Forgotten horror of the Falklands, by war veteran Simon Weston

Falklands veteran Simon Weston
Falklands veteran Simon Weston
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It is taking time for Simon Weston to adjust to anonymity.

A veteran of the Falklands conflict, whose battle-scarred features were an almost constant reminder to TV viewers in the 1980s of the realities of modern warfare, he is resigned to the realisation that today’s young people know little of it, or of him.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston

Falklands veteran Simon Weston

Yet he says the 10 weeks of hostilities between Britain and Argentina in 1982, over the right to self-determination of an obscure cluster of islands in the south Atlantic, were a harbinger of the politics of today.

“I was paid to do a job, not for my opinion, but I do believe what we were doing there was correct,” said Mr Weston, who recovered from 46 per cent burns sustained when his supply ship was struck by an enemy Exocet missile.

He is heavily critical of what he calls the “completely illegal” war in Iraq, but remains convinced of the justification for the skirmish that changed his life.

“The Argentineans invaded the islands. They had no right to,” he said. “They took away people’s democracy – and we’ve seen a lot of that elsewhere recently.

“They tried to take away their freedom, too, and we’re seeing a lot of that as well. The Falklands War is as relevant now as it was 37 years ago.”

Next week he will press the point at a Yorkshire Post Literary Luncheon which will mark the start of the four-day Harrogate Literature Festival. But he recognises that junior members of the audience will know little of what he and 3,300 other casualties went through.

“I may have played a part in history, but I am now becoming consigned to history,” he said.

“There was a time when I was on TV so much that if you couldn’t see me, it probably meant your set was broken. Now I’ve realised that not everybody knows my name. Not everybody has seen me.

“Our younger generation doesn’t understand that wars are not all fought in the middle east and not all are against terrorism.”

Mr Weston, who now runs a security company, was barely recognisable after the explosion aboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary craft Sir Galahad, which killed 48 of his fellow Welsh Guards.

He has written books on the 96 operations he underwent in its aftermath – during which skin from his shoulders was used to make eyelids – and chronicled his psychological trauma and his rudeness towards some of those who tried to help him.

But he said that even in his darkest moments, the Army’s “gallows humour” helped him through. In particular, he appreciated the irony of being treated at an aid station set up inside a derelict meat freezer centre full of asbestos.

“In a combat zone, you have to take what you can get,” he said. “And every one of us who got there, survived.”

He also had the benefit of the strength in numbers that came with a fully-staffed military force, he reflects.

“Today, the Army, which is the biggest branch of the armed forces, can barely fill Wembley stadium.”

Mr Weston, who in 1988 set up a foundation to give young people work and training, was awarded a CBE in 2016 for his charity work.

Simon Weston’s speech at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate next Thursday lunchtime, is the first of 26 events which make up the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival.

The most controversial is likely to be a rare public appearance the same evening by the former Prime Minister David Cameron, whose book promotion tour takes in only two other venues.

The festival also hosts the actor and debut novelist Trevor Eve, and Countryfile’s John Craven, whose career began on a Harrogate newspaper.

Tickets are available from www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com.