This week marks 35 years since the end of the Falklands War which killed or injured many Gwent servicemen. MARTIN WADE tells how the Argus covered the war in the South Atlantic.

BEFORE the islands were invaded, tension in the South Atlantic was rising as Argentinian naval ships approached the islands. Scrap metal dealers from Argentina had landed illegally on South Georgia with a small group of soldiers.

Amid this mounting tension, concern grew for a teenager from Bedwas who was on the Falklands. Darren Clifton, 13, was staying with his grandparents who lived in the islands’ capital Port Stanley, his father’s home town.

By April 2 Argentina invaded the islands, landing thousands of troops which overwhelmed the 80 Royal Marines stationed there.

Pictures of the Marines surrendering made front pages across the world and Britain was humiliated. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned. A task force of warships, transports, aircraft and troops was quickly assembled and sailed on April 5.

Many servicemen sailed with the task force, leaving anguished families behind. Clifford and Kay Spiers of Cwmbran were watching the growing crisis with concern. Their son Stephen, a Royal Marine, had his leave cancelled to join the task force. The Argus told how he was not allowed to tell his parents which ship he was on due to “security reasons”.

Another Gwent family had mixed feelings. Jennifer Watts of Rogerstone told of her relief when her son Alun, narrowly missed shipping out on HMS Hermes, the task force flagship. But she was waiting anxiously for news of her other son David, who was a seaman on the destroyer HMS Glamorgan which was sailing south. He had been sailing home from Gibraltar for Easter when his ship was ordered to head for the South Atlantic.

As the task force headed south frantic diplomatic efforts were made to avoid war. Bizarrely, on the day before the invasion, the Argus carried an interview with Sir Anthony Parsons, the British ambassador to the UN. He was to have visited Gwent soon after as part of a speaking tour. This was hastily cancelled.

As diplomatic efforts to avert a conflict ran into the sand the task force passed the halfway staging post of Ascension Island. The Falklands lay another 4,000 miles further south. Ships split away from the main body and headed for the inhospitable island of South Georgia. It was quickly taken.

Former Nantyglo Comprehensive pupil David Welch was one of those Marines who was steaming towards South Georgia. He told his parents that he was escorting prisoners taken after the surrender.

The Argus front page on May 1 told how the ‘Falklands airstrip had been hit by our aircraft’. We were told “early this morning British aircraft took action to enforce the total exclusion zone and to deny the Argentinians the use of the airstrip at Port Stanley.”

Days later any illusions that the conflict could be contained were dashed when the cruiser General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine HMS Conqueror with the loss of 323 lives.

Any thoughts that this would be a walkover were also dispelled when an Argentinian Exocet missile struck HMS Sheffield. Most of the 270 crew survived, but the 20 who died signalled that this was war and that more would die in the months to come.

That news was received with particular horror by the Gwent families who said goodbye to their sons serving at sea as they left for the South Atlantic. In a letter to his mother in Risca, sailor Carl Hoare told how he would remember his 18th birthday “for as long as I live”. The marine engineer was on the frigate HMS Arrow which helped with the rescue of survivors from HMS Sheffield.

The grim mood after the sinking of the Sheffield was compounded with one of the single worst events of the war, when a Sea King helicopter carrying SAS soldiers ditched into the sea. The crash claimed the lives of 18 troopers, including Chepstow man Sgt Sidney Davidson. The Argus told how a memorial service to Sgt Davidson at St Mary’s Parish church in the town heard that he was “a brave man who at the end of a very gallant and noble life in the service of his country”.

Some good news came back to Gwent. Barbara Reynolds of Henwaun Street, Blaina was delighted to get an early birthday card from her 19-year-old son Ian. He was serving as a missile operator on HMS Minerva.

But these setbacks did not derail the British campaign. On May 21, British forces landed at San Carlos, establishing a beachhead from where they could move on a re-take East Falkland, the most populous of the two islands.

Newport Royal Marine Mark Jones was sailing on the landing ship Sir Lancelot and his family in Delius Close believed he was part of the invasion force. His mum Betty told the Argus “we are very proud of him”.

Although the troops landed successfully, the Royal Navy took a pounding in the days that followed. The frigates Ardent and Antelope were sunk near the landing grounds.

South Wales Argus: ATTACK: An Argentinian jet streaks in low to attack British ships in San Carlos Water

ATTACK: An Argentinian jet streaks in low to attack British ships in San Carlos Water

Destroyer HMS Coventry succumbed to Argentinian bombs and the helicopter-carrying merchant ship, the Atlantic Conveyor, was sunk by the Argentinian’s last Exocet missile.

South Wales Argus: DRAMATIC: A bomb on HMS Antelope explodes in San Carlos Water

DRAMATIC: A bomb on HMS Antelope explodes in San Carlos Water

The dramatic sight of a bomb exploding on HMS Antelope made a harrowing front page picture for the Argus.

The campaign pushed on with men of the Parachute Regiment and the Marines famously ‘yomping’ or walking across the island when their helicopters went down with the Atlantic Conveyor.

Against overwhelming odds, the paras took the settlements of Goose Green and Darwin, in what the Argus of May 29 called a ‘double victory’ for the ‘red devils’.

In early June as British troops closed in on Stanley, the air attacks which had wreaked such destruction had slackened. But the Argentinians took their chance when two landing ships full of ammunition and troops were spotted lying off Fitzroy south of the capital. They were full of soldiers from the Welsh Guards and many of them were from Gwent.

The front page of the Argus on June 10 told of this grim news. ‘Massive casualties feared on Galahad’ read the headline.

South Wales Argus: DISASTER: Survivors from the Sir Galahad make their way ashore as the stricken ship blazes

DISASTER: Survivors from the Sir Galahad make their way ashore as the stricken ship blazes

Police officers had visited the home of Allan and Shirley Plant on Mulcaster Avenue to tell them that their 18-year-old son Welsh Guardsman Melvin had been injured but they didn’t know how seriously. Further news didn’t come. “I don’t understand it” Allan said “Why can’t they tell us? They must know about these soldiers now.”

The attacks, although, the worst the Argentinians inflicted during the entire war, were not enough to deflect the British advance on Stanley. But in the days that followed the attack more details emerged. A Former St Joseph’s pupil Frank Ward had married a few weeks before sailing for the Falklands was among those reported as missing. He was later confirmed to have been killed. He and another Newport guardsman Glen Grace of Lliswerry were both killed in the attacks.

Other Gwent guardsmen injured were Brian McCann of Newbridge and Paul Morgan of Cwmbran both suffered burns to their face and his hands.

South Wales Argus: TOLL: The Argus reported on the known casualties from Gwent at the end of the war

The scene was then set for the final, bloody assault on the mountains west of Stanley. The Parachute Regiment faced fierce fighting as it re-took Mount Longdon. Other peaks were taken in the desperate final days of fighting before the Argentinian forces finally surrendered on June 14 when “white flags were seen flying over Stanley”.

This short, but brutal war had claimed 255 British servicemen, 649 Argentinian and three Falkland Islanders.

The Argus editorial comment told of relief that the fighting had not continued into the capital and that civilians had largely been spared. It observed that now the islands had been won back by force they must not be handed over to those we have defeated.

South Wales Argus: VICTORY: How the Argus reported the end of the Falklands War

VICTORY: How the Argus reported the end of the Falklands War