What follows is an updated version of the introduction to my book MEMORIES OF THE FALKLANDS, which was published five years ago.
Twenty five years ago today I was on holiday, visiting friends, the Weber family, in the German spa town of Bad Wildungen. I was 19, and was on an Easter break from my degree course in German at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. After dinner, we sat down to watch TV. I watched incredulously as the newsreader told us of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. Unlike most people in Britain, I had a vague idea of where the Falklands were, due to my childhood stamp collection. My German friends assumed they lay off the coast of Scotland. Herr Weber, a veteran of the Russian front in the Second World War, said: ‘It’ll all be settled by diplomacy’.
I remember vividly replying: ‘I doubt it very much. Margaret Thatcher is not known as the Iron lady for nothing. I think there’ll be a war’. ‘No, no,’ replied Herr Weber. ‘There will be a compromise. They’ll bring in the United Nations. People don’t fight wars over small colonies any more’. ‘Trust me,’ I said. ‘You don’t know Margaret Thatcher.’
A few weeks later, back at university, I was asleep in my room one morning when there was a knock at the door. ‘Oh, you’re still alove then,’ an anyonymous voice said. Still half asleep, I didn’t really think anything of it and dozed off again. A few minutes later, the same thing happened. ‘Glad to see you’re still with us,’ said my next door neighbour, Dave Larg. Strange, I thought. Later on in the communal kitchen someone asked if I had seen the papers yet. I said I hadn’t. ‘You ought to,’ came the reply.
I remember as if it were yesterday: turning to page two of the Daily Mail and seeing my name. Killed in action in the Falklands. But it wasn’t me. It was Welsh Guardsman Ian Dale, aged 19 from Pontypridd. It was like being hit in the solar plexus. Tears streamed down my face, as they were to do many times over the next few weeks. Nothing else could have brought home to be the terrible waste of war like this did. I was the same age. It could have been me.
Not long afterwards, I attended a debate at the university between the President of the Students Union and leading light in the University Labour Club, Mark Seddon (now UN Correspondent with Al Jazeera), and someone whose name I now forget but who was also on the extreme left. I was horrified that suchg a debate could take place between the soft left and hard place with no other viewpoint being put forward. So up I stood and defended the sending of the Task Force and our right to retake British sovereign territory from a Fascist regime. That was my first real experience of the cut and thrust of political debate. And I enjoyed it. It was the catalyst for getting involved in politics.
For me, the Falklands War was a formative experience. My father was a teenager during the Second World War and even now he is happiest when he is reading about it or watching a TV documentary on it. I remain fascinated by the political, military and personal consequences of the Falklands War. I remember watching the TV pictures of HMS Sheffield in flames, of the helicopter rescues from the burning ships with tears welling in my eyes. I remember the sleep-inducing tones of the Ministry of Defence spokesman Ian McDonald at his daily press conferences. I remember the fury that overcame me as I watched the BBC’s Panorama programme which sought to pour scorn on the war. I remember John Nott announcing the retaking of South Georgia late at night in Downing Street and Margaret Thatcher urging journalists present not to ask more questions but to ‘rejoice’ at the news.
But most of all, I remember the sense of relief, national pride and joy that most of the country felt as they watched the Union Jack being hoisted again over Government House in Port Stanley. It was a day that helped Britain regain its national pride, which many felt had been lost 26 years earlier in the depths of the Suez Canal. In my opinion, 14 June 1982 will be seen by future historians as a turning point in British history. It was a day which showed that Britain was no longer a soft touch and had the ability to stand up against aggressors. Most important of all, it demonstrated a resolve to the Communist world and the Soviet Union in particular, which they thought we had lost years before.
See my 30 minute interview with Sir John Nott on the Falklands HERE.
On April 17th at 9am on 18 Doughty Street you'll be able to see a programme on life in the Falklands today.