Simon Weston OBE, soldier in the Welsh Guards and burns survivor from the Falklands war. After an Argentinian fighter jet bombed the naval vessel Sir Galahad, Simon became the face of the Falklands who has inspired a generation since.
Simon Weston OBE was born in Caerphilly, South Wales, in 1961. He grew up in Nelson, a small village in the Borough of Caerphilly, and joined the Welsh Guards, aged 17, in 1978.
His duties took him to Northern Ireland, Kenya, and Berlin, where he once helped provide the guard at Spandau prison containing Nazi war criminal Rudolph Hess.
In 1982, with the outbreak of the Falklands War, Simon shipped out on the QE2 with his regiment to help regain control of the islands, as part of a mortar platoon. They landed at San Carlos (the main British Army bridgehead during the war) on the 31st May, and several days later began a journey on the ship Sir Galahad round to Bluff Cove.
The Argentinian Air Force posed a serious threat to the forces safety, crippling HMS Sheffield on the 4th of May with an Exocet missile and sinking the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor on the 25th of May. The cargo of Atlantic Conveyor included a number of helicopters used for transferring troops across the islands.
These events highlighted a major change in the face of naval warfare for the UK forces, which now had to deal with an enemy using missile technology.
Sir Galahad moored in Bluff Cove and prepared to unload its cargo and personnel: but before it could start this operation, it came under attack. Simon recalls 'I heard jet engines screaming from above as the planes went over, then there was a brilliant flash from the engine room, and the beginning of my own personal Hiroshima'.
Flames quickly engulfed Simon, and many of his friends and platoon members. What was to follow was a situation of the most painful and harrowing scenes. Simon remembers seeing “Men that were mutilated and burning, who fought to rip off their clothing, and douse the flames and beating their faces, arms, legs, hair.”
The ship was now ablaze with munitions and fuel: 'Black choking smoke engulfed the area, and I heard the voices of men I knew, friends, who were crying out for help as they died in unimaginable pain'.
Simon suffered third degree burns to 25% of his body: he was in a dire physical state and unable to help his friends.
Through the chaos, Simon managed to find a way to safety and felt a ripple of fresh air hit him: 'The fresh air had to be followed, through the wall of flames where the roadway widened out into the tank deck proper. I would have to run through the flames. There was nowhere else to go'.
Through incredible courage and determination, Simon charged through the wall of fire and along the tank deck to comparative safety. 'I knew I just had to help myself or die: I ran across the base of the ship through thick black smoke, accidentally kicking people and running over them in a last ditch effort to save my own life'.
Simon made it to a stairwell, and a marine directed him to the upper deck, but noticed 'He looked at me with undisguised horror on his face'. Once there Simon received emergency medical attention via the administration of morphine, which all personnel were now issued within the lapel of their jacket. This greatly increased the speed of administering pain management.
A rescue helicopter lifted him from the burning ship, and took him to a makeshift medical centre five minutes away at Ajax Bay.
Even though he was one of the most badly injured men to survive the bomb, he had to wait for treatment.
'Medics treated people all around me on a first come first serve basis, rather than according to the extent of the injuries'. There were so many casualties; it would have otherwise taken all day just to do the assessments”.
Eventually, medics applied Flamazine cream to Simon’s burns, his hands were put into sterile plastic bags and he was flown out by helicopter to the SS Uganda, a cruise liner which had been commandeered to be used as a hospital ship.
If Simon had received such wounds in WW1 or WW2, he would have probably died before reaching a main field hospital, but the advances in casualty evacuation, pain management, and general first aid kept him alive until he got to the Uganda.
Stan Cohen in WW1 (read Stan's story) would have taken several days to get to a dedicated field hospital, versus the hours it took to remove Simon to safety. Both Simon and Stan suffered from wound infection. Stan's open wounds were exposed to the unclean battlefield environment. However, luckily for Simon, infection treatment had improved dramatically since WW1, and medics successfully treated his legs with antibiotics, which killed the infectious bacteria; if this had been in WW1, his legs would have most likely been amputated.
Simon was eventually transported back to the United Kingdom, where he was treated at Woolwich Hospital, and, once strong enough, was released to return home to Nelson and discharged from the army due to his long-term injuries.
Due to the level of media attention and access to information about the war, Simon became the public face of the Falklands campaign, both during it, and after its end, making it hard for him to recover in privacy. This recovery (both physical and mental) was long and difficult, without a close support group such as the Guinea Pig Club and having lost many of his close friends on Sir Galahad.
Simon's family, particularly his mother, helped him through the worst times of his recovery. His old regiment also helped him to 'face up to the unavoidable, and to be positive about everything including especially my future'.
Simon has continued to use his story and experiences to help others. This includes becoming a patron of a number of charities supporting people who have suffered injuries, and live with disfigurements, and he is a Patron of The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation.
He ran his own youth charity 'Weston Spirit' between 1988 and 2008. In 1992 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list for his charity work. In 2009 he agreed to be President Elect of the Welsh Scout Council.
He has been the face of a number of television documentaries on the Falklands, and a commentator on many other news stories.
Simon has often been present in the media, to be there for British troops, making sure they receive the support they deserve, either in conflicts, or when in need of medical care after sustaining injuries in battle.
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