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Professor Freedman's Official History
Falkland Islanders' Exploits Played Down

Wednesday, July 6th 2005 - 21:00 UTC
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The vital part played by Falklands Islanders in helping to win the 1982 war against their Argentine invaders sadly receives scant recognition in the recently-published Official History of the Falklands Campaign by Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor War Studies at King's College, London.

He devotes comparatively few pages to a section headed "Islanders" and mentions superficially by name only a handful of the many Islanders who displayed such courage, stoicism and ingenuity and gave invaluable practical help to the advancing British forces under fire, including ammunition supply and evacuation of casualties. He quotes one report as saying "There appears to be general non-co-operation with the force of occupation but no open hostility".

I suspect that many Falkland Islanders will be disappointed with an Official History which is so lacking in acknowledgement of their trauma, their defiance, and their very real opposition to the Argentine invaders and their invaluable help to the Task Force.

Sparse mention of Islander resistance

Professor Freedman has, in my opinion, done the Islanders a dis-service by his paucity of recognition in what is billed as an "Official History". Either that or his researchers have done a meagre job of unearthing facts about the "Falkland Islanders at War", even though an excellent book with this title by Falklands journalist, Graham Bound, in 2002, admirably filled this gap and is quoted by the Official History as "a secondary source" of information.

It is puzzling why, in a two- volume, 1,100-page history, after seven years of research, such an experienced military historian and analyst as Professor Freedman appears to give such little weight to the impressive contribution of the Islanders, several of whom braved death or injury in action and possibly harsh treatment as spies.

For example, he omits to mention that two men who carried and used arms in the ferocious close- combat battle for Mount Longdon ? former Police Chief Terry Peck and air service engineer Vernon Steen ? were awarded medals for bravery or that Mrs Trudi Morrison (now Trudi McPhee) won a military commendation from the Task Force Commander in Chief. All three get only summary mention, unworthy of their courageous actions.

Rubber Duck's exploits

In a brief reference to Terry Peck, who was awarded the MBE, the Official History says: "3 Para (battalion) had an unexpected visitor ? Stanley Councillor and ex-Police Chief Terry Peck. He had escaped Stanley on a motor-bike and evaded the Argentines for five weeks. He provided intelligence on enemy positions, including possible minefields. He was recruited as a scout and later flown to Teal Inlet to rejoin 3 Para".

There is only one other brief reference to him, saying civilians "including Peck" served as guides to army patrols . The fourteen-year-old Islander, Saul Pitaluga, who bravely guided Peck on his motor-cycle to the British positions, also remains anonymous in this official history.

The book fails to describe Peck's daring exploits carried out with "determination and sheer guts" as another Islander put it. Pretending to be a travelling plumber, he took pictures of military targets with a telephoto camera concealed in a length of drainpipe. With a forged identity card and his legendary code-name "Rubber Duck", he armed himself with rifle, ammunition and grenades which farmer Neil Watson helped him to find on Long Island, then guided advance paratroop patrols, ahead of the main force, only metres from the enemy. He himself graphically described the ferocity and brutality of the fighting. "The smell, the carnage were unreal. There were bodies everywhere".

Dynamic action ? Economical Praise

Professor Freedman's more academic pedestrian prose fails to evoke such powerful emotive description or even remotely to reflect raw exposure to conflict. . Terry Peck suggested exploiting the Islanders' cross-country driving skills to maintain a supply line, and Trudi immediately went into action. But the Official History accords her cursory mention: "On Ist June, tractors and other vehicles from other settlements arrived ,led by Mrs Trudi Morrison, and volunteered to help. They were set to work moving ammunition, rations and stores up to the companies on the mountain".

Professor Freedman is economical with praise. His disinclination to accord credit to the Islanders' efforts contrasts sharply with the unstinting praise of front-line British officers. They developed what they described as "a profound respect for the Islanders' resourcefulness, determination and downright courage, particularly Trudi". Her official citation from the Commander in Chief , Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, praised "her tremendous steadfastness in dangerous and unfamiliar circumstances . ?under enemy artillery fire".

You would not discover this from the Official History. Astonishingly, very little of this fascinating detail merits attention.

Heroes go un-named

Vernon Steen, awarded a BEM, gets no mention at all for bravery scouting ahead of the group on Mount Longdon in which Sergeant Ian McKay was killed winning the Victoria Cross.

There is no mention either of the radio ham hero, Reg Silvey, the Cape Pembroke lighthouse keeper, who indulged in serious spying and sent intelligence on Argentine military activity to England under his call sign "Victor Papa Eight", using as a hidden aerial his steel-core washing line stretched across his garden. Eileen Vidal, manning the radio telephone system, relayed military intelligence to the British Navy ? but gets no recognition either.

The many acts of individual defiance and sabotage may never have happened if the Official History is the only source. There is no mention of the veterinary surgeon, Steve Whitley, who was wounded by the same shell that killed his wife, Sue, and two other Islanders, and was awarded the MBE. He sabotaged Argentine army telephone wires by cutting them with his castrating scissors, and, with teacher Phil Middleton, took clandestine pictures of Argentine defences. There is no mention either of farm manger Eric Goss and others sabotaging water pipes, immobilising vehicles to deny Argentine use and re-directing aircraft beacons. Or of a farming couple at Estancia, Tony and Ailsa Heathman, providing shelter and food for a 600-strong paratroop battalion.

Falklands Director of Broadcasting, Patrick Watts, is praised for doing "much to maintain morale" at the time of the invasion, but there is no mention of him remonstrating with an Argentine holding a gun against him or being awarded an MBE for his heroic, marathon invasion phone- in and keeping Islanders informed.

The medical Officer, Dr Alison Bleaney, OBE, is mentioned in passing as urging the Argentines to discuss a ceasefire. Librarian John Smith's Diary of the War is briefly quoted describing the "frightening" naval bombardment of Stanley and also the moment of Argentine surrender.

"Argentine forces acted properly"

The ordeal of nearly 200 Islanders incarcerated at Fox Bay and Goose Green in conditions breaching the Geneva Convention rules for prisoners, is described by Professor Freedman who speak of them being kept in "unpleasant conditions".

"By and large", Professor Freedman writes, "Argentine forces acted properly towards the Islanders?.On the whole civil-military relations remained correct and there were only a few minor incidents". ?as conscripts became cold, wet and hungry and were reported to have broken into houses and stolen food?Troops were believed to be sleeping in vacated property , resulting in some pilfering but the Argentines had paid compensation in such cases ?.Military hygiene standards were low".

There is criticism of one senior officer, Major Patricio Dowling as "being tough and threatening", but praise for another, Comodoro Carlos Bloomer-Reeve as "being fair and considerate", but he did create "chaos" by changing traffic flow to drive on the right instead of the left.

Ian Strange is also quoted, in his diary of events, calling for unity among Islanders early in the invasion, and as challenging the views of the Anglo-Argentine delegation which visited the Islanders trying to persuade them of the advantages of Argentine rule. Strange is quoted as saying: "Their own acceptance of Argentine, customs, language and politics had been their choice. We had suddenly had this thrust upon us, which was a very different situation indeed".

Unwelcome Anglo-Argentines

The Official History book quotes an outspoken outburst reflecting Islander views from an un-named islander's diary on West Falkland:

"This afternoon a group of two-faced Anglo-Argies talk on Stanley radio and suggest that they don't want war and neither do we so suggest we accept Arg sovereignty and the Argies will leave us alone and just build their own town with Governor etc and we can have our own ?committees' and ask for our views ? they get them from all farms which can still call up Stanley. BALLS! We don't want a war and people getting killed but look who started it ? now they can accept the consequences. ? There is no creature worse than an Anglo-Argie ? their loyalty is purely to their pocket and the country which suits their pocket at the time and NOTHING else".

Professor Freedman discusses at some length the predicament of whether for their safety the Islanders should have been evacuated at the beginning of hostilities, and the differing British and Argentine attitudes. There was a suggestion that Argentina would have preferred there to be no British there, so removing the excuse for liberation but there was the other factor that they could be used as hostages.

"The British Government was certainly not anxious to encourage people to leave?The FCO took the view that no assurance could be given to the Falkland Islands Company nor the islanders about financial loss. ? If they offered what would amount to a blank cheque to the Islanders for their evacuation, reception and eventual return, it seems likely that many would opt to leave".

The FCO said: "It would need to be made clear to the Islanders that they are not being offered compensation or indemnification, and they will be expected to return to the Falkland Islands when it becomes possible".

The Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, had stated that 90 per dent of the Islanders wished to stay. And they may be surprised to learn that the senior British diplomat left in Buenos Aires suggested giving up the Islands once liberated.

Defeatist Diplomat urged hand-over

The somewhat defeatist, pessimistic view of the diplomat left in charge of British interests in Argentina is revealed in a telegram to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on April 30th.

Considering the consequences of Galtieri's fall from power, the diplomat writes: "The Falklands will be ours but for what purpose, at what national cost and for how long?" He spoke of a "healing time" dependent upon "the magnitude of casualties". The Official History says: "His preference would be for a surgical victory and then the Islands handed promptly over to UN or US or joint administration as a magnanimous gesture of victory. It will have been worth making our points against the use of force and for democracy. The alternative was a ?pyrrhic victory, bringing chaos in this country (Argentina) and irreparable long-term damage to our interest on this continent, if not wider afield'.

Falkland Islanders will be bemused by some of the judgments in the Official History and by omission of so many of their experiences. After all, it was aggression against them which prompted the United Kingdom to go to war.

"It was former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who urged, on her 1992 tenth anniversary visit, that the Islanders should write their war story. She will read with eagle eye what Professor Freedman has written".

Harold Briley, London Photo: Rafael Wollmann

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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