Charles and Camilla meet Falklands veterans in Portsmouth
Tributes rolled in for Denzil Connick, 66, earlier this month when it was announced he had passed away after being diagnosed with cancer.
The ex-member of the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment — 3PARA — served as a Lance Corporal during the Falklands War.
He left the conflict as one of Britain’s most severely injured soldiers, losing his entire left leg after a mortar round struck him and his men during a “silent assault” mission on the Argentines, on June 13, 1982.
The injury didn’t hold Connick back, however, and he went on to pave the way and become a “warrior” for veteran’s rights, as described by Defence Minister Johnny Mercer.
When Express.co.uk spoke to Connick just months ago, he retold the story of his heroic efforts to defend the people of the Falklands, how he initially struggled to come to terms with his military fallout, and why he believed veterans had been “forgotten” in the UK.
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Denzil Connick passed away earlier this month aged 66
Connick was 15 when he left school not knowing exactly what he wanted to do. On a whim, he said, he’d decided he wanted to become a paratrooper. Fast-forward nine years later and he was bound for the Falklands Islands.
His team was tasked with executing what would have been one of the war’s most daring missions, things were simple: Connick and his men would quickly take Mount Longdon and secure what was one of the island’s most strategic points.
But things didn’t go to plan, and they ended up landing in a minefield. One of Conncick’s comrades stepped on an explosive, in the process alerting the Argentines that they had landed.
Enemy artillery fire rained down on Connick in a battle that lasted 12 hours. One of the shells blew his leg off entirely and severely damaged the other. Of those who were seriously injured, Connick was the only survivor. Twenty-three of the men he landed with died.
A young Connick alongside a C130 plane
His life was arguably saved at the scene where soldiers ensured he didn’t lose too much blood. By the time he was transported to a field hospital at Fitzroy Cove, Connick had had a heart attack.
To add insult to injury, the day after the battle, Britain and Argentina agreed on a ceasefire, and so the Falklands War was over.
While Connick recovered from his physical injuries, the hidden mental injuries proved more difficult to heal.
“You go from hero to zero in your mind,” Connick said. “One minute you’re a fit, healthy, young man, a paratrooper with all of life’s adventures in front of you. Then, suddenly, you’re not that person anymore. It all ends in an instant.”
“You go from hero to zero in your mind,” Connick said.
“One minute you’re a fit, healthy, young man, a paratrooper with all of life’s adventures in front of you. Then, suddenly, you’re not that person anymore. It all ends in an instant.”
Connick alongside Nicci Pugh, one of the military nurses who treated him on the Falklands, 2007
When he was dispatched from the army two years later, Connick knew that there were countless other veterans like himself going through the same thing.
He co-founded the group SAMA 82 the South Atlantic Medial Association 1982 — a charity dedicated to Falklands veterans which helps them and their families return to the islands in what Connick described to us as a “pilgrimage”.
He told Express.co.uk about the feeling of returning to the Falklands Islands 15 years after the event that had changed his life.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I was facing up to my demons, going back to the place where all the trauma started.”
Connick (second from right) and his comrades; 23 soldiers died during their raid on Mount Longdon
The trip to the Falklands is expensive and complicated, something Connick said he soon became aware of.
“But with the help of military charities like the Royal Air Force and Veterans Foundation, we have helped those veterans suffering from mental health. It’s something I’m very proud of,” he said.
SAMA82 has since helped thousands of veterans who were involved in the Falklands, with Chris Howe, the chairman, previously telling Express.co.uk that the group has been a great form of support both for him and the countless other ex-soldiers.
“It’s the best form of therapy for me,” said Howe. “You don’t get over something like that. I think about what happened at some point every day.”
He described Connick’s death as a “massive loss” who “played a big part” in SAMA82’s history.
In an official statement, the charity said: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our Co-Founder and Honorary Vice President Denzil Connick BEM.
“His continuous, selfless work for Falklands Veterans was an inspiration and he will be sorely missed.”
Connick’s work for veterans was recognised earlier this year after King Charles III named him as part of his first-ever birthday honours list.
He was one of only a few to receive a letter from the King informing him that he would be receiving the accolade of the British Empire Medal (BEM). “I was chuffed to be on the list,” he told Express.co.uk.
Speaking about how he felt veterans were being treated in the UK, he said: “All Governments have treated veterans, our heroes, with disrespect. They don’t openly do it, they try and hide the fact that there are veterans because, I think, it represents the ugly side of their decision-making — when a country goes to war it means the politicians have failed.
“We are blessed with the military charities we have in this country, because without them, goodness what state our veterans would be in. Politicians should be bowing down to these charities.”