On 02nd April 1982 Argentine Forces invaded the Falkland Islands. Patrick Watts, who was Head of Falklands Radio, broadcast a marathon 11 hours non-stop description of the events as they unfolded. He maintained a British presence in the Radio Station for most of the 74 days of Argentine occupation. In this article, he provides a personal account of his recollections of the day that British Forces liberated the Falklands.
At around 1100 on the morning of 14th June 1982 the Falklands War unofficially ended. Argentine guns which had been inflicting considerable casualties on British Troops on Mount Longdon ceased firing while British artillery which for the previous 3 days and nights had incessantly bombarded the outskirts of Stanley in their attempts to silence the Argentine weaponry suddenly closed down as well. It was as if someone somewhere had flicked a switch at a pre-appointed time!
Snowflakes were gently falling; the roads were icy and it was bitterly cold as thousands of young Argentine soldiers abandoned the mountains, ridges, hills and valleys which they had occupied for the preceding 73 days, and walked disconsolately and dispiritedly into Stanley, resigned to their defeat and looking for shelter, warmth and food. Still fully armed they proceeded to occupy public buildings such as the Town Hall, Post Office and Gymnasium and commercial warehouses in an effort to escape from the cold. They were all very hungry despite the fact that many food containers, brought to the Islands by Argentine freighters, were languishing fully laden on grass verges and in paddocks and gardens. For some inexplicable reason there appeared to have been no attempts made to distribute the food to the hungry troops.
I climbed onto the roof of my house at the Police Cottages and saw the blue and white Argentine flag still flying on the 3 primary flag poles at Government House, Secretariat and Falkland Islands Defence Force Head Quarters. There were no white flags anywhere, despite the announcement made by the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Parliament later in the day that ‘white flags were flying over Stanley’. She had been misled by the inappropriate words of a British Military Officer Major Bill Dawson of the Gurkha Regiment who at the time was stationed some 10 miles west of Stanley on Two Sisters mountain. He was filmed emerging from a bivouac uttering the infamous words: ‘bloody marvellous – white flags are flying over Stanley.’ 25 years later in 2007 Major Dawson returned to the Falklands and openly admitted to me that he did not see 1 white flag anywhere but that he had been encouraged, by a television crew, to exaggerate a report by a soldier who was positioned further forward on Mount William, and who had radioed him to say that he thought that there could be a white flag flying as he saw something fluttering in the wind. ‘It was most probably a piece of lady’s white underwear on a clothes line’ suggested Major Dawson. He was later reprimanded by General Moore for his indiscretion. But the myth of ‘white flags flying over Stanley’ lingers on to this day.
At 3:00 in the afternoon I walked to the Government Secretariat/Treasury building and spoke with Air Commodore Carlos Bloomer-Reeve who had been brought back from Bonn where he was Military Attaché and installed as Chief of Civil Affairs. He had previously spent 2 years in the Islands in charge of the state airline L.A.D.E. which since 1971 had operated a weekly service between Comodoro Rivadavia and the Falklands. Bloomer-Reeve was respected by all who knew him and he was most attentive to the concerns of the civilian population despite the belligerent attitude of an Argentine Intelligence Officer the feared Major Patrico Dowling. Bloomer-Reeve conveniently told me that there was a ‘cease fire’ and took me to a window from where I could see the dark outline of British Paratroopers standing next to the 1914 War Memorial and just 400 yards distant. I knew then, as the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had promised, that the British were back in my beloved Islands. It was an emotional moment for me.
At 8:00 in the evening I returned to the Secretariat building as I had been advised that Major General Jeremy Moore who commanded the British Land Forces would be arriving to take the surrender of Brigadier General Mario Benjamin Menendez who in early April had been sworn-in as Governor of the Islands. It was a short reign. In the passage way on the top floor stood Menendez looking resplendent and immaculate in his dress uniform complete with medals and decorations. His shoes shone so brightly that I could almost see my reflection in the polished toe-caps. Flanking him I recognized Commodore Bloomer-Reeve and Captain Melbourne Hussey, an Argentine Naval officer who was the official translator and had been appointed Head of Education during his short stay in the Falklands. The 4th person was Vice-Commodore Eugenio J. Miari of the Argentine Air Force who was their Senior Legal Advisor.
Major General Moore and his considerable entourage arrived a little later than expected. He was much shorter than I had imagined – a slight figure compared to Menendez - wearing combat type green clothing and a peaked ‘desert type’ hat while his face was covered with camouflage. He looked more the vanquished than the victor! After the surrender had been signed the Argentine delegation departed and as he walked past General Menendez looked directly at me and uttered one solitary word ‘sorry’. Perhaps he recognized my face from the official tour of Government Departments which he undertook in early April?
The document that he had signed ended: ‘The surrender to be effective from 2359 GMT (2059 local time) on 14th June and include those Argentine Forces presently deployed in and around Port Stanley and those others on East Falklands, West Falklands and outlying Islands’.
General Moore later sent a telegram to London which concluded with the words: The Falkland Islands are once more under the Government desired by their inhabitants. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.’
The General asked: ‘where are the locals?’ and as I looked around I proudly realized that I was the only civilian inhabitant of the Falklands actually present at this historic and memorable occasion.
I profusely thanked him, on behalf of the population of the Falklands, for the swift and decisive liberation from unwanted Argentine Military occupation. He wanted to know where the civilians were and I quickly replied that I was aware that more than 120 inhabitants were sheltering within the safety of the stone-walled West Store building. He demanded to visit them and seemed totally oblivious to the possible danger posed by the thousands of armed Argentines who still occupied the dark and snow-covered town. Shells had earlier knocked out a power generator and most of the town was without electricity or street lighting. ‘They know it’s all over so let’s go’ was his blithe response. In the dimly lit store-room, where people had laid out their mattresses between the cheeses and hams, he was cheered with much acclaim, lifted onto shoulders and paraded between the sleeping bags, photographed shaking hands with a young child and congratulated on the success of the land forces. The West Store Manager David Castle gallantly invited the incarcerated civilians to help themselves from the liquor shelves and bottles of alcohol were soon being consumed in the appropriate celebratory manner. Many toasts were proposed, firstly to the General himself, then to the Task Force and finally to Mrs. Thatcher.
Typical of an Englishman Major General Moore later asked me where could he get ‘a good cup of tea’ so I took him to my home at the Police Cottages, along with his fellow senior Officers, his bodyguard, a few journalists and a photographer, and he ate cakes and scones that my mother had made. Coincidentally she was celebrating her 66th birthday on that very day. At that moment I struggled to comprehend the total significance of this momentous occasion. The leader of the British Land Forces was sitting in my small kitchen drinking tea and we had been liberated. Was it just a dream or was it reality I asked myself. As he departed for Government House he profusely thanked my mother and added the immortal words: ‘Best damned cuppa I’ve had since we sat out’.
Later that night the defeated Argentines sought ‘revenge’ and we became aware that private dwellings, public buildings and a sports hall which had all been previously occupied by Argentine soldiers and contained considerable amounts of ammunition had been set on fire. The local Fire Brigade assisted by many volunteers and some Argentine Military Police provided by Captain Romero prevented the fires from spreading and destroying the town. Romero, a decent man, was a reservist who had been sent across by the Junta to supervise the Military Police during the 74 days of occupation. He took appropriate action against conscripts caught stealing from unoccupied dwellings and tried to help the civilian community as far as his rank would allow. Thankfully the fires were eventually contained and the small town survived. The disarming of Argentine soldiers and their repatriation back to Argentina on British Merchant ships began on the following day. DEMOCRACY had returned to the Falklands.
By Patrick Watts - Stanley