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'The missiles didn't work. We had to watch the ship burn.'

By Ben King

Updated on 01 February 2007

The attack on the Sir Galahad still haunts Tony McNally, as he tells Channel 4 News online's Ben King.

Tony McNally played a part in one of the best-remembered incidents of the Falkands War - but his role turned out to be an extremely distressing one.

Tony McNally

Tony McNally

He was a gunner on the RFA Sir Geraint, one of the ships which sailed to the Falklands in 1982. His job was to operate the Rapier surface-to-air missiles, and he succeeding in shooting down two Argentinian jets.

But the missiles weren't designed for an eight-week voyage by sea, and were hit by technical problems.

"We had started getting problems with the tracker head - the actual optical sight that you look through. And we reported it to headquarters. We were waiting for a spare part to arrive and to our amazement and surprise, we were tasked to go with RSA Sir Galahad around to Bluff Cove as air defence cover.

"We got ashore eventually, after a long wait, with the Welsh Guards, who were still on the ship. And obviously I was sat in the seat and we had the kit working and everything.

Did you see it happen?

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"I was tracking the lead A4 Sky Hawk as it was attacking the Sir Galahad, pressed the fire button and unfortunately nothing happened, which was very, very upsetting at the time, as we just had to sit there and watch it explode, which led to the biggest loss of life in the actual Falklands War.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

"The distressing fact is that there were other infantry soldiers dug in around us at Fitzroy, obviously the Parachute Regiment, who obviously were looking towards us as protection.

'The distressing fact is that there were other infantry soldiers dug in around us at Fitzroy'
Tony McNally

"And unfortunately they, in the heat of the moment and I don't bear them any ill-feeling or malice towards it, directed a lot of anger and resentment towards ourselves which deeply affected me after the war."

Subsequently, he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He tried to hold a number of civilian jobs, but none stuck.


"So I re-enlisted, then I volunteered to go to Northern Ireland, which is obviously putting yourself back in the firing line. I did two actual stints back in the Army, and then I left in 1988 and held down several jobs but due to my ill health and everything, it became more and more difficult."

Tony McNally

Tony McNally in 1982

It's not an unusual experience. "If you look at the facts and figures there have been more Falklands veterans who have taken their own lives since the conflict ended than were killed in action."

One of those who killed themselves was a friend of his. "A friend of mine that was on my Rapier only last year he had PTSD and he died. Which was a big shock when I found out.

"He took a drugs overdose, apparently. But he was being treated for PTSD, so yes, I think that is what occurred."

The problem of post-traumatic stress is still affecting British Veterans, and Mr McNally isn't convinced that the Ministry of Defence is dealing with it any better than it did 25 years ago.

"I would say they were probably in a better position to treat us in the 1980s, because there were military hospitals available.

"Now we don't have one solitary military hospital available for anyone coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq, and basically you are left at the mercy of the overstretched National Health Service.

"So it's for you to present symptoms of for someone to pick up that there is something wrong before you get treatment - as was horrifically shown in Newcastle, not long ago, where an ex-Royal Artillery who had been suffering from post-traumatic stress, murdered his entire family."

Tony McNally has published a book, Watching Men Burn, about his experiences in the Falklands. You can also read his blog here.

Watch how the attack on Sir Galahad was reported here

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