After the celebratory atmosphere of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee a fortnight ago, we commemorated another anniversary in Bristol last weekend: the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands conflict.
You may have seen coverage of an event at the National Memorial Arboretum, recognising the sacrifice and contribution of all the armed services. There have also been some new television programmes about the conflict and the impact on the lives of some of those who served since.
Bristol has our own connection to the Falklands conflict, and we were able to recognise this on Saturday 11 June, at a beautiful and very moving service in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel.
The initiative for the service came from a Royal Navy veteran who wrote to Marvin, our Mayor back in the New Year, to say that he had served on HMS Bristol, that the ship had a major role in the Falklands, and he hoped we were planning to do something about the fortieth anniversary.
That email was passed to me as the City Council’s Armed Forces Champion and, with the Lord Mayor’s Office, we started to look into the history of our connection with the ship, and plan the event, alongside the HMS Bristol Association, and the Royal Navy.
We discovered that HMS Bristol was given the Freedom of the City back in 1972, and that when the ship was decommissioned in 2020 the city was given some artefacts. We also drew on the format of the national Falklands Service in planning our event.
The event was a wonderful one. The Lord Mayor’s Chapel was full, with the Ship’s colours laid on the altar during the service, and wreaths were placed. We were trumpeted in, the Last Post played, and then we processed back across College Green. Many passers-by interested to hear what the event was. What some found particularly interesting were the very distinctive white, blue and green crocheted scarves worn by the veterans. These are made in the Falklands, using wool from Falklands sheep, and are in the colours of the Falklands medal.
The reception held afterwards in in City Hall, attended by over sixty veterans of the ship, their families and senior representatives of all other services. The ship’s articles were proudly on display, and it was a chance for veterans from all corners of the UK, and even from Canada, to meet up. City representatives thanked them for their service, and Peter Featherstone Williams, the Chair of the Association, spoke in detail of the experience of HMS Bristol, and those who served on her, at that time. For me, this felt like a crucial part of the event, and although we can never understand those experiences unless you have lived them, you could have heard a pin drop whilst Peter spoke.
I am sure that all those there will look back at this event with pride that Bristol was able to recognise the ship and crew in such an appropriate way for their bravery and sacrifice. I hope this something which will be repeated at other significant anniversaries where we can recognise our links with the Armed Forces.