Falklands War: HMS Coventry veteran recalls ship sinking

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Royal Navy destroyer, HMS CoventryImage source, PA Wire
Image caption,
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Coventry was attacked and sunk by Argentine jets on 25 May 1982

A Falklands War veteran said "not a day goes by" when he does not think about his experiences in the conflict.

Christopher Howe, now 65, from Ewerby in Lincolnshire, was badly burnt when his ship was sunk by Argentine jets 40 years ago.

Nineteen crew members died when the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Coventry was attacked on 25 May 1982.

Mr Howe said: "I'm here to tell the story, and 19 shipmates aren't. I've learned to deal with it."

A 20th crew member died of his injuries in 1983 meaning 255 British personnel, three civilian Falkland Islanders, and 649 Argentine personnel were killed in the 10-week Falklands War.

Mr Howe who was a Petty Officer on HMS Coventry said: "There's not a day goes by that I don't think about what happened then, you can't help it."

Image source, Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Image caption,
Christopher Howe said "not a day goes by" that he does not think about the Falklands conflict 40 years after his ship, HMS Coventry, was sunk by Argentine jets

"I remember turning to the captain at the time and saying, 'We're about to get attacked by...'," Mr Howe said.

"I'm not sure if I actually finished my statement when there was this thud, followed by an extreme heat and a fireball rolling around the ops room.

"My life just slowed down completely in slow motion.

"The next thing I know, I'm waking up in an ops room that's tilting.

"My arm was on fire, most of my clothes had been blown away completely, and I was in a lot of pain. There was a lot of thick, acrid smoke."

Image source, Michael Dilucia/PA Wire
Image caption,
Mr Howe made it to the ship's upper deck by which point the hull was tilting and the crew were told to abandon ship

On the day of the attack, the weather was perfect for "visual targeting" by Argentine pilots and HMS Coventry was hit around 18:00 BST, Mr Howe said.

Three bombs struck, two exploding on impact. In the operations room, Mr Howe was trapped under desks.

He said in that moment he pictured his wife and children, and thought: "I'm not ending my life here".

He made it to the ship's upper deck by which point the hull was tilting and the crew were told to abandon ship.

"It was just a case of sitting on the ship's side and sliding down," Mr Howe said.

Image source, Michael Dilucia/PA Wire
Image caption,
The HMS Coventry from a life raft, taken by Michael Dilucia before the destroyer sank during the Falklands War

He was taken to the hospital ship SS Uganda to treat his injuries, including 27% burns, but like many Falklands veterans Mr Howe said his mental health had suffered.

"I used to have a lot of silent periods when I went into my own [world]," he said.

"I don't know where I went. I was thinking of what happened. Why was I lucky? Why did I escape? Why did 19 of my shipmates lose their lives?"

Image source, PA Wire
Image caption,
Nineteen crew members died when the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Coventry was attacked on May 25 1982

He said he takes some pleasure from the awareness of the conflict 40 years on.

"We must never forget," he said.

"They made a sacrifice. And as we say, 'we gave our today for your tomorrow'."

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