Falklands veteran Colin Waite says that he is still traumatized by the events of 40 years ago.
Colin, 62, from North Shields, said: “It never leaves you. It stays with you, it’s part of your life that replays over and over again.
“Over the years there have been times when I have wanted to forget and tried to shut it out but there is always something that brings it back.”
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The conflict began on April 2, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands followed by the invasion of South Georgia the next day.
On April 5, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands.
The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on June 14, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.
Colin joined the Marines in 1977 and, after a tour of Northern Ireland, was called up to serve on the Royal Navy assault ship, HMS Fearless.
On April 2, 1982 he was on leave having just returned home from a three month tour to see his wife and first child. He was watching the news on TV when the first reports of the Argentine invasion came through.
“I knew at that moment I was going to be called up. Sure enough I got the call 20 minutes later and was told to pack up my stuff as they’d be picking me up in an hour.”
He said as events in the South Atlantic are remembered, certain anniversary dates will bring painful memories for veterans and their families across the UK.
For example June 8 took a terrible toll. Argentine air strikes killed 48 men on board the Sir Tristram and the Sir Galahad and a further six died when the Landing Craft Utility Foxtrot-4 from Colin’s HMS Fearless was hit.
“And people wonder why I never celebrate my birthday on June 9,” he said ruefully.
“I came within inches of dying, twice in a minute, in fact, on Blue Beach. It was the only time the Argentinians the shore forces, and we received an air raid red alert – I went to check and saw red dots bouncing in front of me, so I ran and hit the deck.
“The pilot had obviously picked me as a target, but I managed to dodge him. Then he dropped a bomb, so I just buried my head and hoped for the best. Luckily it landed in a trench, or the toll would’ve been significant – one guy died, and another was seriously injured.
“I felt the shrapnel whistle past my ear, and I later found it embedded in a shed. It missed me by a hair’s breadth.”
Colin, who lost several comrades during the war, says he has lived with a guilt complex ever since and has had severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The mental strain eventually led to a marital breakdown and financial troubles, and he was asked to leave service. Colin said: “There was no welfare or mental health support in those days, they just wanted rid of me.”
He struggled to adjust to civilian life and went through a number of failed suicide attempts. A history of back problems was then made worse by a car crash in 2012.
But the support of his family at that time helped. Colin was to have a major melt down in 2013 and had a further two attempts to end his life from him. But later that year he met his present partner and now carer Norriece, whilst rediscovering a love of art gave him a new lease of life.
Colin, who has a trained support dog, Monty, to help him on a daily basis, still struggles to leave the house but has found comfort in his artwork which he says has heled keep him alive.
He has created 258 pieces – one for every member of the British military and the three Falkland Islanders who died during the war.
Colin hopes to publish a book of his artwork which reflects his service with the Royal Marines during the conflict to raise money for military charities including the Royal British Legion.
He is hoping to find backing for his project as to do a print run of 5,000 books would cost around £35,000.
His work includes portraits of Argentine prisoners, former comrades and casualties of the conflict.
Colin said: “Some of the pictures I did in the mid-90s are quite dark and they reflect my mental state at the time, but it’s an honest reflection of my memories. I’ve done 258 pieces which I want to put in a high-quality hardback book.”
The quality of the work is all the more remarkable as Colin has to use a specially adapted pencil wrapped in polystyrene tube to achieve a better grip because he has severe arthritis.
He added: “Art has been very therapeutic for me and has made it easier to look back on the events of 40 years ago.
“My pictures tell the story of the conflict. I’ve never been back to the Falklands, but I would like to revisit the islands one day. I think it would help to close that chapter of my life.”
Colin says he wants to publish the book to raise funds for the charities who supported him after leaving the Marines.
He said: “The RBL has provided lots of practical support to me including a rise and recline chair and they’ve also assisted with carpets and furniture, they’ve been brilliant with me.”
The Royal British Legion’s Assistant Director of Operations, Nicola Cook, said: “40 years on from the Falklands War the RBL is still supporting many veterans and their families living with the physical and mental health challenges caused by their service in the conflict.
“For some the battle with painful memories and experiences is only just beginning and we are still being approached by people who served in the Falklands who need our help.
“Most Falklands veterans live a full and active life but for some the lack of connection to those they served with and who understand their experiences can lead to isolation and loneliness.
“Some are living with the consequences of the conflict and find it difficult to ask for support. We would urge any Falklands veterans, and their families, who need support to contact the RBL. It’s never too soon or too late to ask the RBL for help.”
Throughout the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, the Royal British Legion will be commemorating the service and sacrifice of all those involved as well as sharing their stories and experiences of the conflict.
Its activity will begin on the 40th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War in April, culminating in a national event to commemorate the end of the conflict on June 14.
The RBL is inviting veterans, civilians and members of bereaved families to attend the service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire which will include a live link to the Falklands.
30,000 sailors, marines, soldiers, airmen and merchant mariners took part in the Falklands War along with many civilians who supported the war effort.
The RBL’s commemorations will honor and remember this great collective contribution as well as the sacrifice of the 255 British personnel who sadly lost their lives.
* If you think you can help Colin publish his book you can email him at email@example.com