A FALKLANDS War veteran with a 36-year career with Essex Police made an "emotional" and "cathartic" return to the islands for the first time in decades. 

David Gillies spent 11 years in the British army prior to his time with Essex Police where he retired as a sergeant in Colchester after 23 years on the frontline.

During his time in the army, David served in Northern Ireland, Kenya, Cyprus, Canada, the USA and Germany.

In 1982, David was a 21-year-old Lance Corporal in 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers when he was sent to the Falkland Islands following the Argentinian invasion.

While there, he survived the bombing of troop ships the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram and helped to rescue injured colleagues from the water.

A total of 56 soldiers and crew died, the biggest loss of life in a single day for Britain’s Armed Forces since the Second World War.

Brentwood Live: Reunited - David and fellow veterans on Mount LongdonReunited - David and fellow veterans on Mount Longdon (Image: Essex Police)

David returned to the islands for the first time in October, joined by eight fellow veterans to commemorate those who died in battle and meet locals who offered him food and shelter during the conflict.

He said the trip brought memories “flooding back like it was yesterday” as the group visited memorials to their lost comrades and took part in a remembrance motorcycle ride.

David said: “Going back there and being with the blokes did help. 

“It was really emotional. We cried, we laughed, we hugged. 

“We supported each other. A lot of us have gone through therapy. 

“A few blokes we know have been sectioned, one committed suicide.

“To see the island thriving makes you think what we did wasn’t in vain, there was some good to come out of it. The islanders and even their children are appreciative. It’s humbling.

“Was the war worth it? In war, tragedies happen. It’s part of the price of war. 

“We didn’t fight for Queen and country, or Maggie. We fought for each other.

"But this doesn't lessen the pain for those who lost husbands, fathers, sons, loved ones and friends, or reduce the mental trauma that most of us carry to this day.”

One of the memorials visited was to Lance Corporal John Pashley, a friend of David's who was killed while fighting on Mount Tumbledown.

David said: “John was a very good friend of mine. That was a tough day visiting his memorial.

"Every battle was fought at night, and that night we had to clear a path through the minefield.

“The weather was appalling, and I can’t remember being dry till the end of the campaign, when we moved into abandoned houses in Stanley and lit peat fires.

"During the conflict we found shelter where we could, sometimes packing into sheep sheds.

"Looking back this week I wondered, how did we do it?

“You are bone-achingly tired. You don’t when it’s going to end, and the enemy missiles, bombs, shells and bullets threaten to make ever day your last.

“But through it all there is humour, courage and fortitude, and you’re privileged to witness the heights to which the human spirit can reach when bolstered with the comradeship and respect forged in such circumstances.

“War is a young man’s game. I was 21 but we had 18 and 19-year-olds with us.

"You feel invincible - it’s only when the conflict ends that you’ve got time to think.

"That’s when the emotion and the trauma kicks in.”

Following his retirement as a police sergeant in Colchester, David joined the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate where he is currently a Prevent and Protect Fraud Officer.

He runs the fraud peer support group and recently won the outstanding contribution accolade at the National Tackling Economic Crime Awards.

Through the group, he brings victims of fraud together to share their stories in a non-judgemental environment.

David said the benefit he has had from talking about his experiences has shaped his desire to support others.

“It led me down the route of wanting to help people," he said.

"In the peer support group, we’re dealing with people who’ve experienced emotional trauma. I can put myself in their place because I’ve been through it.”