The Falklands war was justified – Iraq wasn’t

Simon Weston
Simon Weston

Simon Weston will relive the moment he was kissed by the Argentinian pilot who caused his horrific injuries. He spoke to Tony Dewhurst ahead of his appearance in Lancashire later this month

Six days before Argentina surrendered, Simon Weston was on board HMS Sir Galahad at Bluff Cove, south of the capital Port Stanley, ready with other troops to land on the Falklands Islands.

When Argentine jets bombed the vessel, which was loaded with fuel and ammunition, he suffered terrible burns.

His injuries were so appalling his own mother couldn’t recognise him when he arrived home.

His face had melted in the searing heat.

As part of the mental healing process, as well as making several trips back to the windswept islands in the South Atlantic, he agreed to meet the Argentine pilot, Lieutenant Carlos Cachon, who had turned his deadly fire on Weston and the British forces.

“In all the nightmares I had about the ship blowing up and the fire and seeing friends die, his eyes were just soulless, they were empty……and I just wanted to put life and put light into those eyes to see what they were,” said Weston, who has become a symbol of the Falklands conflict.

“But until I met him I could not see his eyes.

“He just had a job to do and I’d have probably done the same.

“If you are going to deal with issues, you have to face them head on and that was the biggest one at the time.”

They met for the first time in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, where the Argentine generals had planned the war, and Weston admits it proved the turning point in his life.

“I didn’t know how I felt when I knew I was going to meet him, there were so many emotions bottled up,” he added.

“Whether to laugh, cry or just punch his lights out. But, on the flip side, he was very courageous to meet me.

“I walked up some stairs, went through the door of a beautiful flat and there he was. But he stole the show and kissed me on both cheeks, which was the last thing I was expecting – a big macho man from the Welsh Valleys being kissed by some stranger. Especially when he had done this.

“When I looked in his eyes I found an admirable man who became my friend and we still keep in touch. Carlos is a kind and gentle man.

“War is a terrible thing.

“You ask totally nice people to do terrible things.”

It is a mistake to think of Weston as simply affable and a compassionate and humble man, which he is. There is a lot more inside.

He gives motivation talks and pushes himself to the limit. He is determined never to waste a moment in memory of his young comrades whose lives ended just days before the Argentines surrendered.

Forty-seven people were killed and 97 injured on that cruel day in the South Atlantic.

“Nobody should have seen what I saw,” he says quietly as we sit in the lounge of a Cardiff hotel.

“We were a sitting duck in that boat. We were completely shot to pieces.

“It was truly horrible to be in that fire.

“No one should have been inside that inferno but we were.

“You didn’t realise how badly injured you were.

“I was like a gorge of people being thrown out of the ship.

“Then someone wrote ‘morphine’ on my chest. I was so badly burnt I was charred from head to foot.

“I may have been the worst injured to come back alive, but it hasn’t been the worst thing that ever happened to me.

“I’ve no regrets at all about what happened in the Falklands.

“Joining the military was a godsend to me. I was perfectly suited for the army and I loved it.”

The physical scars were terrible and the mental ones plagued him for years, but his bravery shines through like a burning beacon in a brooding winter storm.

“I had to go through different phases of my grief,” he recalled.

“I wasn’t just grieving for the guys who died, I was grieving for the boy I was.

“I left Simon Weston, the young Simon Weston, there and I became a different person.

“There is no bitterness. I wouldn’t change one single thing about my life.”

Like most of those who went to war in 1982, he believes it was a just cause.

He is also relaxed about becoming the figurehead for the conflict, but he doesn’t want special treatment.

“What makes me more special than anyone else involved?

“There were thousands of other guys down there. I have something to say about most subjects and, if people want to listen, I’m comfortable with that. It was just something that evolved.

“I’ve never been one for what ifs.

“My fate was to be blown up but destiny is in your own hands.

“I have to control the future. That is what I’ve got, so I have to deal with the reality.

“I’m from an ordinary working class family and grew up on a council estate in the Welsh Valleys.

“I didn’t expect to write an autobiography that your kids can read at school.”

He believes in the justifiable cause of the Falklands, but it scathing of Tony Blair who took Britain to war in Iraq a decade ago.

“For me, I always believe that people’s freedom, people’s independence, people’s right to self determination is always worth defending.

“You’ve only got to go to the Falklands and meet the islanders and understand what it meant to them.

“I once shook Blair’s hand and I couldn’t get the blood off for weeks – that war in Iraq was totally unjustifiable.

“What’s more unbelievable is that there were people around like Bush and Blair who thought it was right to start an illegal war.

“It still disgusts me and so does Blair. They lied to us.”

Simon Weston, My Life, Clitheroe Grand Theatre, October 23. £12. 01200 421599 or www.thegrandvenue.co.uk.