Memories of the Falklands War part 2

Why our town never forgets those who did country proud.


IF Yorkshire spirit was to be found anywhere in the Falklands during the war, it was personified in the shape of the Reverend Harry Bagnall.

The quietly-spoken, mild-mannered priest, who had served as curate in charge of Cantley during the 1970s, demonstrated his strength of character and compassion when confronted with the 1982 Argentine invasion.

He was then Anglican Minister at the most southerly cathedral in the world, Christchurch in Port Stanley.

He and his wife, Iris, could have been evacuated, or gone to live in comparative safety on a Falklands farm. Their faith unshaken, they stayed in Stanley to comfort the sick and elderly and give reassurance.

Bagnall resisted the use of the cathedral for military purposes and insisted that British ensigns hanging should not be taken down.

The first weekend of the invasion was Palm Sunday. The reverent used a Falkland plant known as “diddle-dee” to make a Palm Sunday cross which was adopted by islanders throughout the occupation as a symbol of unity.

He was later made an OBE and wrote a book about his experiences, Faith Under Fire. He retired in 1995 and died from cancer in Doncaster in 1998.

AS the nation remembers the battles when Britain sought to regain the Falklands from Argentina, Darren Burke examines Doncaster’s strong connections with the conflict and how one of the nation’s biggest collections of war memorabilia from the era is based in our town . .

AT 7,968 miles apart, Port Stanley, capital of the Falklands, is about as far removed from Doncaster as its possible to get.

You think there’d be little to connect the windswept, rugged wilderness of the South Atlantic with our gritty mining villages.

But once a year, scores of veterans who were caught up in the brief but bloody war gather at Doncaster’s Aeroventure aircraft museum to recall their sacrifices, meet old pals and to remember their fallen comrades - all 255 of them who died between April and June 1982.

For the Lakeside museum is home to one of Britain’s biggest permanent collections of Falklands memorabilia - from pictures of aircraft crash sites, parts of Argentine planes downed in the theatre of war to a fully restored Gazelle helicopter recovered from the murky depths of the sea.

Displays house Argentine helmets, bombs, shells, assorted plane “souvenirs” brought back by servicemen, a tailpiece of an enemy chopper used as a signpost after the war and even an empty bottle of Task Force Ale, prepared specially for troops by a Sunday newspaper.

There’s even bits of bomb fragments from the Black Buck raids on Port Stanley airfield plus numerous other paraphenalia, shrapnel and other vivid reminders.

Each August, members of the South Atlantic Medal Association regroup in the shadow of the military hardware they served aboard - Sea King helicopters, Westland Wessex and many more significant and poignant reminders of the era.

The museum’s Steven Hague said: “On every anniversary, there’s an interest in our collection as the momentum gathers again. The soldiers come to remember every year - but even now, those who were there find it very hard to talk about it to anyone other than those who experienced it with them.”

Pride of place in the collection is the restored Gazelle XX411, shot down by Argentine troops on May 21, 1982, crash-landing into the sea off Port San Carlos.

Its pilot Sgt Andy Evans was rescued by co-pilot Sgt Eddy Candlish but died of gunshot wounds 20 minutes later.

The craft was recovered in October 1982 and initially used for battle damage repair training before being bought by Aeroventure where volunteers spent years restoring it to its former glory as a fitting tribute.

The museum also houses the cab of helicopter Westland Scout XP902, one of two aircraft sent to rescue perhaps one of the war’s most famous names, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Jones, better known as H. Jones, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after being killed in action during the Battle of Goose Green.

During an attack against entrenched Argentinian positions, with his unit pinned down by heavy fire, he led a charge and was killed doing so but the enemy surrendered shortly afterwards with the Scouts sent to fetch him and other wounded back from the battlefield.

Added Steven: “The collection started by accident really but has steadily grown to become one of the most important in the country. We are just doing our bit to remember those who gave so much for their country.”

* The Aeroventure collection at Dakota Way, Lakeside, is open to the public. For more details visit Aeroventure or call 01302 761616.

Part 3 - From watching the war on TV to living there...... log on to Doncaster Free Press

Part 1 Memories of the Falklands War part 1