Thirty-three years ago this month events in the South Atlantic began to take shape that led to the eventual invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina on April 2nd 1982.
Even today, in 2015, the Falkland Islands are being used by Argentina to distract domestic opinion away from their dreadful economic performance, their main reason for the invasion in 1982. Assisted by the meddling of the Russians and encouraged by the Chinese, Argentina is re-arming, ready once again to attack the Falkland Islands?
From February 1982 onwards, bellicose language from the Argentine Junta began to be picked up by British Intelligence and the activities of Argentine scrap metal merchants and fishermen became increasingly provocative.
Back home in Britain politicians and diplomats had been working since the mid 1970s on finding some solution the what was viewed as the ‘Falklands Problem’ there had been negotiations with the Islanders or the ‘Kelpers’ as they are affectionately known, regarding joint sovereignty proposals, leaseback arrangements etc. None of these potential solutions to the ‘Falklands Problem’ was acceptable to the Islanders or to Britain.
In April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The reason for the invasion to right a centuries old wrong according to the military junta, in reality, to deflect public opinion from the dreadful economic and social problems engulfing Argentina at the time.
Economic and social problems were not exclusive to Argentina. Mrs Thatcher in her first term in office was trying to manage and reverse the economic and social decline in Britain.
Argentina misjudge the ‘Iron Lady’, they gambled that Britain was finished that Britain was too weak and too irrelevant in the world to respond by force or with strong friends bringing diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on Argentina.
My memories of 1982
The British response was in many ways typically British. I remember that morning on April 2nd very well. I was 15 at the time, listening to BBC Radio 1 and the news told of the Argentine invasion. Like many of my fellow countrymen and women at the time, I wondered why on earth would Argentina want to come all this way and invade Islands off the coast of Scotland. Very few people in Britain had even heard of the Falkland Islands let alone knew where they were.
The colonial right of the Conservative Party were up in arms – how could the foreign office and the intelligence services have allowed this to happen? Britain had been humiliated and kicked around on the world stage by a third world, banana republic, military dictatorship.
I knew the minute I heard the emergency statement that Saturday morning, April 3rd in the House of Commons by Mrs Thatcher that my country would respond with force if necessary. The first time the House of Commons had assembled on a Saturday morning since the Suez Crisis some twenty-six years earlier.
It was the Easter holidays, we were off school, some of my school friends and neighbours relatives and older siblings were setting sail with the Task Force. I remember watching television on April 5th, live coverage from Portsmouth ‘The Fleet Sails’, stirring stuff, Rule Britannia being played and sang as HMS Invincible, Hermes and Fearless, slipped out of harbour.
The rest as they say, is history. The historical accounts of the Task Force and their long journey south, the heroics of the individuals of the task force and the exertions and achievements of the British armed forces are still as fascinating to read and learn about today for me as they were all those years ago. The heroics, images and stories of Bomb Alley in San Carlos water, the fight for Goose Green and Darwin and the legendary yomp and tab across East Falkland to the mountains of Longdon and Tumbledown and on to Port Stanley and eventual victory will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life. The British armed forces at their very best.
What we learnt from the Falklands War
The Falklands War of 1982 taught us many things. It taught us that it is right to defend our own people and their sovereignty and freedom wherever they happen to live in the world. It taught us that when Britain comes together as a nation and supports 100% as we did back in 1982 our armed forces, we are a formidable nation and a gallant people. It taught us that if we have the right political leadership we can accomplish anything.
Above all, the Falklands War of 1982 taught us that maintaining a strong defence posture with well-funded, well-equipped armed forces is essential, even in times of austerity.
Today, the Falkland Islands are flourishing – the Islanders can be very proud of themselves and what they have achieved since 1982. They have their freedom and they choose to remain part of us here in Britain even though they are eight thousand miles away. The 255 British servicemen and the three Falkland Island civilians who gave their lives in 1982 did not do so in vain, their sacrifice guarantees the sovereignty and the freedom of the Falklands Islands forever – Britain cannot and should not ever consider handing the Islands under any circumstances to Argentina unless the Islanders wish to live under the Argentine flag.
It was a remarkable 74 days in the late spring and early summer of 1982, Britain emerged, stronger and more respected around the world. We reminded the world that we might be a small Island with a small and reserved population of people, but we can and will fight if provoked. Over the years, I have met many of the individuals who sailed with the Task Force and who fought on the land, in the air and on the sea.
When I meet them, I always ask them the same question – “Was it worth it” and I have always received the same answer – “Yes, it certainly was worth it.” And it was worth it and we give thanks to those who never came home and those who came home but were not the same anymore.