Chance meeting reunites old comrades

Date: Wednesday January 17, 2018 at 12:06pm

Decades earlier, they had served side by side in the South Atlantic as they helped liberate the Falkland Islands following the Argentinian invasion.

But a chance encounter at a charity event to promote football in south Asia led to retired Shropshire RAF man Gary Rogan being reunited with Falklands War comrade Purna Limbu for the first time in more than 35 years.

Gary, a retired flight lieutenant, spent Christmas in Nepal as part of a team from RAF Shawbury promoting football in developing countries.

The RAF Taking Football to Africa and Beyond Appeal sees airmen deliver football kit to schools and orphanages to encourage them to take up the sport.

The Nepal visit, led by Wing Commander Neil Hope, was organised with the help of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme.

On arrival in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, Neil met with Purna, who was representing the Gurkhas, to discuss the schools and orphanages the team would be visiting.

During conversations about the members of the team, Neil realised that Gary and Purna may have served together.

During the 1982 conflict, Gary was a 24 year old Sergeant Air Loadmaster (Crewman) serving on the Chinook helicopter ZA728 BN.

The Chinook became famous as the only airborne helicopter when the Atlantic Conveyor was hit and sunk on 25 May 1982. As such it became the workhorse for the British forces throughout the conflict flying long hours in support of the troops.

Gary was in the back of BN when it hit the South Atlantic during a snow storm and remarkably recovered to carry on with its flight. It emerged from tbhe conversation that followed that Purna was in the same place at the same time, and would have flown in the back of the Chinook with Gary during the conflict.

Purna joined the 7th Gurkha Rifles in 1980 and served for 28 years. At the time of their deployment to the Falklands Purna was the youngest Gurkha rifleman sent to the conflict, aged just 18.

Purna, originally from a small village in Nepal called Shankhuwasable, fought in many battles in the war and would have been transported by Gary and the crew of BN from San Carlos Bay to Goose Green on June 2, 1982. The Ghurkha’s had travelled to the Falklands on the Canberra cruise ship and landed as part of 5 Brigade at San Carlos on June 1. Purna remembers that the Ghurkha’s loaded into the Chinook stood up to squeeze more in.

After serving in the Falklands both men long careers in their respective services.

Gary retired last year, having served as an instructor with the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury. He and his wife Rita now live in southern Spain.

Purna went on to serve across the world including in Hong Kong, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA and Norway, and rose to the rank of Captain. He also served at the Army College at Sandhurst as a Training Officer.

After retiring in 2008, he took up his present role as senior area officer with the Gurkha Welfare Scheme.

He has a son in the Royal Signals and another who is at University in England.

His wife lives in Kent and he visits every 6 months.

Warrant Officer Nick Williams, of RAF Shawbury, said: "This was an amazing chance meeting.

"Gary and Purna chatted at length about their previous encounter and the conflict. At the time neither was actually aware of each other."

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