Falklands 1982

Sacrifices were worth it, says Falklands veteran who returned to islands he helped liberate at 17

More than 130 veterans who fought in the Falklands conflict have returned to the islands 40 years on to meet the people they liberated.

For some, it has helped to answer a pressing question – was the bloodshed worth it? 

Veteran Rob Stenhouse was a young junior marine of just 17 when he was deployed to defend the overseas territory.

He said: "They said in commando training, 'you're doing a man's job, we'll treat you like a man. You can drink if you want'.

Rob Stenhouse as a young marine CREDIT Rob Stenhouse
Rob Stenhouse as a young marine (Picture: Rob Stenhouse).

"And so, you felt like, at 17 years old, 'right, I'm a man'."

We followed him on a pilgrimage back in time, as Falkland islander Sally Heathman, who wasn't born in 1982, took him back to see the place where he fought all those years ago.

Had the British task force not set sail, Sally's life would have been very different. 

On the three-hour drive to visit Campito Hill, which overlooks where Rob landed in the darkness of night on 21 May 1982, the 40 Commando veteran recalls his time on the islands. 

He believes the Argentinians didn't realise just how close they came to winning the war. 

Rob said: "I don't know if people particularly appreciate now how tenuous winning the war was. 

"There was a very, very real feeling that we could lose this really easily and, to be honest, all the Argentinians needed to have done was maybe sink a few more of the critical ships. 

"We would have been in serious trouble," he added.

Just some of the 130 veterans who had returned to the Falkland Islands 40 years after liberating it CREDIT BFBS
Some of the 130 veterans who returned to the Falkland Islands, 40 years after liberating it.

It's a theory Falkland islander Sally was taught at school during lessons about the history of the conflict.  

After arriving at Campito Hill, the veteran describes the intense conditions they experienced after they landed. 

Rob's unit was tasked with completing search and destroy missions – looking for the Argentinian special forces.  

Rob said: "It was pitch back. 

"We could hear the gunfire from the naval ships on Fanning Head. 

"As the bow dropped down, out we ran and then, faced with a... three-foot bank. 

"It doesn't sound very high but the amount of kit that we used to have to carry – it weighed 70-odd kilograms (11 stone). 

"We couldn't stand up on our own. 

"I only weighed about nine stone at the time – it felt like it was going to absolutely snap my shoulder blades." 

Campito Hill Falkland Islands MAP CREDIT BFBS
Campito Hill, Falkland Islands.

Rob developed trench foot, was freezing cold, hungry and was desperately tired. 

The men had to sleep fully clothed with a loaded gun by their side and they had a torturous sleep pattern – a rotation of two hours on watch, two hours asleep. 

Looking back on those desperate times, Rob wonders if what they endured was worth it, asking Sally if she loves living on the Falkland Islands. 

"I don't think I could live anywhere else – it gets in your bones," she said.

Rob Stenhouse and Sally Heathman walk together before heading off to visit battlefields CREDIT BFBS
Rob Stenhouse and Sally Heathman walk together before heading off to visit battlefields.

After the 1982 conflict, Falkland islanders of all ages would visit the battle sites and polish the plaques honouring all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their freedom. 

Visiting the plaque that honours Lieutenant Richard Nunn, whose helicopter was hit by fire from Argentine aircraft while he was en route to rescue Lieutenant Colonel Jones, Rob takes the time to clean it – an act which brings his memories of war into sharp focus. 

He said: "It was such a surreal time for a 17-year-old. 

"It was still quite nerve-racking because you never knew where they were going to drop the bombs, so we were all a target really."

Rob Stenhouse cleans Lt Richard Nunn's plaque CREDIT BFBS
Rob Stenhouse cleans Lieutenant Richard Nunn's plaque.

The end of the tour saw Rob and Sally head to Ajax Bay – the site of the old field hospital, affectionately known as the 'Red and Green Life Machine' due to its incredible track record. 

Every soldier who entered alive, came out alive. 

Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, hospitals painted with a red cross are not legitimate targets of war, but the Red and Green Life Machine was positioned right next to the task force ammunition store and so was not given the protective emblem. 

Red and Green Life Machine buildings screengrab from drone footage Falkland Islands conflict CREDIT BFBS
The 'Red and Green Life Machine' building which was so vital during the Falklands conflict.

Argentinian Skyhawks dropped four bombs over Ajax Bay. Only one exploded but, still, five men lost their lives.  

Today it is a restricted area, but special permission has been granted for the veterans who have returned to the islands 40 years later to be there.

Standing there, glad to have survived, Rob is reminded that, in his opinion, war is selfish. 

He said: "You literally think, when bombs are landing, you think – I'd rather you have it than I have it. 

"Not that you want any colleagues to be killed but what you particularly don't want is for you to be killed." 

Rob Stenhouse is thankful to have survived the Falkland conflict CREDIT BFBS
Rob Stenhouse is thankful to have survived the Falklands conflict.

Rob says that visiting the islands four decades on has helped him see that it "wasn't an unjust war". 

He said: "The attitude of the Falklanders and their appreciation has really brought it home to me that the sacrifices were worth it." 

Head to our Falklands 40 page, where you can find our memorial wall, as well as more Falklands stories, videos and podcasts. 

Join Our Newsletter


Amazing view from RAF Voyager supporting Typhoons from XI Squadron

Gurkha recruits face chemical attack test in most arduous training to date

Veterans wear long-awaited Nuclear Test Medals in public for first time