APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982
This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.
We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:
We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.
With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.
On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.
On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.
The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.
Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet, without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt. It was of course a Tory landslide.
The liner Uganda was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a school cruise ship in September. After just two months she was chartered as a supply ship for the Falkland Islands. When her charter ran out she was taken to Taiwan for breaking up. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire in the summer of 1982) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship. The book was published twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.
It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).