HMS Sheffield: Tears and friendships through rain remembering Shiny Sheff

A quiet arm around the shoulder as silent tears fell amidst the rain said it all.

Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 10:15 pm

I had been warned it would be emotional and spoken to ‘survivors’ who are still unable to talk of what happened on May 4, 1982.

Forty years hasn’t faded the memories, eased the pain or weakened the stoic strength of knowing hugs which passed strength between old friends.

Those who had gathered to witness the unveiling of the HMS Sheffield Memorial, four decades to the day, hour and minute it was destroyed, were hidden by umbrellas for the most part.

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The HMS Sheffield memorial unveiling at the National Memorial Arboretum. Pictures by Ian Spooner.

“That’s him upstairs weeping for them,” someone whispered to me under his breath.

As the 20 names of those who lost their lives were read out under the grey skies and the single bugler played his lonely tribute, there was no hiding the grief. Such shared memories have created incredible friendships and stories of openness which I felt privileged to hear, such tales that give you goosebumps even so long after.

Yet in the middle of such great sadness, there were always things to smile about and enormous pride that I have rarely experienced amid a group made up of all generations.

As the rain fell the unanimous feeling was an acceptance that getting a drenching in our smart outfits was a tiny price to pay compared to what that crew had given for us.

The Sheffield delegation at the HMS Sheffield memorial unveiling at the National Memorial Arboretum.

It has taken decades for most of the men who were on that ship that fateful day to even admit it was time to start to come to terms with their trauma.

The huge events which took place in our city over the weekend had gone some way to help with that and having a permanent spot in the National Arboretum is another step forward.

The men who were on that vessel and made it out alive have carried an unimaginable weight ever since. Standing together makes it a little bit lighter and so does the support they all recognise from the city after which HMS Sheffield was named.

Healing is never an easy thing to do but one thing was clear yesterday, the only way to start that process is with others who went through the same thing to be by your side.

The role that the HMS Sheffield Association plays in making sure those who gave their lives are never forgotten is fantastic.

What it does to support those who were on board, starting with the simple act of bringing them together, is beyond words.

Surrounded by scores of these men, obvious because of their medals and unique because of their knitted scarves in the colours of the South Atlantic Medal, it was hard not be overwhelmed by the moment.

The monument to the Shiny Sheff is just how we would all want to it be. It is a glorious creation of the finest stainless steel, an illustration of the skill and unity still apparent in our foundries.

It is eye-catching, it glistens as you approach the Navy section of the national memorial and it makes you smile.

This memorial looks back to the three HMS Sheffield’s and all of their crews, but it also has an invisible nod to the future.

There, under the names of the trio of ships is a small empty line, just big enough for one more … the HMS Sheffield that has been commissioned and promised by government.

That thought brings great joy for those in the association as well as those in the city. It isn’t a victory easily won and many veterans were quick to heap praise on the role Sheffield City Council has played in supporting their campaign.

Former Lord Mayor Councillor Denise Fox is an honorary member of HMS Sheffield Association and played a huge part.

“HMS Sheffield means a lot to the city of Sheffield, 1982 holds a lot of memories for a lot of people,” she reflected. “I was pregnant at the time and remember it very well.

“HMS Sheffield Association approached us to say there was no memorial in the National Arboretum and would we help. We were all working on fundraising ideas when an anonymous Sheffielder came forward.

“To set it off we needed to have a certain amount of money and this Sheffielder, who does not want to be named, said he would put that money in. Then the manufacturers of Sheffield came forward and came together to make it.

“It has been absolutely memorable, a raft of emotions came out.

“On Sunday, the veterans were thanking me and thank the cadets and were amazed at how Sheffield has adopted them. A lot say it is like a second home. They come up every year and have an affinity with Sheffield, it is very special.”

It is that affinity which means the links between crew and city are perhaps now stronger than ever. More than 600 came together to remember at Sheffield Cathedral on Sunday and pride in that vessel continues down the generations.

The weather was glorious as we made our way back to Sheffield in the minibus. Perhaps approval from him upstairs who really doesn’t want us to forget not only those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but those for whom the pain is still more raw than we can imagine.

One thing is for sure, a stainless steel work of art reflects how our city feels – and will now do that forever. Sheffield remembers.