FOR many it was a difficult day but one the veterans were determined to see through with the same courage and determination they had shown a quarter of a century ago.

With dignity and appropriate ceremony Southampton remembered those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice 25 years ago when Britain went to war in the name of freedom.

Yesterday as former soldiers, sailors, airmen and members of the merchant navy joined many local people for an open air service of remembrance they also looked back to a time when the port of Southampton became a major springboard for the task force that set sail to reclaim the Falkland Islands.

Although now much older than when they answered the call of duty all those years ago, the veterans still had pride in their step as they marched through the centre arch of the Bargate and along the city's streets led by the band of the Royal Marines.

As the veterans marched through the crowds of afternoon shoppers in Above Bar some had dusted off their old regimental berets and military badges for the parade as the sun glinted on the rows of campaign medals.

The day's events were a mix of emotions for the scores of veterans of the South Atlantic conflict of 1982. It was a day of joyful reunion for former comrades in arms but, at the same time, there was sadness as their thoughts turned to the many old friends and shipmates who did not return home.

Names of ships and places, such as HMS Ardent, Atlantic Conveyor, HMS Sheffield, HMS Coventry, Goose Green, Fitzroy, Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown, forever associated with the Falklands War, were recalled as the veterans talked and relived their experiences in the South Atlantic.

It was amidst the elegant surroundings of the Cunard liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, herself a veteran of the conflict during which she was requisitioned as a troop ship, that the former servicemen were reunited. QE2 returned to Southampton 25 years ago today.

Among them were 58-year-old Alan Fazackerley and Derek Kimber, aged 62, both survivors of the sinking of HMS Coventry.

"It was a lovely sunny day on May 25, 1982 and at 6.15pm we were ordered to action stations as an attack was building to the south-east of the ship,'' said Derek, who is now deputy mayor of Gosport.

"We felt three or four thumps and then came the explosions as the 1,000 pound bombs detonated deep inside the ship.'' HMS Coventry was terminally crippled, there was no power to fight the raging fires nor was there propulsion to move the warship and in just 12 minutes the vessel was upside down in the water.

For his actions on HMS Coventry, in helping to save shipmates as the ship burned, Alan was presented with the Queen's Award for Bravery.

"I just did my job,'' said Alan who now works with Derek in civvy street after their years together in the Royal Navy.

A special plaque marking QE2's role in the Task Force, which will take pride of place on board the liner, was unveiled by Brigadier John Rickett of the Welsh Guards together with Major General Michael Scott of the Scots Guards and presented to Carol Marlow, Cunard's president and managing director.

In 1982 Brigadier Rickett was the commanding officer when his battalion embarked on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Sir Galahad at Fitzroy.

In one of the most devastating actions of the war Argentine aircraft bombed Sir Galahad together with her sister ship, Sir Tristram.

As a result of the attack 51 soldiers and crew were killed and 55 others seriously injured, many suffering terrible burns as the ships burst into flames.

"It was absolutely appalling as the air attack went on for at least an hour,'' said Brigadier Rickett.

After a special lunch hosted by Ms Marlow and QE2's master, Captain Ian McNaught, the veterans watched as a Harrier jump jet, similar to those that flew so many sorties over the Falklands, streaked across the sky, sweeping low in salute.

Then among the ruins of Holyrood Church, a reminder of another, more distant war, close by the city's Falklands' memorial, the past and present servicemen joined with civilian members of the congregation for a service of commemoration.

Among the crowd the veterans rubbed shoulders with today's servicemen, including a detachment of sailors from HMS York, the Type 42 destroyer, which, together with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, Largs Bay, was on an official visit to Southampton to coincide with the anniversary.

The Rev Ian Johnson, rector of St Mary's, the city's mother church, told the gathering: "These events had tragic consequences for many individuals and families through the loss of loved ones.

"It had tragic consquences for communities both in the United Kingdom and in the islands themselves.

"It had tragic consequences for the people of Argentina and the political repercussions for Britain are still being felt.

"While we commemorate a victory, we remember with penitence the pain and suffering caused by the war.'' Father John O'Shea, Southampton's Roman Catholic dean, asked the congregation not only to think of the victims of the Falkland conflict but also of today's trouble spots including Iraq, Israel and Palestine.

"We pray for those engaged in violence and destruction that they will turn to dialogue and reconcilliation and thereby help to build a better world and a future of hope and peace,'' said Father O'Shea.

After the closing hymn, Eternal Father, strong to save, which is traditionally associated with seafarers, the veterans formed up behind the band of the Royal Marines for the march through Southampton.

With a police escort the parade wound its way along the High Street, through the centre of the Bargate and into the Above Bar pedestrian precinct to finish in front of the Civic Centre.