The last remaining Falkland Islands warship still on active service is playing host to visits by the public for the next three days to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the San Carlos landings, reports BBC.
The 4,300-ton warship, which will be decommissioned in 2009, is now moored alongside HMS Belfast in London after she sailed down the Thames carrying veterans from the battle as part of events to mark the anniversary. Eight former sailors were reunited on HMS Exeter as she made a commemorative passage from Gravesend in Kent to London where she moored beside HMS Belfast. For some it was the first time they had returned to their former ship since the 1982 battle, setting off timely reminders of life on board the Type 42 Destroyer. The ex-sailors climbed aboard HMS Exeter from an RNLI lifeboat, and after coffee and tea in the ward room they toured the anti-air warfare ship as it passed along the Thames. Ex-leading seaman Ron Hearn, who left the Royal Navy in 1986, said: "It's wonderful to be back after all this time. "There are one or two differences that I've noticed but by and large things have pretty much stayed the same. "This to me was the best ship's company, and part of me never wanted to leave after nine years service. But they were good years and this has brought all the memories back." Former marine Eric Barber said: "I immediately recognised the loud noise and the smell of the engine. It's like going back in time. It feels strange to be on board after all this time as a lot of things look the same." It was on May 21, 1982 that Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade conducted an amphibious assault that secured the beach at San Carlos from which British forces were able to retake the Falklands. Former engineer Adrian Butler said: "Coming on board has brought many memories back for me and the others as well. "One of my most vivid recollections was at Bluff Cove where I remember lying on the floor and grabbing a mattress as the ship tried to avoid missiles. "But the biggest memory for me was the home-coming to Portsmouth, with the crowds of well-wishers and families who made it such an unbelievable day for us." The veterans were joined on the passage by current members of the Portsmouth-based ship's company and officers, including Commanding Officer Gavin Young. He said: "Being the only remaining warship from the Falklands still in service, it is fantastic to be able to welcome back some of the people who served on her. "It's a poignant reminder of the events this ship has been through in her history, and we warmly welcome the people back who helped play a part in that." In total more than 900 people died during the 74-day battle, including 255 British servicemen, 655 Argentines and three islanders. Launched in 1979 by Lady Mulley, the current HMS Exeter entered service in 1980 and is the fifth ship to bear the name Exeter. She was awarded her sixth battle honour in the Falklands' conflict. The fourth HMS Exeter was a cruiser with six 8-inch and four 4-inch guns which won Exeter's fifth Battle Honor at the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December 1939. Argentine dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Islands at the beginning of April 1982, forcing Margaret Thatcher to send a force of 110 ships and 28,000 personnel to retake the colony. Argentine forces surrendered the island's capital Port Stanley on June 14, 1982. Ex-chief weapons engineer Les Harper, who left HMS Exeter shortly after the Falklands, said: "Everyone was relieved when the war finished on June 14. But there was no euphoria, certainly not in the chief's mess. We were just glad to be out." The veterans who attended yesterday were marine Eric Barber, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs; engineer Adrian Butler, from Plymouth; chief marine engineer David Schofield, from Portsmouth, Hants; chief weapons engineer Philip Watson, from Chesterfield; chief weapons engineer Les Harper, from Cardigan, west Wales; leading seaman Ron Hearn, from Hornchurch, Essex; marine engineer Albert Pearson, from Newcastle; and engineer Andy Mawman, from Stafford.