Falklands War: Memorial bench to be unveiled for Doncaster soldier 40 years after death

A memorial bench to remember one of Doncaster’s victims of the Falklands War will be unveiled this weekend 40 years after his death.

By Darren Burke
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 10:29 am

Para Private Stephen Illingsworth was just 20 years old when he died fighting against Argentina in the bid to recapture the islands in the South Atlantic in the summer of 1982.

He will be remembered 40 years on from the conflict on Sunday at the town’s South Yorkshire Aircraft Musuem with the unveiling of a bench in his honour.

The bench will also pay tribute to Ian McKay, another British soldier who died in the Falklands and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

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Private Stephen Illingsworth was one of three Doncaster victims of the Falklands War.

A member of the Second Battallion of the Parachute Regiment, he rescued an injured colleague but then died after being shot by an Argentine sniper as he strove to retrieve abandoned enemy munitions to help the British supplies, running desperately low after a fierce firefight.

The two day battle to take Goose Green and Darwin cost the lives of 17 British personnel and 47 Argentines and his death came just a few days after Doncaster Merchant Navy skipper Captain Ian North was killed in a missile attack on his ship.

Shortly before his death, Stephen had written to his father Gordon of Granby Road, Edlington saying: “Don’t worry about me dad, I’m trained to do this job.”

He is buried at the Aldershot Military Cemetery in Hampshire and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, although secret documents released years after his death revealed he had actually been recommended for the Victoria Cross.

In an interview in 2007, mother Joyce Illingsworth said: "We were so proud. He was a right character. I didn't like the thought of him going but he was excited about it. He had to be where there was adventure. He couldn't just sit behind a desk or something like that. He liked to be where the action was.

"He wanted to be a paratrooper. He wanted to be in the elite. From a kid he wanted to jump out of an aeroplane. He used to come home on leave and then he used to go off to Bridlington to jump out of a plane even though that was his job. He just loved the thrill of parachuting.

"People said it would be over in two to three weeks and we knew it would take two to three weeks for him to get there on the boat so we hoped it might be over before he got there.

"No one wants their children to go before them. I said in my letters to him I would rather have a son who was a live coward than a dead hero. I never got to say goodbye or anything."

His actions have since been enshrined in military history after featuring in the novel Close Quarter Battles. The book, by former paratrooper colleague and ex-SAS soldier, Mike Curtis, is even dedicated to the young Doncaster soldier who died attempting to liberate the famous British colony.

Mrs Illingsworth said: "He'd already saved a young lad's life and got him back to safety and then because they'd run out of ammunition he remembered he'd taken some off the young lad when he'd tended his wounds.

"They said he wasn't awarded a medal for getting the soldier back to safety, any soldier would do the same, it was for going to get the ammunition to help them all. That was Steve all over."

“When we went to Buckingham Palace to collect his medal another young lad said Steve had also saved his life. He’d got shot in his legs and couldn’t get up but he said our Steve and another young lad dragged him to safety.

“When we met The Queen we were so proud. The Queen knew everything about our Steve because they must have to read up on everybody. She said I really know how you feel - which was true because she had a son (Prince Andrew) involved in the conflict as well.”

Apart from being immortalised in print, Steve’s legacy still lives on at Edlington Comprehensive where the school still hands out the Stephen Illingsworth Memorial Cup for those who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in sport.

His name also lives on in the Falklands where a street was named Illingsworth Road in his honour.

The war of 1982 claimed the lives of three Doncaster men in just two short months after Argentina invaded the British islands in the South Atlantic, sparking a brief but bloody battle which saw the United Kingdom claim victory and regain the islands after the Argentine surrender on June 14.

Hatfield-born Capt Ian North, 57, skipper of Merchant Navy cargo ship Atlantic Conveyor died on May 25, 1982 after the ship was hit by two Exocet missiles while on June 12, 1982 Doncaster mourned the loss of its third and final victim when Wheatley sailor Anthony Sillence was killed in the South Atlantic.

Leading Cook Anthony, known as Tony, died just a few days before the Argentine surrender on June 14 when his ship, HMS Glamorgan was hit by an Exocet missile fired from the shore.

Britain suffered 258 casulaties with 649 Argentines killed in the fighting.

The ceremony to Pte Illingsworth will take place at the museum in Dakota Way from 11am on Sunday with doors to the museum open at 10am.