The remarkable recovery of the Falklands Islands from the 1982 invasion and the Islanders’ impressive achievements since have been given valuable publicity at a three-day conference at Kent University in the United Kingdom marking the 30th anniversary. It was attended by a distinguished group of academics, military commanders, journalists, and three former governors, Alan Huckle, David Tatham and Howard Pearce.
A retrospective look at the invasion night by former Falklands Director of Broadcasting, Patrick Watts was one of the most impressive representations, standing out among many given by distinguished historians. Delivered with panache, it was a riveting minute-by-minute account of his marathon night invasion broadcast, illustrated by extracts of the broadcast itself, including phone-in eye-witness contributions by islanders themselves monitoring the advance of Argentine soldiers and armoured vehicles and the calm, authoritative voice of the Governor, Rex Hunt, describing the unfolding drama and giving advice to Islanders for their safety. But the conference organisers did what Argentine guns pointing at Patrick’s back failed to do – cut him off in full flow through time limitation.
The progress of the Islands as a vibrant, prosperous democracy and promising projects for future development were outlined with detailed analysis and statistics by Legislative Assembly Member, Dick Sawle.
Professor Jim McAdam praised Lord Shackleton’s post-invasion economic report for paving the way to prosperity as its recommendations were carried out. And he drew students’ attention to the opportunities offered by Shackleton Fund Scholarships.
In a brief intervention, London Representative Sukey Cameron, attending as an observer, told the conference what a valuable information and morale-boosting channel the BBC “Calling the Falklands” programme had been but now defunct. Former BBC broadcaster Harold Briley mentioned the rapport the islanders had with the BBC and their continuing bond with and hospitality to the South Atlantic Medal veterans in gratitude for liberation.
The conference was opened by the Defence Secretary at the time of the invasion, John Nott, who hinted that if he had been Prime Minister he would not have sent the Task Force to liberate the Islands. That would have been in line with his pessimistic advice that the Islands could not be retaken, a view rejected only when the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, said the Task Force could sail within days to retake the Islands. Sir Nott also said he had no idea where leaks to the BBC about Task Force deployments came from, yet it was widely accepted his own Ministry was the source.
Presentations were given by four outstanding Task Force commanders whose actions were a vital contribution to the campaign, Major General Julian Thompson and Commodore Michael Clapp, who gave a detailed account of the amphibious landing and the land campaign, and Captain Chris Wreford-Brown, with a modest matter-of-fact account of how his submarine, HMS Conqueror, sank the Belgrano. Brigadier David Chaundler described his fraught experience of parachuting in, to replace Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones, killed at Goose Green, one of the two Victoria Cross winners.
Among the academics, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman told how he wrote the official history of the conflict. Professor Klaus Dodds emphasised the Britishness of the Falkland Islanders and their affection for the Queen. Doctor Celia Szusterman, an Argentine with British citizenship, spoke about “monitoring the struggle for the Malvinas and its role in Argentine life”. Her criticism of the Falkland Islanders for what she regarded as a biased account of the sovereignty dispute went unchallenged with no mention of Argentina’s distorted version. She made the bizarre claim that if the Argentines had won, the consequence would have been invasion by Guatemala of the other former British colony, Belize, which was strongly defended by British infantry, artillery and Harrier aircraft. She ignored what Argentina said it would have definitely done - invade Chile so creating a much wider regional war.
A media panel chaired by BBC correspondent Alan Little included a former senior BBC executive, Dame Jenny Abramsky and three correspondents giving personal reminiscences of their experience with the Task Force, Robert Fox (BBC), Michael Nicholson(ITN) and John Shirley (representing newspapers). A presentation about BBC World Service was axed from the media programme.
Kent University at Canterbury is a modern, forward-looking university which has focused on the Falkland conflict and encouraged its student to study it. The conference was organised by its Professor of Modern History, Mark Connelly, and Professor of Journalism, Tim Luckhurst.
Harold Briley OBE, London