YOU can’t see the sea from the home of Captain Philip Roberts DSO, just the trees and houses of Charminster.

But it’s never far from his thoughts, whether he’s remembering the day in 1982 when his ship was hit in the Falklands’ war. Or when he’s raising money to provide Bournemouth Sea Cadets with a suitably splendid new headquarters.

Philip Roberts captained Sir Galahad, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel bombed by Argentine fighters, resulting in the deaths of 50 people including Welsh Guards, three RFA officers and two Chinese crew.

“I probably think about it most days,” he admits. “It was a hell of a traumatic experience for everyone, involving the biggest loss of life in a single incident in the conflict.”

Four Argentinean Sea Hawks smashed Sir Galahad and her sister ship, Sir Tristram, with bombs.

“We took three and they turned into fireballs which travelled through the ship, setting her ablaze and burning many of the Welsh Guards we were transporting,” says Capt Roberts.

News crews captured the horrific scene as men plunged into the sea and helicopters flew breathtakingly close to the stricken vessel.

“I stayed on the bridge, assessed the situation and realised, with smoke pouring from the hatches and the engine room, that it was badly on fire and the best thing was to announce abandon ship,” he says. “It’s a terrible thing for a captain to have to say. You’re abandoning your life’s blood.”

Capt Roberts didn’t abandon ship until the last minute, remaining to help everyone from his chief engineer (“He had been hit by shrapnel but refused to get off”) to numerous injured Welsh guardsmen. “They were in terrible pain, the smell of burning flesh was awful,” he recalls.

Among them was Simon Weston, who became known for his public battle to recover from horrific burns.

“I remember Simon particularly because he was huddled against the bulwarks of the ship groaning in agony. I tapped him gently on the head and said ‘All right Taff, a helicopter’ll be with you shortly’, and his hair just fell out, which was horrifying.”

As the final servicemen left, Capt Roberts saw his chief engineer onto a helicopter before taking a last look at his burning vessel.

“It’s the most dignified way to leave, last of all as captain, but it was a sad experience for the ship. I had tremendous officers and crew; one minute we had a lively, working ship, the next minute it was gone.”

Sir Galahad eventually burned herself out and was later sunk as a War Grave.

For his leadership and courage, Capt Roberts was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, one of only two awarded after the Second World War to the Merchant Navy. “It was an honour for the ship and crew and I’m proud to wear it for those reasons,” he says.

Amazingly, the experience hasn’t put him off the sea. He continued in the RFA and in retirement remains devoted to encouraging the next generation.

As their president, he’s spearheaded a drive to raise funds to move Bournemouth Sea Cadets’ headquarters from near Holdenhurst Road, to new facilities in Kings Park.

“It’s a joint venture with the council, which has been generous and helpful,” he says. “We’re awaiting the final agreements then, fingers crossed, we hope to be in by the New Year.”

The new facility will incorporate a community centre on council land adjacent to King’s Park.

“As well as the Sea Cadets, local groups will join us in the building to make it a real centre for that area,” he says. “We’re the oldest youth charity in Bournemouth,” he adds, proudly.

Using connections from his illustrious career he has helped raise vast sums including £126,600 from philanthropist Sir Jack Hayward, £25,000 from Rear Admiral Sir Donald Gosling’s Gosling Foundation, £18,000 from Talbot Village Trust and the borough has ring-fenced £150,000.

“We still need another £25,000 but I’m confident we’ll be able to raise that although any donations would be truly welcome!” he says.

The captain’s distinguished service clearly continues.