Meet the Team
(Published with kind permission of Bray family.)
On 14th June, the Falkland Islands held their remembrance/celebrations for the 37th anniversary of their liberation from Argentinian occupation. As usual the Islanders came out in force and joined the gathering of serving Personnel and Veterans to mark the most formal of the celebrations, by gathering at the Liberty monument for the address by the Commander British Forces, and the Governor of the Falkland Islands.
This year however, there was a newcomer to the Veterans at the memorial. Wilson James’ own Chas Bray is an ex WO1 in the Royal Engineers, who began his career by deploying on OP CORPORATE as an 18-year old Sapper…and I’m also very proud to say that he is my Dad.
A main contribution to why Chas felt compelled to visit again was that it provided the opportunity to retrace his steps and to share his memories and experiences with me, his son (the current Sapper Bray). OC ANEMOI therefore decided that I should host my Dad during his visit.
On Chas’s return to Stanley after all these years he was greeted by a dark and cloudy night which offered little in the way of views for reminiscence. It was to be the following morning, the anniversary of Liberation Day, that Chas finally saw Port Stanley again. This was the first time that reality and emotions hit home. PTSD has troubled soldiers across the Services, and this is where it started for Chas as an 18-year old Sapper, 8000 miles from home, in a place he didn’t know existed a few months before.
It is not often that a soldier will get the opportunity to return to the very areas that plague their thoughts. Conflict zones like Afghanistan and the Gulf are very much out of reach to most Veterans. Being able to return to these Islands, that had such a definitive outcome of the conflict, offers a degree of closure. Perhaps adding to the explanation of the sheer number of Veterans who make the journey down here for either Liberation Day or Armistice day.
The celebrations on Liberation Day led us to many places and to meeting many faces. Upon entering the British Legion bar in Hillside Camp, almost the entire ships company of HMS Clyde welcomed Dad and I, making sure he had a backlog of drinks he needn’t pay a penny for. The Captain then invited us both aboard for an “open ship.” We turned up the following evening and the remnants of a hangover were soon abolished by Gin and Tonics. Chas was saluted as he walked aboard and joined the company of a handful of other Veterans present and spent the evening swapping stories amidst a tour of the Ship.
While Port Stanley is almost unrecognisable, the outer reaches of East Falkland have changed significantly less. When Chas landed at San Carlos with 11 Field Squadron RE their task was the rapid construction of an airstrip for the Sea Harriers as FOB. When the Falklands Veterans Association (SAMA) organised a driver to take us to the Eastern side of the Island to Teal inlet, San Carlos and Goose Green, Chas was surprised to find some of the original airstrip as seen in picture below being used for a myriad of tasks, from short driveways to tail gates of vehicles.
Throughout Chas’ stay here, the local support has been overwhelming. Union Flags flying everywhere, people stopping him to shake his hand, and thanking him for his part in their liberation.
For me it was eye-opening to see the gratitude displayed by the locals and to see my Dad standing taller.
We visited the Falklands museum in Stanley, which was looked after by two lovely ladies who welcomed us in and gave us the usual welcoming brief. They mentioned a short film that detailed the conflict from the point of view of the young Islanders at the time, and their 74 days under occupation. They started the film and left us to it, however after 10 minutes or so Chas stood up and left. The emotional impact of footage that he had never seen before was massive, but he said much larger than that was the realisation that while over the last 37 years he had been able to shut out the painful memories, the Islanders here had never been able to simply distance themselves. They relived it at every Remembrance and he felt embarrassed that he had never realised the scale of the impact that it had on the Islanders themselves, who had lived through that terrible time. The Ladies from the museum made him a cup of tea and they sat down and just chatted, openly talking about the struggles, the impact it had on them, and how over the years they had come to terms with it.
Had I suggested, a few months ago, a return to the Falklands to Dad, the answer would have been a resounding no. But he has left these Islands with every intention of speaking honestly and openly with some of the other Veterans, especially those who are unwilling to return, and will be asking them to accompany him back here on the 40th anniversary of Liberation Day. Gentlemen who will be welcomed by the Islanders with open arms.