Updated on

As a 23-year-old nurse in the Royal Navy, Sue's life was changed instantly and forever one fateful night shift.  

"Matron came onto the ward and said 'you will be leaving for the Falkland Islands to serve on the hospital ship the SS Uganda'.  

"I was given 72 hours' notice to get my kit bag together and report for duty. I had to get as many toiletries and clothes as I could find over the weekend, and back then shops weren't open on Sundays. I also had to get my yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations.  

"Among the items I bought that weekend was a map to see where the Falkland Islands were. I was astonished they were 8,000 miles away. 

"By the time Monday came, we were on our way, which was quite clever as there wasn’t much time to think about it." 

Sailing into turbulent waters 

Sue was one of 40 members of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service who served on the SS Uganda.  

Originally built as a passage liner, the ship had been taking 944 children on an educational trip around Italy in the early days of spring 1982. With the outbreak of conflict between the UK and Argentina, she was requisitioned and hastily prepared for service as a hospital ship. 

Fitted with a helicopter landing platform and operating theatres, Mother Hen, as she was known by her call sign, would play a crucial role in the war.  

Sue said: "We got used to the sound of helicopters, which meant casualties were coming. It was sad to think people were hurt, but it certainly alerted us casualties were on the way. 

"We could also hear the military planes flying overhead very close to us." 

The South Atlantic Ocean is notoriously windswept which brought extra challenges for the medical team. 

Sue said: "The weather had an impact on the ship, and if it was going up and down we had to think about our casualties. Applying or reapplying dressings was difficult if the ship was rolling, and we got a lot of servicemen with burns." 

Clinging on to hope 

One of Sue's distinct memories was the day the British ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram were hit.  

"So many injured people were coming on board. We were putting people to beds, assessing their needs, and working out who required urgent surgery. 

"It was challenging having to think so quickly on your feet, trying to stay calm and keep hope alive. Hope is so important, hope that this time will pass, we will come through it, and we will do the best we can.  

"As a young nurse, it was hard to see so much pain and suffering, particularly the burns, and shrapnel and bullet wounds. I learned so much in a short space of time about caring for so many people who are so unwell. 

"The emotional aspects really hit me too. I had to adjust to some harrowing scenarios that were unlike anything I’d known.  

"In 1982, the medical profession had a lot to learn about things such as post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. It revolutionised the importance of talking therapies."

A nurse’s duty of service to all  

During the Falklands War, the SS Uganda treated more than 700 severely wounded servicemen, including more than 100 Argentinian men.  

"As a nurse, I have a duty of service to all. I felt very sorry for any young man who was injured. 

"It was not easy when I was nursing an Argentinian man as I couldn’t speak fluent Spanish.  

"Just doing something simple like touching an injured person’s hand to show compassion was so important. It was about wanting to make a connection to a human being who is in need, and that need outweighed everything else. 

"I hadn't dealt with people with such horrific burns, and it really inspired me to want to develop my understanding and training in specialist care. 

"The Falklands War changed my life. Nursing at that time was going through a transformative period. Afterwards, I joined a degree programme and gained a Masters degree in critical care that also led to specialisms in mental health and paediatrics." 

End of the war 

After 10 weeks of fighting, the Falklands War ended on 14 June 1982, when the large Argentinian garrison on Stanley surrendered. 

"After the war we helped Argentinian casualties and we were allowed to go to Port Stanley. That is how I met people who are still my dear friends. 

"My biggest memory was going on to the island, down to Port Stanley and looking down at the very long road, at those houses with tin roofs, with the mountains in the background with the snow on.   

"There was beautiful sunshine, and it was a breath-taking scene. The Falkland Islands is an amazing place, with the penguins, birdlife, and the nature.

"It is important that any war is remembered. It always brings loss of life, injuries, sickness and massive disruption to people's lives. It is deeply sad that it ever happens."  

In recent years, Sue has been heavily involved with Help for Heroes.  

"Being an ambassador for the Charity and singing in their choir has helped loads. 

"It is very positive and optimistic, and it is good for my health. It makes me feel very hopeful. 

"Being a Soprano buddy has been a great experience for me. Looking after the ladies has been a kind of healing for me." 

Sue has this message for anyone who served in the Falklands War, or any other conflict, who is finding life difficult. 

"I really do think that Help for Heroes can get alongside you. Wherever you are and whatever you need, there is always a way forward. There is always someone on hand to help. 

"No-one needs to be alone. There is help out there and it is important to take the first step to reach out and ask for help. That is often the hardest step to take. I would definitely urge people to reach out and ask for help."

If you served in the Falklands War and think you could benefit from our support, please get in touch. We help veterans no matter where or when they served, and we can help with a range of physical and mental health issues, welfare support, and a whole lot more.