‘If the Falklands were invaded, I’d like to think Britain would do same again’

British troops on the Falklands in 1982.

British troops on the Falklands in 1982.

It is incredible to think that it was more than 30 years ago that many of us sat glued to the television news and watched the Falklands Conflict unfold.

The names still trip off the tongue of anyone over the age of 40:
‘Bomb Alley’. Goose Green. Mount Tumbledown. Bluff Cove and Fitzroy. Port Stanley. Mirage fighter jets. Exocet missiles.

The Sun’s ‘Gotcha’ headline, the of the sinking General Belgrano, the explosions onboard HMS Sheffield and the blazing Sir Galahad are etched in our memories.

This was 1982. There was no internet, no social media and no mobile telephones.

It was the first time that a major conflict involving British forces had been played out through nightly TV news bulletins – the colour images (for those who had colour televisions) bringing the horrors of war into our living rooms like never before.

During the months of April, May and June, the country held its breath for what seemed a very risky undertaking – i.e. sending a task force 8,000 miles away for a scrap on the aggressor’s doorstep.

Only afterwards did we learn what a close-run thing it was, just how much of a gamble it had been and how ill-prepared for war our Armed Forces actually were.

The conflict lasted only 74 days but resulted in the deaths of 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders.

Caught up in the euphoria of a remarkable, improbable victory voters returned Maggie’s government to power and the rest, as they say, is history.

Three decades after Argentine forces on the Falklands surrendered the country’s government is again ratcheting up the tension.

Most Argentines regard the islands, which they refer to as Las Malvinas, as belonging to Argentina and their recovery is even enshrined in the country’s constitution.

It was tub-thumping by Argentine politicians in recent years which prompted the referendum that took place in the Falklands over the last two days.

The result may have been entirely predictable but it was nevertheless important that voters went through the motions.

When Falkland Islanders voted on whether or not to remain a British overseas territory, they were demonstrating democracy in action.

They were telling the rest of the world that the majority of people on that group of islands in the South Atlantic want to remain British.

In voting yes they also gave a ‘hands off’ warning to the Argentine government.

According to Argentine President Cristian Fernandez de Kirchner, of course, the wishes of those inhabitants are irrelevant and the referendum is a pointless exercise.

For her government this is a purely ‘territorial issue’ and thus they often dust off ancient manuscripts to claim that Argentina inherited the islands from the Spanish crown in the 18th Century.

The British government denies this is the case and claims it had long had a settlement on the islands prior to 1767 and has never relinquished sovereignty.

Interestingly, even Spain with the rock of Gibraltar irritatingly close, refuses to support the Argentine cause.

Whatever the complex truth, the people of the Falklands have spoken and, in the time-honoured tradition of self-determination, that should be game, set and match as far as the international community is concerned.

If the Islanders want to remain British then that’s certainly good enough for me, it’s probably good enough for the British people and it should be ammunition enough for the Foreign Office to tell the Argentines to bugger off once and for all.

I can imagine what Maggie would have said the day after such a referendum.

People can say what they like about Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies but when it came to Britain’s standing on the world stage the fact is we haven’t been taken anything like as seriously since she left Downing Street.

Her handling of the Falklands Conflict, her refusal to negotiate, to back down or to consider the possibility of defeat showed the mettle of a great Prime Minister in the mould of Winston Churchill.

What a shame her successors have all been vacillating, pale imitations of the kind of statesmanlike figures this country desperately needs.

Some will argue Maggie went to war to help her win the General Election but if you read accounts of the time you’ll see she went to war because her generation thought that standing up to a dictator was the right thing to do.

Given the effects of the global economic downturn and the every-day worries we all have the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands may seem a fairly low priority at present.

What’s more, given the fact that the Royal Navy doesn’t currently possess an aircraft carrier worthy of the name, it is a matter of some debate as to what would happen if lightning struck twice.

I fervently hope history does not repeat itself. However, I’d like to think that if push came to shove this country would defend its overseas territories just as it did 30 years ago.

I’ll leave the final word on this issue to Eric Barbour, of Waterhayes, who I interviewed last year on the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Eric, who was a 26-year-old with 42 Commando Royal Marines in 1982 and part of the Falklands Task Force, is unequivocal.

He said: “We saw it very much as our country protecting what was ours and protecting people who did not want their home to become part of Argentina.

“If there was another invasion I think we would be totally justified in defending the islands again.”

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God save the Queen! A serene and graceful, reassuring presence

Well I did my bit for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Granted, I didn’t MC the pageant on the Thames but entertaining 180 four to seven-year-olds for a couple of hours is surely worthy of a mention in despatches.

I was the DJ at a disco at the school my daughters attend.

The assembly hall was resplendent with bunting, balloons and the obligatory Union Flags which we had put up the night before.

To cap it off there was a huge picture of a smiling Her Majesty and two Corgis (who may or may not have been smiling) on the projector screen.

It was almost as if the Queen was watching over proceedings with wry amusement as the youngsters – drunk with excitement – jigged about to tunes from One Direction and other bands I’ve never heard of.

Many were dressed for the occasion in red, white and blue and so I had suggested we get them all together for a souvenir photograph.

This involved yours truly, wearing a Captain Britain T-shirt, presumably breaching Health & Safety rules by climbing on to the school roof – much to the amusement of everyone in the playground below.

The teachers tried valiantly to herd the children into the shape of a ‘6’ and a ‘0’ to mark the Jubilee but, in the end, the ‘o’ in the six sort of vanished so the picture is rather ambiguous in that it could be read as ‘Go’.

Still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts when you are hundreds of a miles away from the capital.

At one point during the disco I sat on a little bench with one lad from the reception class.

“Have you had a good day, mate?” I asked him.

Cake crumbs round his mouth and icing oozing through his teeth as he smiled, he replied: “This has been the best day of my life.”

When a five-year-old says that to you, it’s hard to argue.

So while many of the children may not have fully appreciated the significance of the Queen’s milestone, they knew she was reason we were celebrating and they had a damn good time nonetheless.

I’ve still got my Silver Jubilee mug and coins (or rather, my mum has) and I’ll make sure my Lois and Mina keep souvenirs.

Between the Olympic Torch Relay, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the European Championships and the Olympics proper, I reckon we’ll have flag fatigue come the end of the month.
But for now, at least, the sense of occasion is carrying us along.

That is what prompted me to pitch a gazebo up in the rain at the local park and join scores of families for a Diamond Jubilee picnic.

Card-carrying monarchist that I am, I defy anyone to say these celebrations haven’t generated a genuine collective pride – a coming together only usually associated with wartime or great sporting triumphs.

This IS something special. There has been a real frisson in the air – a sense of history in the making.

The monarchy may cost taxpayers millions of pounds each year but I believe we are infinitely richer – both financially and culturally – for having one.

For the Queen’s reign to have lasted 60 years is remarkable in itself.

But what is far more remarkable is the way in which Her Majesty has conducted herself during those tumultuous six decades.

For me, the Queen has been a serene anchor of the establishment while many other institutions have fallen from grace.

While other royals have embarrassed themselves, while MPs have been ripping us off or getting into bed with media moguls and/or the police, Her Majesty has remained serenely aloof – untainted by these many scandals.

Time is indeed a great healer and the time served by Queen Elizabeth has papered over some of the cracks which could have irrevocably damaged the House of Windsor.

Whether it be the state opening of Parliament, the Trooping of the Colours, the hosting of U.S. Presidents or the Christmas Day message on TV as we all slump on to sofas stuffed with turkey, Her Majesty is a constant, reassuring presence.

She is, in many ways, our final link with the dark days of the Second World War and, with her ultimate passing – and that of a very special generation – I think we lose something very precious.

Social commentators have talked endlessly in recent days about Britishness and what it means to live in, or come from, these relatively insignificant islands which have ever been a cultural melting-pot.

I would suggest that to be British you must be able to moan about having things which people from many other nations would give their right arms for right now. Like the Pound.

With a referendum on Scottish independence looming, the future of the Union – or Britain as we know it – is far from certain.

By the same token, Her Majesty is now 86 and so who knows how many more years we have to cherish a monarch of supreme grace and integrity? Who knows what will happen to the royal family with her passing?

Whatever the future holds, I dare say people will look back on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with great fondness because you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Falklands veteran: ‘We had to show the world what we were made of…’

Eric Barbour remembers exactly where he was when he got the call. It was five to nine on Friday, April 2, 1982 and Eric was at home in Biddulph.

His dad answered the telephone: It was Army. The Falklands Conflict had begun and Eric’s leave was abruptly cancelled.

The 26-year-old packed his gear and travelled back to Seaton Barracks in Plymouth to rejoin his unit – 42 Commando Royal Marines.

A week later, on Friday, April 9, Eric and his comrades from the Marines and Paras set sail from Southampton onboard the SS Canberra which had been requisitioned by the Government and refitted as a troop ship.

Eric, now aged 56 and living in Waterhayes, said: “Previous to the Falklands, British troops hadn’t really been involved in a major conflict for many years. The nearest we had come to proper combat was tours to Northern Ireland and the Cyprus Emergency.

“In all honesty I think we were hoping that the Falklands crisis would be solved by the politicians before we arrived. Then news filtered through that the Argentine flagship The General Belgrano had been sunk. Then we heard HMS Sheffield had gone down a couple of days later and we realised we would be needed after all.”

Indeed the brutality of the conflict was brought home to Eric when the body of a former commanding officer of his from 41 Commando Royal Marines was returned to the Canberra for burial at sea.

As Eric sailed south, the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano by the submarine HMS Conqueror, with the loss of more than 320 lives, proved hugely controversial. But it was also to have a dramatic impact on the conflict – forcing all Argentine naval vessels to return to port and take no further part in the hostilities.

The troop ship Canberra anchored in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. This area was to become known as ‘Bomb Alley’ to British forces because of incessant attacks by low-flying Argentinian aircraft.

Although her size and colour made the ‘White Whale’ a soft target, the Argentine Air Force concentrated their efforts on Royal Navy vessels.

Eric was ferried to the Falklands via a landing craft similar to the doomed RFA Sir Galahad which was destroyed by the Argentine Airforce on June 8.

Forty eight British servicemen died in the attack and pictures of the smouldering wreck were beamed around the world.

Eric and his team watched helpless as the jets which caused the carnage flew overhead – so close to his mountain position that he could see into the cockpits.

Eric, who now works as a health and safety adviser, was a corporal at the time and led a Milan Missile troop.

On the night of June 11 it was he and his mates who provided vital covering fire with his anti-tank weapons to suppress the Argentines who were strafing Eric’s fellow marines as they tried to climb Mount Harriet.

Without night vision technology, Eric had to rely on the sight from his SLR to target Argentine positions 800 or so metres away – with the tracer bullet from his rifle making his team an immediate target.

That night Eric and his comrades took more than 1,000 Argentine soldiers prisoner.

Eric said: “One of my abiding memories is walking across the frost-covered terrain the following morning and seeing a boot print on an anti-personnel mine poking through the soil. The ground must have frozen so hard that one of our lads had a very lucky escape.”

The Falklands Conflict lasted just 74 days but cost the lives of 907 soldiers, sailors and airmen – including 258 British personnel. UK forces had won a spectacular victory in very difficult circumstances. The Argentinian military junta was finished and the Falkland Islanders celebrated their liberation.

Eric, who eventually left the Army after more than 17 years – having achieved the rank of Senior NCO – is in no doubt that the UK’s response to the invasion of the Falkland Islands was appropriate.

He said: “We saw it very much as our country protecting what was ours and protecting people who did not want their home to become part of Argentina.”

Thirty years on and tensions are again rising in the South Atlantic as Argentina begins once more to talk up its claim to the ‘Malvinas’.

But Eric, who is married with two sons and two grandchildren, is in no doubt that the UK’s cause was just.

He said: “Looking back, I think we did the right thing. It was a British territory and we had to show the world what we were made of.

“If there was another invasion I think we would be totally justified in defending the islands again.”



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