Falklands 40 years on: The day an Exocet with sailor Stewart’s name on it mis-fired

Stewart Walmsley was a wide-eyed 18-year-old when he sailed into the Falklands War on the frigate HMS Active.

By Brian Ellis
Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 4:55 am

But, as he looks back on his first taste of action 40 years ago, the Royal Navy sonar rating from Preston admits he was lucky to return in one piece.

Stewart and his shipmates only discovered later that an Exocet missile with their names on had mis-fired and their vessel had been spared.

The destroyer HMS Glamorgan, with which Active was sharing duties supporting a Royal Marines' land attack on Two Sisters near Port Stanley, was not so lucky.

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RNLI engineer Stewart Walmsley who served during the Falklands conflict

She was in exactly the same spot 24 hours later off Hookers Point when a missile struck, killing 14 crew.

"We were there the night before the Glamorgan got hit, we were doing the exact same job," said Stewart, who spent a total of 24 years in the Senior Service.

"We learned the Argentinians had land-based Exocets aimed in our direction and so we got out of there pretty smartish. No-one had heard of land-based Exocets before that night.

"But the next night Glamorgan went in and she was hit. We later found out from Army engineers that they had found a low-loader with missiles on. One had mis-fired and the other had launched. So I guess we were lucky."

Stewart is still messing about with boats in his job repairing lifeboats for the RNLI.

Stewart remembers clearly the feeling of being under attack. "I hadn't smoked before, but I did that night," he said.

"I was part of the fire-fighting and repair team forward of the ship. After the action the skipper gave the call over the Tannoy 'One all round,' which meant we could smoke.

"Every time we ran in close to the shore we spent the whole time on action stations with all weapons fully manned. It could get quite hairy. But for us, compared to others, we had a relatively quiet time."

Stewart, a former pupil of Eldon Street Primary and Ashton-on-Ribble High schools, admits he joined the Navy to see the world. And it lived up to expectations.

Stewart Walmsley was a teenager when he went to war.

But he had only been in the forces for a year when war broke out - he celebrated his 19th birthday in the Falklands, without cards and presents.

"By the time we got down there the Harriers had already got air superiority. When the troops moved into Stanley we were in the gun line, one of three frigates bombing the hills around.

"That was quite an experience. I think we fired about 144 shells in a couple of hours. We managed to hit one of the Argentinian arms dumps.

"We were only in the Falklands a few weeks, but it was an intense few weeks. No-one ever joins up to go to war, but it is something that can happen and you have to run with it.

Stewart ready for action just before sailing to the Falklands

"I think Margaret Thatcher was right to send us down there. I won't have a word said against her. It needed to be done."

Since leaving the Royal Navy Stewart has managed to keep his links to the sea with a job repairing lifeboats for the RNLI.

"It’s a great job,” he said. “I don’t manage to get out to sea much, but at least I get to stand on the deck.”

RNLI engineer Stewart Walmsley who served during the Falklands conflict