I am 19 years younger than my husband Fred, who served in the Royal Navy during the Falklands War and went to sea on HMS ALACRITY. The ship was drafted to the south Atlantic, paving the way for the task force that followed, and set about sinking enemy vessels and rescuing sailors and airmen from the water when their ship went down. HMS ALACRITY miraculously returned home to Plymouth after the war, almost unscathed. She had taken evasive manoeuvres to narrowly miss being hit by an Exocet missile, and at one point was under attack from an Argentinian air strike, with two 500 pounds bombs landing in the water close by, one either side of the ship. She was lucky….her crew were exceptionally lucky, and all came home to Plymouth at the end of the conflict.
Despite me knowing all this, you would think that tagging along with Fred to HMS ALACRITY’s 35th Anniversary reunion of the Falklands War, I would feel a little out of touch….I was in my first year of primary school in 1982 and it wasn’t in the history books when I was at school. But, when you get together with the crew of a ship that’s been to war, the memories they made together (even 35 years later) are emblazoned in their minds as if they’ve been forged in steel.
Some of them may look like a bunch of grandads and many of them proudly are…but of course they came home! Seeing them together, talking and laughing over buckets of beer, they become teens and twenties again. The tales they tell of their time in the south Atlantic don’t just tell the story of a chapter in the now updated history books, they weave a wonderful tapestry of the bonds that formed between them….their true personalities shine out through the stories of their antics, and stories of being fired upon are met with as much excitement and laughter as tales of their ‘runs ashore’. The fire of youth burns brightly in their eyes when they meet. One wonderful wife said that the first time she went to an ALACRITY reunion (15 years ago) she discovered a side of her husband’s personality she’d never seen before!
Fred is often the life and soul of a gathering but it’s a joy to see him with his old shipmates. I am also moved nearly to tears when Captain Chris Craig speaks a few words at these reunions….he opens my eyes to some of the events that ALACRITY was party to and reminds everyone how they pulled together as a crew, but also how very lucky they were to come homewhen others didn’t. He is so thankful and grateful to this unlikely bunch and there is so much mutual respect in the room that it’s impossible not to be drawn in….impossible not to realise that we make our own way in life but ultimately have no real control of our fate. It is also a powerful reminder that life can be fleeting and that, however strong and successful we have the potential to be as individuals, we are at our best when we are together.
To the Ship’s companyof HMS ALACRITY, long may your brotherhood bond last and live on in the tales you tell.