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My dad survived the bombing of the HMS Ardent, but 22 sailors died – and I met one of their children 40 years later

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I WAS just one when my father sailed to the Falklands as the captain of the Royal Navy Type-21 Frigate HMS Ardent.
My mum waved him off from the Round Tower at the entrance of Portsmouth harbour. 
The Sun's Alex West and Claire Kemp wearing her Elizabeth Cross10The Sun’s Alex West and Claire Kemp wearing her Elizabeth CrossCredit: Cpl Jack WelsonThe ship's captain Alan West, who survived the attack, with baby Alex on HMS Ardent in 198110The ship’s captain Alan West, who survived the attack, with baby Alex on HMS Ardent in 1981The much-missed Gary Nelson with daughter Claire10The much-missed Gary Nelson with daughter ClaireA month later, on May 21, 1982, his ship was sunk in San Carlos Bay when two 1,000lb bombs from Argentine fighter jets destroyed her stern, killing 22 sailors.
I was incredibly lucky that my dad, then Commander Alan West, survived and returned home after giving the call to abandon ship.
He was the last to leave the vessel and was plucked to safety by the crew of HMS Yarmouth, which came alongside to help.
But Claire Kemp, born just a month later than me, would never get to know her father. Her dad Gary Nelson was the “club swinger” — or physical trainer — on board HMS Ardent and was stationed in the tiller flat (a compartment of the ship) where the bombs hit.
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He was killed by the blasts.
Claire, now 41, was only 13 months old at the time and an only child.
I met her as we boarded a plane this week to visit the Falkland Islands for the first time to mark Remembrance Sunday in the capital, Port Stanley.
Claire was among 100 returning heroes and the relatives of those who lost their lives on a remembrance trip to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.
Worst nightmare
The group of veterans, most of whom had never been back, took a tour of the key battlegrounds in the fight to liberate the islands, known by Argentina as Las Malvinas.
Among them were tough commandos who famously yomped — marched with heavy equipment over difficult terrain — 56 miles across East Falkland before battling en-trenched enemy positions on the mountains around Stanley.

Others included sailors on board warships that were sunk by enemy fighter planes with bombs or Exocet missiles.
Set against the haunting, bleak backdrop of peat bogs, craggy hills and icy South Atlantic waters, the group paid their respects to the fallen and remembered their part in the campaign, which cost the lives of 255 British Forces personnel and injured hundreds more.
Now working as a healthcare assistant in Plymouth, Claire told me: “It was at the top of my bucket list to come to the Falklands.
“It’s an element of closure and peace and it’s amazing to be in the place where Dad was lost.
“Being 13 months old, I grew up not knowing who my dad was and relying on what people told me.
“Everyone who knew him has said the same thing, how much of a jovial man he was and his strength and physique. 
“My mum was devastated. She didn’t want to know.
HMS Ardent was sunk in San Carlos Bay when two 1,000lb bombs from Argentine fighter jets destroyed her stern, killing 22 sailors10HMS Ardent was sunk in San Carlos Bay when two 1,000lb bombs from Argentine fighter jets destroyed her stern, killing 22 sailorsCredit: Crown CopyrightA special service of remembrance was held on Friday at Falklands capital Port Stanley10A special service of remembrance was held on Friday at Falklands capital Port StanleySoldiers disembark at San Carlos Bay from one of HMS Intrepid's landing craft during the Falklands War10Soldiers disembark at San Carlos Bay from one of HMS Intrepid’s landing craft during the Falklands WarCredit: Crown CopyrightJames Gillanders retraces his steps on the jetty he disembarked on in 1982 - seen in the photo above10James Gillanders retraces his steps on the jetty he disembarked on in 1982 – seen in the photo aboveCredit: Cpl Jack Welson“It’s your worst nightmare. Your whole world falls apart. But she is so strong and she nailed it.”
Of her dad’s last moments, Claire explained: “He was told to take over steering because of his capability and strength. 
“He survived the first bomb and went down with the second.”
I told Claire I was sorry my father had survived and hers did not. It could have been so different had the bombs just landed a few yards away. Claire’s husband is in the Forces and the couple have four children between them.
She keeps her father’s memory alive at memorial services each year. She said: “It was what he signed up to do. It was always a possibility he would have to go to war.”
On Thursday we travelled by bus across the desolate isles from Port Stanley to San Carlos Water — off the west coast of East Falkland — where the invasion began amid a firestorm of Argentine missiles and bombs.
On a beautiful sunny day, with a light breeze, the veterans gathered at the Blue Beach cemetery at San Carlos, where the names of the British killed in the war are immortalised.
A Gurkha played a haunting tune on the bagpipes before the Last Post was played on a bugle and the crowd bowed their heads for a two-minute silence.
San Carlos had been the starting point and an amphitheatre of death where the combined troops had watched from their dug-in positions around the bay as the Royal Navy ships were attacked by Argentine fast jets.
Scots Guardsman James Gillanders, 58, had landed at San Carlos on a wooden jetty. This week he walked it again.
James took orders to march to the capital, Port Stanley, and was involved in the deadly assault against well dug-in troops at Mount Tumbledown, later immortalised in the 1988 film Tumbledown.
He said: “When it was finally over there was pure elation.”
Craftsman Alex Shaw was an armourer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) attached to 3 Para and was safe in HQ with the war almost over when fate struck him a lethal blow.
His widow Ann, of Beverley, East Yorks, said: “His friend asked him to come along and help fix a gun which had jammed and take some fags to some soldiers on Mount Longdon and he said ‘yeah, OK’. He wasn’t meant to be there.”
Alex and three pals were up the mountain when they were hit by an artillery round and maimed. Alex had shrapnel wounds to his groin and was bleeding heavily. Ann said: “They thought he was OK but it had hit a femoral artery and he was losing a lot of blood.
“They brought him down from the mountain but they couldn’t calm him down or stem the bleeding. He was really fighting it until the end.”
It was Father’s Day, June 13, just a few hours before ceasefire, when Alex died, leaving Ann a widow and their five-month-old son Craig without a dad.
Ann said: “We had planned that we would go and meet him off the boat when he got back.”
They were living in married quarters in Tidworth, Wilts, at the time.
She said: “I remember they knocked at the door. There was this little man and he didn’t know what do with himself. He said, ‘are you the wife of Alan Shaw?’ And I said, ‘no, you’ve got the wrong woman, my husband is Alex’. He said, ‘sorry, it was Alex Shaw he meant’.”
The couple had met aged 12, left school, got engaged at 16 and married two years later.
Ann said: “We had a lifetime in just a few years. 
“He was a very handsome man with a big, thick moustache.
“I couldn’t face coming back after it happened. I hated the military, the Government and the Argentinians, all of them, for what happened.
“After 40 years, you think everything has been put to rest. But as soon as you start thinking about it, all the feelings come back.” She explained: “I lost my husband, my home, my friends, everything, it was all gone.
 “We learnt recently that an Argentinian officer had kept Alex’s bloodstained helmet for 35 years.
“He had a pang of guilt and decided to give it back. Alex’s sister flew to Madrid to get it back.”
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Jacqui Giffin, 60, from Ferndown, Dorset, was aged 19 when her brother, Lance Corporal Brett Giffin, of 3 CDO Brigade Air Squadron, was killed. 
He was flying a Gazelle helicopter to position Rapier weapons systems on strategic points when he was hit by a retreating Argentine patrol.
Jacqui said: “It was devastating. I have some lovely memories of him.”
Ann Shaw at the Port Stanley memorial to the fallen10Ann Shaw at the Port Stanley memorial to the fallenAlex Shaw with son Craig10Alex Shaw with son CraigA marine's beret is placed on the bust of Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister during the conflict10A marine’s beret is placed on the bust of Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister during the conflict
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk

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