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Falklands Poignant Personal Memories

Wednesday, May 15th 2002 - 21:00 UTC
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Of all the books written about the Falklands War ? now several hundred in the United Kingdom and Argentina ? none captures the mood in so personal a way as “Memories of the Falklands” because it brings together the vivid recollections of 66 diverse individuals.

Some were at the heart of the crisis and the war; others looked on from a distance. They included several Falkland Islanders, some of the Commanders who directed the battles and front-line servicemen who fought them at close quarters; the wounded, the doctors, the politicians, diplomats, and journalists. The book is illustrated with 50 stunning photographs, and includes a roll of honour of the names of all the Task force dead, together with the Falklands Hymn, and a useful timetable of the sovereignty dispute.
The Falkland Island contributors are :Eric Goss, Brook Hardcastle, Gerald Cheek, Rodney Lee, Nora Monk, Velma Malcolm, and Rodney Hutchings; Dr Alison and Michael Bleaney; and Lieutenant Commander Roger Edwards, husband of Councillor Norma Edwards, who took part in several dangerous missions with the SAS, to whom his local knowledge of the Falklands and South Georgia was invaluable, having previously served in HMS Endurance.

Going to war naked!
As well as sadness, tragedy and graphic battle scenes, the book portrays flashes of humour which illuminate the grimmer aspects of war.
When Roger Edwards, a Royal Navy helicopter pilot, volunteered to go to war, he describes how he climbed into the loft at his home in England to collect some of his flying kit. The noise wakened his two daughters ? Emma and Rebecca, who got up to see what all the fuss was about. The saw their father's green beret come floating down from the loft "followed by a naked Daddy". "What is Daddy doing?" asked Emma. "Going to war, I think", said Mummy "Not like that, surely?" said Emma. As liaison officer with SAS D Squadron, he took part in the daring raid to blow up eleven Pucara aircraft on Pebble Island. Waiting on HMS Hermes to go on the raid, with face blackened "and dripping with bombs and bullets", Roger Edwards was smoking when a doctor popped in and told him "smoking was bad for my health! I burst out laughing". Operating from HMS Brilliant, Lieutenant Commander Edwards helped land troops for the recapture of South Georgia. His SAS squadron landed ahead of the troops at San Carlos to attack enemy positions, and also occupied forward observation points at Beagle Ridge to direct shelling.

Islanders tell their stories
Eric Goss and Brook Hardcastle both describe the hardship of incarceration of the 115 residents of Goose Green and Darwin in the Recreation Hall where they salvaged an old radio receiver to listen to BBC World Service news. After the battle for Goose Green, Eric Goss helped to facilitate a surrender by contacting the British by radio and writing a note to persuade the Argentine Commanders to save "the lives of such valiant soldiers on both sides". Brook Hardcastle recalls the war as "an unnecessary evil in our lives", with "unnecessary death and destruction"??We had suddenly lost our freedom and had no control over anything. One remembers, too, the sacrifices made on our behalf which brought many benefits to all who live in the Islands now".
Rodney Lee gives his perspective from Port Howard which came under shellfire and bomb attack. He recalls that Captain John Hamilton of the SAS was killed there and there is a memorial service every year. "It is a time to remember, and we shan't forget the lives that were lost".

Three weeks in bath for Penguin Rocky
Rodney Hutchings describes how the tiny settlement of Teal Inlet coped with feeding and sheltering 3,000 cold, weary, hungry British paratroops. In the midst of all this activity, he also rescued a badly oiled penguin, which he cleaned and kept in his bath for three weeks. "Rocky" as Rodney called him, was photographed with injured troops in return for pilchards from their ration packs. He survived the war and was safely returned to the sea. Rodney writes: "We felt overwhelming gratitude to everyone of the Task Force who had risked everything to restore our freedom? Our proudest memory was being asked to tend the war graves at Teal Inlet and to erect the war memorial overlooking the burial site". Gerald Cheek was manager of the Falkland Islands Government Air Service and attended the tense meeting of heads of department convened by the Governor in advance of the invasion. He was also a sergeant in the Falkland Islands Defence Force, guarding the FIGAS Islander aircraft on the night of the invasion. He was arrested with 13 other Stanley residents thought to pose a threat to the Argentine war effort, and interned at Fox Bay.
So was Velma Malcolm, with her husband, George. A stalwart leader of the Falkland Islands Association in Stanley, Velma, with a pistol held at her back was taunted by a soldier "for not liking Argentines". She replied: "That is why ? we don't live with guns". Nora Monk tells how she sat being questioned with the guns of two Argentine soldiers pointed at her as house was searched. Her "kitten thought this great fun and succeeded in rolling her favourite toilet roll around the room!"

Doctor's baby softens Argentines
Doctor Alison Bleaney, with her husband, Michael, was kept busy in Stanley hospital, with little sleep. She was involved in arranging the Argentine surrender and discovered her baby was a great help. "I found that I could negotiate with angry Argie soldiers much more effectively when breastfeeding Emma! I always took her with me in a sling on my front when I wished to speak with senior officials, as the sentries' guns would be lowered when they spotted her". Former Governor Sir Rex Hunt describes in graphic detail the events leading up to the invasion, the fighting, the ceasefire and his frosty dealings with the Argentine invaders.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tells how the decision to send the Task Force was taken and how she felt when it was all over. "For the nation as a whole, though the daily memories, fears and even the relief would fade, pride in our country's achievement would not".
HMS Coventry's captain, David Hart Dyke, says his "world stopped" in the flash and heat of bombs raining down and destroying his ship, which he was the last of the survivors to leave, jumping into the sea to the safety of their life-rafts.Major General Julian Thompson, whose Commando Brigade had bravely fought their way across the rugged terrain, describes the surrender at Stanley as "a moment to savour".

Pain and anguish; Wounded and Dead
Two of the wounded tell of their pain and anguish. Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston, severely burned on Sir Galahad, describes his frustration and helpless, lying immobile in the hospital ship SS Uganda, as his eyelids were repeatedly cleaned to save his sight. Paratrooper Denzil Connick remembers how he was blown into the air by an Argentine shell, rolled over and saw his appalling wounds. "My left leg was blown clean off and my other leg was a mass of blood and raw flesh".
The most poignant scene of all is described by Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly, whose medical teams saved the lives of so many wounded as well as tending to the dead, burying them with reverence and dignity. As the dead were helicoptered from Goose Green, he recalls how "Silently, sadly, we unloaded the bodies, placing each corpse on its own stretcher?I prepared the bodies, one by one, for burial?I carefully examined each man to confirm his identity, and certified both death and its primary cause". The funeral took place at "a beautiful spot, a carefully chosen, silent hillside". As Padre David Cooper's "firm voice rolled through the now familiar words, the emotional pressure wound up to a crescendo. Eyes that were red with tiredness and strain now brimmed over with silent tears that splashed down on to the soggy earth. ?Ashes to ashes, dust unto dust?.' Led by Major General Moore, we saluted our friends and colleagues in a final reluctant farewell, and walked away".

Harold Briley, London

"Memories of the Falklands", edited by Iain Dale, hardback, 256 pages, £20, published by Politico's, 8 Artillery Row, Westminster, London, SW1P 1RZ. Tel.:020 7931 009; e-mail: ISBN 1 84275 018 6

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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