Falklands veteran shares how 'survivor's guilt' caused him to experience breakdowns

"I'm pretty sure a lot of veterans feel the same and it's almost survivor's guilt. It could have been us. I've heard others say, 'well why wasn't it me?'"

A former marine from Denbighshire has spoken out about his 'horrifying' experience as a 17-year-old in the Falklands War.

The 74-day conflict, which began on 2 April 1982 and ended on 14 June 1982, saw Britain and Argentina battle for control of the Falkland Islands.

A total of 255 British troops and three Falkland Islanders died, as well as 649 Argentinian military personnel.

Veteran Graham Jones told ITV Cymru Wales how 'survivor's guilt' has affected his life since leaving the armed forces.

"I had no thoughts of joining the armed forces, but a friend of mine had already passed to join the Royal Marines," he said.

"So one day passing the recruitment office, I thought it was a good idea - and the rest is history, as they say.

"This was my first deployment from training, so for me it was a big adventure - I didn't want to be left behind.

"When we set sail, we didn't really expect that we were going to go to war. We thought that we were just going to be used as a political tool, and eventually we’ll have a stalemate and we’d come home.

"When we set sail from the Ascensions, further south towards the Falklands - that's when the captain of the ship came on and told us about HMS Sheffield that had just been hit."

Graham in his marine uniform aged 17. Credit: Graham Jones

As Graham and his crewmates got closer to the islands, they were given a brief and told that they were going ashore on May 21 and landed at San Carlos Bay.

He said: "From day one, their planes came in and hit us fast and hard trying to obviously sink a lot of the ships.

"I saw Ajax Bay, which was the hospital. I saw that get hit and that was quite a horrifying experience because we realised people were there. And one particular day we received an air raid warning red, it all happened so fast there were nine planes coming through the valley at us.

"As I could see this plane come level with us and it all seemed to happen in slow motion because I was aware of something floating down behind us, which I later realised was the bomb.  And I could see the face of this pilot. It’s so surreal. I can still see it today. He was looking down as he flew over and the bomb exploded. The blast took us off our feet.

"But we also felt some cannon fire from the planes they hit the ground alongside us. That really sticks with me now. You know just how close to death, not just how I came but other people as well. 

"At the time, because I was 17 I was sad, but the thing is as years have gone on, that's another memory that sticks with me because I'm pretty sure a lot of veterans would feel the same.

"It's almost survivor’s guilt. When we came back from the Falklands people were experiencing lack of sleep and I had a few nightmares. But the attitude then was man up and get on with it."

Graham went aboard the SS Canberra in 1982 as Britain went to war to defend the Falkland Islands. Credit: Graham Jones

After the Falklands, Graham transitioned out of the Royal Marines and straight to the police - but he said it wasn't a "good transition".

"My moods were up and down", he said. "I was drinking heavily and in 2002 I had my first breakdown. That is when I realised how much I missed being in the armed forces and that’s a big part of it as well.

"When people leave the armed forces it's like a bereavement because it's losing your family, in a way, and it is a big family.

"So when my sister put me in touch with an organisation called Combat Stress - and that is an organisation that worked for me - they helped me get through my mood swings, my aggression, my drinking and also they put me through some therapies.

"The combination of help from the British Legion and other organisations, that’s what saved my life really. 

"Now I'm involved and volunteer with 'Woody's lodge' which brings other organisations together to create that supportive bubble so that veterans can walk in through the door and tell their stories and someone will listen.

"I know my past experiences are going to be of benefit to other people and now I can help them."

Graham reflects on how he feels about the Falklands conflict now:

Graham added: "Any conflict is quite sad, but over the years I've started to think more about the souls that died on both sides, the Argentines and the British servicemen, and at the end of the day we were just doing a job.

"I went back to the Falklands in 2012 and I met some Argentine veterans and they were just the same as me, they're just people at the end of the day."

Graham says he still feels a sense of pride in our armed servicemen and women.

"It's pride in what I've done but it's tainted with that sadness because there have been so many lives lost over the years. But their lives shouldn’t be forgotten.

"Their memory shouldn't be forgotten. And history should not be forgotten."

You see more on Graham's story, and the experiences of other Welsh veterans, in The Falklands War: Our Stories tonight - Tuesday 14 June - at 9pm on ITV Cymru Wales.