'It was terrifying but I'm glad I went through it': Falklands veteran remembers

·5-min read
Charlie Threlfall and his dog on Hythe Pier.
Charlie Threlfall and his dog on Hythe Pier.

A FALKLANDS veteran from Southampton has described how his ship was repeatedly attacked during a ferocious battle that began 40 years ago today.

Charlie Threlfall was a 21-year-old Midshipman serving aboard HMS Broadsword when it came under fire in San Carlos Water, which became known as "Bomb Alley".

Shortly after arriving the Type 22 frigate suffered several cannon hits and 14 members of her crew were wounded.

Charlie had a lucky escape four days later when Broadsword was providing air defence support to her sister vessel, HMS Coventry, 200 metres away.

A bomb slammed into the ship but failed to explode, saving the vessel and her crew.

However, a fault with her Sea Wolf missile system enabled Argentine Skyhawks to sink the Coventry. About 170 members of the crew were rescued but another 19 lost their lives.

Daily Echo: HMS Broadsword and one of the aircraft carriers that took part in the conflict.
Daily Echo: HMS Broadsword and one of the aircraft carriers that took part in the conflict.

HMS Broadsword and one of the aircraft carriers that took part in the conflict.

Charlie left the navy in 1986 and later spent 30 years as a police officer.

He describes the day the Coventry went down as his most enduring memory of the conflict, which began after Argentina invaded the islands in April 1982.

"We wouldn’t be having this conversation if that bomb had exploded," he said.

"A few of us were sent to help the Coventry guys who had abandoned ship. When you're under air attack the last thing you want is to be in the water but we weren’t going to leave – we had shipmates in the water and we were going to rescue them.”

Charlie remains proud to have taken part in the battle to liberate the islands, saying the experience helped shape the man he is today.

“We had two very busy days in Bomb Alley," he said.

"The first one was May 21, when there were something like 35 air attacks on all the ships in San Carlos Water. The second was May 25, when Coventry went down.

"We were essentially in a big metal box, which is pretty terrifying when you’re under attack."

Daily Echo: HMS Sheffield caught fire after being hit by an Exocet missile during the Falklands conflict.
Daily Echo: HMS Sheffield caught fire after being hit by an Exocet missile during the Falklands conflict.

HMS Sheffield caught fire after being hit by an Exocet missile during the Falklands conflict.

One of Charlie's neighbours was among 20 crewmen who died when the Type 42 Destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by an Exocet missile on May 4.

He said: "That must have been extremely harrowing for my family because someone in the same road had just been killed. The MoD had to be tight-lipped about the loss of ships, so families didn’t know much.”

Charlie, now 59, went into battle just 18 months after joining the navy.

“When you go through something like that, it shapes the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life – good or bad," he said.

"I see people who’ve had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and others for whom the experience had a massive negative impact on their lives, and I do feel so sorry for them.

"I’m one of the lucky ones in that I haven’t experienced that.

"It was unpleasant and terrifying at times but when I look back on it I’m glad I went through it because it definitely shaped the person I’ve been throughout my life, especially in my career in the police.

“I didn’t have any choice. I was 19 and couldn’t just say 'I want to get off now'.

“Someone in my road went to the Falklands and didn’t come back. I’ve had 40 extra years of life than he hasn't had, so I consider myself extremely lucky in that respect.

“It’s affected my life but definitely in a positive way."

Charlie was one of several members of the British Task Force who went to school together. One was rescued after HMS Coventry was attacked, one was killed on HMS Sheffield and another is thought to have come through the conflict without a scratch.

More than 250 British servicemen and two islanders were killed during the battle to retake the Falklands.

But Charlie said: “4,000 civilians are living a free life in the Falklands and that’s what we did. I'm proud to have played a role."

Daily Echo: A bomb explodes aboard HMS Antelope during an attempt to defuse the advice.
Daily Echo: A bomb explodes aboard HMS Antelope during an attempt to defuse the advice.

A bomb explodes aboard HMS Antelope during an attempt to defuse the advice.

Fellow Falklands veterans include Simon Bloomfield, 63, of Hamble, who was serving aboard the Type 21 frigate HMS Antelope when she was hit by two 1,000lb bombs.

They failed to explode on impact but one of Simon’s closest friends, 17-year-old Mark Stevens, lost his life.

Sgt Jim Prescott and Warrant Officer John Phillips were trying to defuse one of the bombs when it went off, killing Sgt Prescott and injuring his colleague.

Simon was rescued by a landing craft from nearby HMS Fearless and returned to the UK on June 11.

He was greeted at Southampton docks by members of his family and remembers seeing banners emblazoned with the names of fellow Falklands survivors.

"I saw one which said 'Welcome home Simon HMS Antelope' and I knew that was for me," he said.

Sadly six of the eight sailors who saved his life in San Carlos Water were later killed, which left Simon shedding "many, many tears".

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