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Falklands War vet teams up with sisters of lost comrade in fight for justice

21 Mar 2024 8 minute read
RFA Sir Galahad. Photo TimWebb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A Falklands War veteran and the two sisters of one of his lost comrades are campaigning to win justice for 32 Welsh Guards killed in the bombing of British ship RFA Sir Galahad.

Not a day goes by without Rhyl businessman Les Peake re-living the horrific firestorm which saw 48 of his comrades killed on the morning of June 8, 1982, including the Welsh Guards.

Among them was his pal Peter Edwards, aged just 19, from Llandyrnog, near Denbigh, described by his sisters Mandy Perkins and Barbara Royles as having been ‘full of life’.

Peter Edwards who lost his life on the Sir Galahad

Les, Mandy and Barbara are among Falklands veterans and their families who are seeking answers about the Sir Galahad disaster which shell-shocked the nation.

They are incredulous that red tape means documents revealing the full facts about the bombing are sealed for another four decades until 2065.

Speaking ahead of a landmark reunion event in Cardiff on March 23, they called on UK Government ministers to change the rules and immediately unveil the official records to reveal how the Sir Galahad became an open target for Argentinian bombers.

Pete was the son of proud parents Evelyn and Gordon Edwards, and had only been a soldier for around a year when the Falklands War broke out.

Mandy said: “Pete joined the Welsh Guards because there were no jobs around at that time. He loved his training and quickly made lots of friends in the army.”

South Atlantic

But in the spring of 1982 he and fellow Welsh Guards, including the now famous burns charity campaigner Simon Weston, were posted to the South Atlantic after Argentinian forces invaded self-governing British overseas territory, the Falkland Islands.

As a specially trained ‘Spearhead Battalion’ they were tasked with ramping up the Royal Navy mission to liberate the Falkland Islands.

But as they arrived confusion reigned even before they managed to get ashore.

They were inexplicably sent to a different nautical location than originally planned. Vital landing craft failed to show up, and scores of soldiers were unexpectedly put onto the civilian supply ship RFA Sir Galahad where they were told to wait for a fleet of smaller boats to bring them to shore.

But as daylight dawned, having no surface to air missile defences on board Sir Galahad, they became sitting ducks within the sightline of Argentine jets.

The defenceless ship, full of munitions and fuel, suffered three direct hits from Argentine bombs. It became a raging inferno from which there was no escape.

It was the highest loss of British troops of any incident in the war and the biggest single day British military disaster since World War II.

Hellfire

Memories of that hellfire, haunting visions of his comrades on fire, and their desperate screams for help, will never leave Les or his fellow survivors.

Les was aged 18, and most of the young Guards who lost their lives were also in their late teens.

He said: “We were all just kids, innocents to the slaughter. I was 18, my cousin was there too, and Pete was 19, we were teenagers, good pals, young men on the verge of adulthood.”

Back at home, for Mandy, Barbara and their families, the day news of the attack reached them is forever etched in their minds.

Falklands veteran Les Peake with sisters of Peter Edwards who lost his life on the Sir Galahad
from left Mandy Perkins, Les Peake and Barbara Royles. Photo Rick Matthews

They say the huge loss of life is hard enough to bear, but the distress of losing loved ones has been compounded by controversy which has surrounded the Sir Galahad disaster over the last four decades.

Veterans and bereaved families are angry and distraught that some media reports, government and military officials have laid the blame for the disaster at the door of the Welsh Guards, accusing them of incompetence and being unprepared.

Les said: “We’ve been made scapegoats. It’s a travesty of justice to let us be blamed for events clearly out of our control.”

Although an official inquiry was held shortly after the war ended, its findings have never been fully released. Only highly redacted versions have been made available and many survivors’ questions remain unanswered.

Key decision-makers

They are calling for the names of key decision-makers to be unveiled along with an explanation as to why the battalion came to be placed in an exposed location on an undefended supply ship in the first place.

Mandy and Barbara are furious, feeling that for too long their brother’s name and the reputation of the Welsh Guards have been ‘unfairly slurred’.

They want the findings of the Board of Inquiry report into the incident to be unsealed in full. They say it is incomprehensible that the report is currently not due to be opened for public viewing until 2065.

The hope is that the government will finally recognise the strength of feeling demonstrated by those attending the reunion of RFA Sir Galahad survivors, bereaved families and supporters at the Mercure Hotel, Cardiff, on March 23.

It is the first ever reunion of its kind involving surviving veterans, with guests and speakers including prominent figures who have joined the fight for justice like General Sir Michael Rose, commander of the SAS; Master of the RFA Sir Galahad, Philip Roberts; Welsh Senedd member Jenny Rathbone and south Wales MPs, Jessica Morden and Stephen Doughty.

Reunion organiser Kevin Edwards, himself a Sir Galahad survivor, said decisions will be on the day about the proposed next steps.

Exonerated

He said: “A recently redacted copy of the Board of Inquiry report clearly shows that the Welsh Guards and its officers were completely exonerated of any blame in 1982, yet many official voices and authors of media publications still wrongly state differently and smear our regiment’s name.

“The bereaved and veterans have endured almost 42 years of blame, 42 years of defamation of character, capabilities and the names of our fallen dragged through the dirt. Enough is enough, we who remain will all be history by the year 2065.

“Our committee met with cross party MPs in Parliament of late, having produced evidence uncovered at the national archives at Kew. This resulted in Sir Ian Duncan Smith, Priti Patel and many MPs to suggest that there remain questions to be answered. They all fully support our campaign.”

The original 1980s inquiry was held behind closed doors shortly after the attack but its meagre published findings comprised merely a statement that concluded the loss of the ship and troops was down to the ‘ordinary chances of war’.

Survivors dispute this and cite a catalogue of errors made by senior commanders who they say needlessly left the Welsh Guards defenceless and vulnerable.

Their calls for the truth to come out have grown stronger following the publication of a book last year, ‘Too Thin for A Shroud’, by Crispin Black, a former Welsh Guards officer who survived the Sir Galahad and went on to become an intelligence adviser in the Cabinet Office. He will also be speaking at the reunion.

Nightmares

In the near-42 years which have passed Les has barely had a full night’s sleep. He has suffered his marriage break-up, two years of homelessness, rifts with his family and persistent nightmares.

These days he takes refuge in his work, describing himself as a workaholic, who tries to stave off nightmares by allowing himself only two or three hours sleep a night.

He said: “Sleep is my enemy now. The nightmares kick in and bring it all back, so I avoid sleep as much as I can. Even so there is never a day when I don’t think about what happened out there. I try to push it out of my mind.

“I know some survivors who turn to alcohol or drugs. For some the constant torment drove them to commit suicide.

“I have had rough times in the past, my moods became so bad that I grew apart from my family.

“I was homeless for two years and then I took to driving to earn a living, taking trucks all around Europe just to stay on the move, never letting my mind settle.

“More lately I’ve coped by diverting my attention away from the dark thoughts, I put my whole focus on work. I now run a successful transport company, with my two daughters. You could say I’ve learned to cope by becoming a workaholic.

“It’s really not good for my mental health to let my mind wander back to such dark visions. But it’s something that I feel I have to risk for Pete, all the others who died, their families, and for survivors like myself who still live with these memories every single day. We all deserve justice.


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
27 days ago

Documents not to be released until 2065. Waiting for people to die to avoid explanation, compensation and to allow plenty of time for adaptation and misinterpretation with the then ‘fog of history’ making matters unclear. The British Empire. Britannia waives (makes) the rules. Anyone want out?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
27 days ago

I have more sympathy for the Argentinians that lost their lives as they were conscripted into their armed forces (under a right-wing military dictatorship). Here in the uk, conscription ended in 1963, so after this anyone in the armed forces has made the choice to do it. (It ended gradually. In November 1960 the last men entered service, call-ups formally ended on 31 December 1960. The last conscripted men left the armed forces in May 1963.)

https://www.1900s.org.uk/1949-1960-national-service.htm

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