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Falklands War: We were all just kids, innocents to the slaughter

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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’.

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.”

Rhyl Memorial Gardens Falklands veteran Les Peake with sisters of Peter Edwards who lost his life on the Sir Galahad Picture of Peter Edwards

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Demolition of St Thomas Green vandal-blighted building approved

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A SOCIAL housing provider scheme to demolish a deteriorated vandal-blighted house in Haverfordwest has been approved by county planners.

Earlier this year, social housing provider Ateb Group Limited gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish The Grove, St Thomas Green.

In its application, it stated: “The building has been unoccupied for several years and its physical condition has deteriorated significantly over that time. It has become prone to vandalism and trespass and is becoming difficult to manage and secure.

“It’s demolition will allow the structure and resultant debris to be removed, improving the visual amenities of the locality. It will also enable the site to become readily available for a sensitive redevelopment in association with the adjacent Meyler House.”

It added: “The cleared site will become part of the adjoining Meyler House site, with proposals being prepared to redevelop and construct affordable elderly persons apartments and associated parking facilities.”

Agent Evans Banks Planning Limited, in a supporting statement said The Grove, adjoining Ateb’s head offices at Meyler House, received permission back in 2009 for the “Demolition of existing dwelling and replacement with apartments, houses and landscaped grounds.”

Conservation Area Consent was also granted at that time.

“Those permissions were not implemented and have long since lapsed, but nevertheless indicate that the principle of demolishing The Grove was deemed acceptable at that time to the local planning authority,” said Evans Banks Planning Limited.

“A pre-application enquiry has recently been presented before the local planning authority which seeks to reignite such redevelopment proposals but on a much larger site, incorporating Meyler House and its grounds into a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to create elderly persons apartments.”

It added: “This current submission seeks to renew that 2009 Conservation Area Consent given that the existing former dwelling house has now reached a physical state where its deterioration is causing concern.”

However, county planners determined that prior approval was needed before any demolition works take place, with details of tree protection while the works take place needed, along with a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the demolition.

County planners have now granted Conservation Area approval for the plans.

A similar application by Ateb, for demolition works at the town’s former learning centre, near to the former county library, recently made subject to broadly similar conditions, has since been granted permission.

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Community

The Big Beer Festival returns to Milford Waterfront

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MILFORD HAVEN is set to host the highly anticipated Big Beer Festival tomorrow at Milford Waterfront. Beginning at 12:00 PM on May 25, the event promises a vibrant celebration featuring an impressive array of real ales, lagers, and ciders, along with a prosecco and Pimm’s bar for those with different tastes.

Local bands will provide live music throughout the day, ensuring a lively atmosphere. Headline act 4th Street will be among the performers, with additional acts including After the Fire, Steve Bartram, Two Suns, Tin Man Revolution, and DJ Robzy. Food lovers can enjoy diverse culinary offerings from The Junkyard Dog and Marcela Mexican Cuisine at the Thornton Motors Streetfood Zone. Entry is £20, which includes four drink tokens and a limited edition glass. Each token can be exchanged for a half pint, a glass of prosecco, or a glass of Pimm’s. The festival will run until 11:00 PM.

This event is part of the continued partnership between Milford Waterfront and the Milford Haven Round Table. This collaboration supports a calendar of events throughout the year, raising funds for local causes and creating enjoyable experiences for the community and visitors. Upcoming events include the Milford Haven Carnival on July 6 and the Fireworks Extravaganza on November 5.

As well as local petrol station company The Ascona Group, Howden, a global insurance intermediary group, is a key supporter of the festival. As a deluxe sponsor, Howden is donating £500 towards the event. Gary Stevens, Regional Managing Director, expressed his delight in supporting the Milford Haven Round Table, emphasizing the event’s significance as a fantastic day out for the bank holiday weekend and a means to support the local community.

Milford Haven Round Table, the UK’s largest Round Table with 30 active members, organizes this festival to give back to the local community. All funds raised support local charities, groups, and individuals, including popular free entry events like the town’s annual carnival and fireworks display.

For more details, visit the official event page.

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Public transport issues could affect thousands of older people in Wales

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THOUSANDS of older people across Wales may find it difficult to get out and about and do the things they want to do this bank holiday weekend due to difficulties accessing public transport, according to the findings of a new poll undertaken by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.1

A third of older people who responded to the Commissioner’s poll said they find it difficult to access public transport in their area, while the Commissioner’s findings also highlight that 1 in 5 people aged 70+, and nearly 1 in 4 older people living with health issues or disabilities, are now using their bus pass less compared to two years ago.

Reasons shared by older people as to why they were using public transport less frequently included fewer buses, unreliable or delayed services, changes to routes or the location of bus stops and difficulties finding information about routes or timetables.

Older people using their bus pass less frequently told the Commissioner they had less freedom and independence, and found it more difficult to access appointments and services. They also said they had become more reliant on others, or had no option but to use a car or taxi rather than greener public transport options.

The Commissioner is concerned that any further cuts to bus services would make it even more difficult for older people to use public transport, leaving people unable to get out and about and do the things that matter to them, and at greater risk of loneliness and isolation.

She says that where changes to services are unavoidable, it is crucial that older people’s voices and experiences are used to guide decisions and shape future plans, and that community transport services should be supported to fill gaps in provision.

Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said: “Transport plays a crucial role in supporting us to be independent and do the things that matter to us regardless of our age, whether it’s enjoying ourselves on a bank holiday or doing other things such as attending health appointments, caring for loved ones, volunteering, meeting up with family or friends, or going shopping on the high street.

“And as we get older, we may come to rely on public transport more often to do these things.”

“My poll findings suggest that a third of older people in Wales – nearly 300,000 people – find it difficult to access public transport in their communities, and that use of the concessionary bus pass has fallen over the past two years, particularly amongst people over the age of 70, and those living with long-term health conditions or disabilities.

“Without access to public transport, a growing number of older people will find themselves with less independence, less active and engaged with their communities, and at greater risk of loneliness and isolation.

“Many of the issues highlighted by older people that make it more difficult to use public transport – such as the distance of bus stops from key facilities such as GP surgeries – could be tackled through ensuring that older people are involved in planning and decision-making, so their voices can shape bus services in a meaningful way, particularly where changes to services cannot be avoided.

“It’s also crucial that in areas where public transport provision is lacking, community transport services are supported, via longer-term, more sustainable funding, to fill gaps and help ensure older people can get where they need to go.”

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