Falklands ceremony is too late for 'abandoned' veterans

The 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War was commemorated yesterday in front of thousands with a ceremony at Horse Guards Parade, a flypast of 50 aircraft over Buckingham Palace and a march by servicemen and women who took part in the conflict.

But 300 Falklands veterans were missing from the ceremonies yesterday - men who had returned home after the victorious campaign and then taken their own lives, often alone in their last days, receiving little or no official help to cope with their distress and despair.

The number of suicides of those who fought in the south Atlantic is now 45 more than those who were actually killed in combat, a still unfolding and disturbing toll largely unnoticed by a society which, their comrades say, seems not to comprehend or care about the scars left by the war on the lives of soldiers.

Among those at yesterday's commemorations were Prince Charles and the Duke of York, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Baroness Thatcher. Prince Andrew said "It is very important those of us who were down there say 'thank you' to a great many people in this country who supported the action in the South Atlantic 25 years ago".

Yet the South Atlantic Medal Association, an aid group for the veterans, charges that successive governments, of whichever hue, including that of Baroness Thatcher, who arguably owed her political survival to the victorious war, of failing to look after the returning service personnel. As well as those who had committed suicide, hundreds more have been forced into life on the streets, huddled in doorways not far from yesterday's scenes of celebration, campaigners say,.

The Government announced last week that a medical assessment programme set up to help Gulf War veterans would be extended to those who fought in the Falklands. That was said to be a personal initiative of Derek Twigg, the recently appointed Veterans' Minister, who said: "It is my sincere hope that all military personnel who served since 1982 make use of this programme if they or their GPs have any concern that they are suffering from a medical condition or mental health issue linked to their military service".

But John McQue, who served as a 19-year-old Royal Marine in the Falklands, said: "Why did it take 25 years to do this? We are grateful that this gesture is being made now, but I am afraid that for 300 people it is simply too late. They took their lives because there was no help available. Lot of people felt simply abandoned. It is as if after benefiting from the victory the politicians simply lost interest in the men who made it possible.

"What is forgotten is that the Falklands War was very different from the hi-tech stuff you see today. It was basically trench warfare, a bit like the First World War. And, of course, many of those doing the fighting were very young and saw some terrible things. We have the dead but also many who survived are homeless, without a job or a home even now."

Dave MacCreedy, of the South Atlantic Medal Association, said "Officials basically did not want to accept that there is [post traumatic stress disorder]. This contributed to the suicides. We have taken veterans back to the Falklands, accompanied by doctors, and that seemed to have helped. It has given them a sort of closure. But that costs £1,200 a head."

Hero jumped to his death: Charles Bruce. Former SAS soldier

Charles "Nish" Bruce of the SAS was the first Special Forces soldier to parachute into the Falkland Islands during the South Atlantic war. His courage and leadership on the extremely hazardous mission won him the Queen's Gallantry Medal.

Bruce left the Army in 1988 to work in the security industry, and also wrote a book under the pen name Tom Read. A former member of the elite Red Devils parachute display team, he took part in regular skydiving displays. But despite his success and popularity, Bruce was deeply affected by his experience in the conflict. "In the Falklands, I saw dead men so deformed that their own mothers wouldn't recognise them,'' he said. "Boys of 18 who had tried to slit their own throats because they had been so badly burned.''

In 1994, Bruce had a breakdown and attacked his then girlfriend. He seemed to have recovered, but eight years later he jumped without a parachute from a Cessna over Oxford.

Corporal Les Standish, of the Parachute Regiment, a friend of Bruce, said: "I know more than a few Paras who had served in the Falklands and then killed themselves."

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