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HMS Forth's proud role in Falklands peace and reassurance mission

HMS Forth salutes the wrecks of HMS Ardent and Antelope
14 June 2022
Today’s naval guardians of the Falklands have spoken of their pride of patrolling the islands at keeping the eternal flame of 1982 burning.

HMS Forth will represent the men and women who liberated the remote South Atlantic archipelago at the islands’ principal anniversary commemoration on Tuesday.

They will join RAF and Army personnel, VIPs and islanders marking Liberation Day – June 14, a public holiday in the Falklands since the Argentine surrender 40 years ago – with a memorial service, parade and reception in the capital Stanley.

Forth is the Royal Navy’s latest permanent presence in the islands, operating out of East Cove port – about 30 miles southwest of Stanley – since she relieved HMS Clyde at the beginning of 2020.

From there she conducts regular reassurance patrols not just of the Falklands and its many sparsely-populated outlying islands, but also calls on South Georgia to support the government and Antarctic scientists and occasionally crosses the ocean to visit another distant British territory, Tristan da Cunha.

Wherever the ship goes, her presence is appreciated.

“The Falkland Islanders have been very welcoming to us and take a keen interest in our work,” said gunnery officer Sub Lieutenant Owen Long.

“At times, we have the opportunity to host some of the islanders on board which is a real pleasure – or in some of the more isolated islands and settlements, invite some of the ship’s company to their homes for a cup of tea.

“They have a deep knowledge of the geography and history of their land – they are more than happy to share this with us to broaden our understanding of our environment and to help us make the most of our time here.” 

Some of the people who died were the same age I am now and that really brings it all into focus. I’m really proud to be able to play a small part in remembering the sacrifices of those who died 40 years ago

PO Omar Gilchrist

Sailors spend several months at a time operating Forth before returning to the UK, trading places with colleagues who fly to the Falklands to take their place.

This regular rotation of crew allows the ship to spend the maximum number of days at sea possible, supported by a small Royal Navy engineering team at East Cove.

“Modern technology helps and although access to the internet is not quite as straight forward as it is at home, there are still ways we can text and speak to our loved ones,” said Sub Lieutenant Long.

“Being away from home can sometimes be difficult, but we are incredibly lucky to be in a part of the world that not many people get to experience.”

Weapons engineer John Horrell added: “Both living and working on a warship means there’s a really short commute, but I also need to stretch my legs every now and then. There’s some beautiful scenery in and around the Falkland Islands so I like to explore it.” 

Reminders of 1982 are never far away; it’s one of the duties of Forth to monitor and help maintain the memorials, especially naval monuments.

During the anniversary period, Forth has roamed the islands’ waters to participate in some of the key commemorations.

“I’ve read a lot about the history of the Falklands Conflict,” said logistics expert Petty Officer Omar Gilchrist. “Some of the people who died were the same age I am now and that really brings it all into focus. I’m really proud to be able to play a small part in remembering the sacrifices of those who died forty years ago.”

A memorial service was held aboard in ‘Bomb Alley’, close to the wreck of frigate HMS Antelope, with the names of sailors lost in San Carlos Water read out before a two-minute silence and, finally, a salute to the fallen.

The ship’s company turned out in No.1 uniforms to line the decks for a steam past of the last resting place of both Antelope and her sister HMS Ardent.

To mark the loss of HMS Coventry the ship’s company climbed to the top of a hill where a simple cross on top of a cairn on remote Pebble Island honours the men lost when the destroyer sank after being struck by a succession of bombs on May 25 1982.

Coventry sank after a bitter day of battle, working alongside frigate HMS Broadsword to intercept incoming Argentine jets before they reached the core of the UK task force.

A Broadsword veteran shared his experiences of 1982 with Forth ship’s company ahead of the 40th anniversary period – a visit appreciated by all aboard.

“After hearing him talk of his experiences, the ship’s company were bursting with pride to represent the Royal Navy at this year’s commemorations,” said Commander Chris Easterbrook, Forth’s Commanding Officer.

“The majority of the sailors on board HMS Forth were born after 1982, so it’s really important that they understand the sacrifices of those who were involved in the conflict.”

He continued: “Our routine operations often take us near the sites where warships were lost, so the conflict is never far from our minds.

"Supporting the local community during the 40th anniversary events is hugely important to the Ship – especially since some of the crew have direct links to veterans of the conflict.” 

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