 Yeovilton personnel with the task force. Only her brother, Chief Petty Officer Peter Hammond, serving with 846 NAS returned.
Her husband Allan – known as Mac and also a chief – was assigned to HMS Ardent, maintaining the frigate’s Lynx. He was killed when the ship was bombed during the first day of the landings at San Carlos.
Mrs McAulay had been enjoying a rare break amid weeks of tension. She returned home from a day out in London to find “those familiar uniformed men” in her living room and her sister-in-law at the door.
“I said: ‘Is it Mac or Peter? And she said ‘Mac’,” she recalled.
Meanwhile 8,000 miles away her brother was told matter-of-factly by his commanding officer that Mac “hadn’t made it”.
Mr Hammond continued: “And then you get on with life. But later you sit there and ponder and ponder. The guilt complex is enormous.”
‘Mac’ McAulay’s name was read out in the Yeovilton roll of honour during the commemorative service, which also marked the 40th anniversary of the deadly attacks on HMS Coventry and Atlantic Conveyor by the Argentinian Air Force, resulting in the loss of a major warship and a key logistical asset to the UK forces, along with many vital aircraft on the Conveyer.
Leading the service was The Right Reverend John Lomas, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, who during his 12 years in the Fleet Air Arm serviced helicopters, Phantoms and Sea Harriers. He saw service during the Falklands Conflict as a Leading Air Engineering Mechanic with 809 NAS.
Guest of honour at the service was Rear Admiral Steve Moorhouse, Director Force Generation and Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm.
“We are here today to remember the exploits of 40 years ago, a brief period of our time, just 74 days,” he said.
“And for those that have had the privilege of visiting the Falkland Islands, it can be the most beautiful place in the world, but also one of the most unforgiving places in the world as well. It gives you some of the most inhospitable weather conditions that can often change on an hourly basis.
“The British Forces that deployed the 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic, carried out something which can only be described as truly spectacular. In the space of days over 126 ships sailed from the UK with almost the entire Fleet Air Arm embarked. They stored ships within hours, sailed within days and were within weeks under regular repeated aerial attacks and bombardments from the Argentinians.
“What happened over 74 days we know well, over 250 personnel gave their lives with the loss of six of our ships. Those lessons from the Falklands are important today and our Operational Sea Training reflects the experiences of many of you here today.”