AS A YOUNG sailor there was ‘no finer honour’ for Andy Stephenson than serving on a ship named after his home city.
Then aged 19, he was the only man from Sheffield on HMS Sheffield when it was hit. Andy – now a father and grandfather – will today mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster in Portsmouth at an emotional reunion.
He said: “It’s hard to believe that this is the 30th anniversary, so much has happened since that fateful day.”
On May 4, 1982, off-duty Andy offered to help his friend Darryl Cope on an errand but Darryl refused. A short time later, the missile hit. Andy said: “It wasn’t a bang, it was a very loud thud and a blast of air.
“It blew me off the bed and dragged me into the mess but we didn’t know what had happened. As I got to the door I was confronted by this thick, black smoke coming down the passageways.”
Crawling on their hands and knees, sailors scrambled to get on deck. Many were sent back inside for supplies, Andy among them. He said: “As we got outside we could see the sunshine and blue sea, then this 17-foot hole with flames coming out of it.
“As a 19-year-old lad you obey the last order. Now I think how many people would obey an order to go back into a burning ship?
“At that stage I didn’t know if Darryl was alive or dead. It turned out he was dead.”
Five hours later the exhausted crew of the Shiny Sheff were told to abandon ship. Andy jumped onto an approaching vessel but slipped and became trapped between the two until he was pulled free.
He took down the names of survivors – but forgot to add his own. His worried parents in Batemoor were initially told he was missing. Over 23 days the surviving crew lived in one set of clothes, with rationed food and the fear of further attack as they were transported home via two different ships.
Remembering the moment he arrived back on British soil, he said: “I was the last person off the plane.
“I saw this person break through the barrier and run down the runway – it was mum, and The Sun got a picture of her throwing her arms around me. It’s quite touching.” Andy stayed with the Navy for another 25 years and rose high in the ranks despite suffering post traumatic stress syndrome.
Andy, now living in Scotland with wife Aileen and working in Civvy Street, said: “Today I’m going to be thinking about the 20 guys that we lost that day.
“I do feel exceptionally lucky I’m able to tell the tale.”