2 Apr 2012

The Falklands – the war I never quite reached

I didn’t make it to the Falklands until I traveled there with Mrs Thatcher after it was all over. My war was spent in Punta Arenas in Southern Chile – a cold remote town at Chile’s Southern tip. It was the nearest “neutral” landfall to the Falklands. In reality it was very far from neutral. There were considerable tensions between Chile and Argentina over who owned the Beagle Channel which ran South to Cape Horn. The Pope subsequently successfully drew a line down the middle. But for that moment she was in the British camp.

Though the Falklands looked close on a map, in reality they felt as far away as Portsmouth itself. Early on we hired a Catalina flying boat – an old Second World War horse – which had been converted into a flying fire engine to fight forest fires in the North. It was a discreet bright red. This was the first draw back in our plan to fly secretly to the islands and land in Falkland Sound. It was a madcap idea hatched over too many beers in the Hotel Cabo de Hornas. It did have its uses though. After the Belgrano was hit we found its escort ship the Hippolito Bouchard with decks groaning with survivors and dead, toiling in stormy seas toward the Beagle.

Very early on we became aware of secret operations underway around us. The SAS and SBS lurked in the shadows occasionally dashing into Argentina to cripple the countries fighter jets. One day these secret ops broke embarrassingly into the open. An RAF Sea King helicopter crash-landed in noisy sight of our hotel. The crew was spirited to the local airport and earthmovers dug furiously to try to bury the thing.

Our naval intelligence contact would tap conspiratorially on my hotel door and whisper fast Spanish before lapsing into even faster broken English. We nicknamed him “Hat”. Hat always wore a skew-whiff workman’s cap – was he bald, or had he suffered some catastrophic war wound to his skull – it could have been either or neither. His information was wild, but sometimes true. The trouble was, we rarely knew which.

Read more: David Cameron renews commitment to Falklands

We sat for days waiting for our landing on the islands. But it never came. We did find a suspected German War criminal but he didn’t seem to know much about the Malvinas and we let him go.

In all we were there for the three and half most frustrating months of my reporting career whilst we listened to the handful of “pool” reporters on the task- force ships who seemed to have got all the jam.

In truth we saw almost nothing. The high spot was flying to Antarctica. I had hood winked my news desk into believing that the war had terrible consequences for the Antarctic treaty. The weather kept us there for a freezing week on a Chilean base. The Russians next door came over to play football on the ice. And we cavorted with chinstrap penguins and elephant seals.

The Falklands War was not my finest hour, but like many others I have managed to dine out on it ever since.

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22 reader comments

  1. Frank Bath says:

    Great Story Jon and you have made the best of it. Very graphic. We await the novel to capture the full lunacy of it. Let’s hope you don’t have to repeat the experience.

  2. Stan Matthias says:

    That was a good read Jon. I bet you hadn’t long started shaving yet.I guess you wished you were with the liberating marines walking into Port Stanley but who knows, the path may have taken you elsewhere from fronting the Channel 4 News which would have been a loss to the nation.

  3. Adi says:

    When that lousy-war was over, my good buddy from school, Mark ‘Jammy’ Blain was quite-some months later feted in our local pub, The Aigburth Arms, Liverpool (famously mentioned in tv show “RedDwarf”) in a”WELCOME-HOME-FROM-THE-WAR”hoe-down shindig there.
    I was approached to attend, I knew Jammy had been badly-injured &had spent ages recovering, and anyway I wanted to go-see him.
    Sez me to Mr The Jams:
    “…so, I-guess you’ve had to go-see the ‘shrinks, chat about what went on? ”
    Jammy:
    “No.”
    Me:”????? What the f**k, man?
    (intense conversation follows, a few minutes later..)
    Me: “…just-quitely tell-me the worst-things, I’ll be okay.”
    Jammy: “…at Goose Green, the Argentine Special Forces forced KIDS, ADI, KIDS, EIGHTEEN-YEAR OLD KIDS IN NO SHOES OR SOCKS, ARMED WITH BROOMHANDLES,…shot them all, crying while I did..all their Special Forces guys …!KILLED!…!Tortured!…PEOPLE I KNEW WHERE BEHAVING UNRECOGNISABLY, BEHAVING LIKE…ANIMALS…IT WAS TERRIBLE…”
    me; “………………………………”
    Jammy:”..young lad, Adi, I was looking after-him…I was looking right-at him,…the shell hit him…vapourised him…no dog-tags left-even”
    All children.
    ?You missed nowt, eh?

  4. Adi says:

    ( ” Mr Jammy’s Falklands’ Surprise ” (cont.in a slight-return)
    Jammy had been injured in the leg, mainly, um, and two fingers blown-off,…so The Army put him on the ‘Canberra’ hospital ship, and he got gangrene &’trench-foot’ on the journey home.
    The Army said he couldn’t pull a trigger on a gun properly anymore, and effectively ‘sacked’ him : a twent-two year-old man who’d been devotedly &committedly in The Parachute Regiment of The Army since leaving school., reaching the rank of ‘Corporal-Trainer’ by 1983.
    He was awarded just £30 per. week by the D.W.P. (D.H.S.S. as-was).
    And that-was-that, all he got, apart from the-usual campaign-medals, on behalf of Queen & country & on behalf of from you & from off-of me.
    Jammy’s mam went nutso, &wrote-complainingly to Prince Charles, as Colonel-in-Chief of The Paras.
    A bit-of-a-fuss got made, national publicity-wise, as Colonel Prince Charles turned up one-day to tea&biccies at the Blains’ Liverpool home.
    Jammy got a few quid more on his pension.
    Last words to Mr The Jam-Star Jamster, as he was there:
    ” Adi, we went-out thinking it was all-noble&for Queen&Country…WE CAME-BACK CURSING MAGGIE THATCHER,..IT WAS THATCHER’S WAR, the **** !!!!

    1. Lawrence Blain says:

      You’ve got a few things wrong there pal. Mark ‘Jammy’ Blain is my uncle and he never lost any of his fingers, he suffered wounds to his arm from getting hit by a morta. Im also pretty sure he never suffered from gangrine or that my Nan had anybody round for tea and biccies??? Where did you get this from?

  5. Meg Howarth says:

    Thanks, Jon. So near and yet so far!

    I too missed the Falklands War – for a very different reason. I was a lone mother with a six-months old baby, my then-husband having left when I was seven-months pregnant. I was effectively dead to the outside world (and to any inner one as well). And we’ve something to celebrate this year – my daughter will marry. We’ve come a long way, albeit a difficult and at times traumatic one.

    As for the Falklands: Cameron’s ‘staunch’ defence of UK’s imperial presence in the south Atlantic – and the BBC’s giving primacy to the entire shenanigans – is surely nothing more than another diversionary tactic from a bad week for ConDem misrule, continuing disasterous economic policy of chasing profiteering GDP growth, and in particular today the announcement that government wants GCHQ to have the power to spy on our every electronic communication. Hearing a replay of Michael Foot endorsing the Thatcher dispatch of troops was a timely reminder, however, that then, as now, there’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties; indeed today’s plans to spy on UK citizenry were originally a New Labour idea&it’s left to Tory rightwinger DD to object.

    1. Worldtuner says:

      Well Meg everyone is patting Jon on the back and I’m sure he loves it, however you went a long way from the subject and I’m sure the rant has been boiling for a while, I’m sorry for your loss and the struggle you’ve had through the years my heart goes out to you, it’s not an easy life trying to do the best for the children. I agree politicians use war and threats of to turn attention away from their failings, they must think the British people are stupid hmm, 83% of the British people were against Britain invading Iraq but Blair went ahead anyway, which proves we are commodities to the government just to get them into power, now Cameron sends out a titbit to tell the citizens “He will give more power to the people” wait a minute will this include having a direct say in the workings of our own government, the police behaviour and who gets elected chief and police criminal acts, judges who dish out silly sentences, who runs the bank of England, whether we should have our health service run by quangos, who we shall invade next, even give aid to…then with Camerons other hand he’s making more laws to read our emails and give us MORE street and speed? cameras isn’t he a real nice guy.

  6. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    Would your “finest hour,” then, have had to include the witnessing of young men and women being blown to bits, shot down in cold blood, injured, disfigured or blinded for life?

    Do you hold your manhood cheap because you didn’t see all this at first hand? Did you HAVE to “count them all out and count them all back”?

    That old loony Max Hastings wasn’t nicknamed “Max Hastings VC” by Private Eye for nothing – I’d hate to think someone like you would have behaved the same way.

    The Falklands War was an unnecessary mayhem between a despotic, illegal, murdering, fascist South American regime and a Ruritainian Kingdom led by a tinpot Boadicea. The young on both sides paid for it with their lives, hopes and idealism.

    Let it not be forgotten that the Argentine junta was exactly the kind of South American regime supported, encouraged, funded and trained by the US Establishment at the School of the Americas. The US only supported Britain when it became unavoidable.

    Is THAT what you “missed”?

    1. Worldtuner says:

      I agree with the political contents, but to understand what Jon has said is not in the blood and glory of young troops injured or killed in a senseless war, Young Mr Snow has he was known at that time (How the years have taken their toll), was making his way in journalism and to be at the right place at the right time was important, 30 years ago people wanted to know what was going on with our boys after all another country had invaded our country, most were relying on the MOD for news, this was a one sided view, Yes America was torn between 2 old allies, maybe things would have been different if the acting president of America was not Reagan, we must not forget General Pinochet of Chile helping us, he was later repaid as usual with the Thatcher’s knife in the back routine.
      Maybe the only good thing that come out of it all was other countries would thinked twice before messing with Great Britain, now sadly for our commonwealth friends and allies successive governments have sold our forces out, the mighty power of the forces is now a laughing stock of any invader, we are after all… now just Britain, so in future beware of a PM who say’s “Call me Tony”.

  7. Stuart Dow says:

    30 years since we went to war against Argentina, Time for some flag waving and some back slapping.
    I agree that the heroism and the hardships that the servicemen and women need as always to be looked upon with great admiration from the stand point of the Great British public but can we at least be honest with ourselves and all those who fought as to the real reasons we went to war.
    Even having fought to keep the union flag waving over the isles how much of the U.K. public could point to the Isles on a map when poled.
    I have simply googled Falkland isles and placed the word oil after it and all is explained. Thousands of billions of pounds worth of oil is in deep water surrounding these isles. We are not fighting wars for the Falkland isles to protect the islander’s soverincy, as always people are dieing to preserve U.K. DRILLING RIGHTS.
    Seismic and geological testing has been carried out in the area as far back as the 70’s identifying one of the world’s largest oil reserves.
    Denis Thatcher was a leading oil executive who I am sure knew the true pound sterling value of those islands and certainly had more than just the ear of the prime minister Margaret thatcher.
    With techniques and technology to extract oil from ever deeper sources being developed West of Shetland I am wonder how much longer it will be before we go to war. I might just check to find out what Wiilliam Hills odds are like.
    ‘The time for empires are over, haven’t you noticed? Return the Malvinas to the Argentine people.’ ‘The English are still threatening Argentina. Things have changed. We are no longer in 1982. If conflict breaks out, be sure Argentina will not be alone like it was back then.’
    It came as the Ocean Guardian, owned by British Exploration Company Desire Petroleum’s, began drilling after being towed 8,000 miles from Scotland to the south Atlantic isles for the exploration.
    Defence Minister Bill Rammell said the Government will take ‘whatever steps are necessary’ to protect the islands, which had a ‘legitimate right’ to develop an oil industry within its waters.
    Argentina has formally objected to the move and tightened shipping regulations in the region.
    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1252870/Falkland-Islands-oil-row-British-rig-set-drill-despite-Argentinian-opposition.html#ixzz1qujHstXs
    John Snow who I regard as a true journalist with integrity I feel should expose the true meaning behind this anniversary and how the British government manipulates the British public into believing that all war is as a final resort before sabres are stopped rattling and drawn for conflict.

    1. Worldtuner says:

      I disagree to giving back the Falklands, we obtained them fair and square, the’re now occupied by British subject who were born and raised on the Isles, having the right to our protection, there are no natives (except for the wild life), but it’s home to the Falklanders they are not expats. It’s unthinkable to believe we just throw away billions in oil and pack the Falklanders back to this dustbin just to satisfy the do-gooders, after all the work we’ve done and of course the Chinese are waiting in the wings with money to support the Argentinians for their own needs.
      Hmmm the Empire is over, maybe but the commonwealth is still alive thank God, the French still have their colonies, the Spanish too and do not for get the Americans who now seem to set up bases and outlets in very country except China, Russia and North Korea, no I’ll wave the flag for what it’s worth to keeping the commonwealth, Empire and colnies, the Queen,British traditions, the Church of England, oh this green and pleasant land, this septic isle, Blake, Wordsworth, Byron……………………………………..

  8. Worldtuner says:

    904 Lives were lost and several hundred more injured in a useless conflict by 2 bull headed tyrants Mrs Thatcher and Mr Galtiere, for the islands that Britian long forgot about and while Britian pumps millions in aid to Indian and Pakistan who do nothing for us except hardour terrorist for Afghanistan and mould young men to be silent bomb makers inside the UK, when we could be giving the millions to the British subjects on the islands to provide jobs and infustructure where Britain can recuperate the money back in taxes along with having some loyal subjects who will support us in the future.
    As we will never be able to send any more powerful machines or men to protect the islanders I wonder if Cameron will defend the country and earning his future knighthood by challanging Cristina Kircher to a duel or joist (Maybe pillows or handbags), as in the past where the lords earnt their titles and lands, instead of the feeble mouth knights of today who get it for being in the pockets or beds of politicians, it would save alot of wasted lives, fuel and the meager machines of war that left in this country.

  9. Saltaire Sam says:

    Colonialism throws up some strange anomolies.

    In many ways I can understand why the Falkland Islanders want to remain ‘British’, saves learning another language to start with.

    But surely we must be able to reach a decent compromise with a now democratic Argentina?

    Imagine how we would be reacting if in the 19C, Argentina had colonised Ireland and were now insisting on their rights to the fish and other wealth in the nearby oceans.

    A compromise that benefits both Argentin and the islanders can’t be impossible to find so instead of tub thumping, our politicians should be searching for it.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Excellent, Sam, particularly para 4. The government should indeed be showing some leadership on an issue that isn’t going to go away instead of hiding behind the excuse of ‘self-determination’ for the Falklanders.

    2. Worldtuner says:

      Are you saying that the British Falklanders are uneducated, how would you know what languages they are capable of speaking, not only do you want to compromise their way of life you want to insult their intelligence to, why because they live different from you……..
      On the subject of Ireland it was colonised by the Vikings around AD800, then Earl of Pembroke with his ragtag of an army took it back and under direct rule for England in 1169 following this time the Irish have fought tooth and nail to be free of English rule.

    3. adrian clarke says:

      Sam,a typical blog of appeasement.Using your suggestion,Gibralta should now be Spanish and Northern Ireland would be part of Eire
      No sense of the history that bought about the status quo,or the thoughts and hopes of the current inhabitants.Treat them like a piece of property to be bought and sold.Argentina has no title to the Falklands, hundreds of miles from their coastline.A bit like saying Iceland belongs to us,because the Vikings who colonised it went via Britain

    4. Saltaire Sam says:

      Adrian, quite happy for Gibraltar to Spain and certainly Ni to the republic.

      As to history, how far back do your principles take you? Australia to the aborigines? USA to native Americans? I’m guessing your love of historical precedent only goes back to the British empire

    5. adrian clarke says:

      Saltaire, you are quite happy to ignore the inhabitants wishes of countries you see as part of British colonialism.Yet can you name me one country that has remained the same since habitation.It is you who choose to ignore history and want to override the wishes of inhabitants.
      Wasn’t argentina occupied by the Spaniards?So what right does Spain have to the Falklands.It would appear your historical precedent only goes back to a hatred of British Colonialism

  10. Stan Matthias says:

    This is my second visit to this subject.Granting the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands is paramount, it is always stressed. There is an Island in the Indian Ocean named Diego Garcia where it’s inhabitants,non whites, were expelled by Britain to Mauritius to make way for an American base so stop this hypocrisy about the right to determine one’s future. Those expelled islanders now live as second class citizens in Mauritius
    Another thing, Britain was lucky in having the use of American Satellite coordination and Sidewinder missiles.The Argentine aircraft were flying to their maximum fuel capacity, having no time to dogfight with the Harriers or make even a second pass at a target. The pilots were brave knowing the Harriers and every missile battery were waiting for them, their losses were heavy yet they pressed on with devastating effect. They would have won the war for Argentina if their bombs were timed for shipping instead of ground targets. Every military institution must have made notes.
    I am amazed that Jon Snow ever got the job at Channel 4 News, being such a decent human being.

  11. Adi says:

    ! WAR ! ? WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR ? !ABSOLUTELY !……………NUTTIN’!

    (it has been-said…not-only here…)

  12. Worldtuner says:

    Why do the so called do-gooders think they know what is best for other people, why are they so desperate in selling their souls or in this case giving away British subjects, When we win a sporting event fair and square do the do-gooders want to give the trophy back, does it make him feel better I would like him on my side if we went to war again. To compare an imaginery taking of Ireland by Argentina is ludicrous to say the least, Britain is in a terrible mess whith such citizens, should he not support Britain or it’s people then Heathrow is West of London and Dover South East of England, good-bye and good riddance.

  13. Fusion127 says:

    What was your favourite news piece that you have mentioned on Channel Four News before? You have a very good singing voice like Rick Astley when you did a Rick Roll report on him.

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