Trudging to work this morning, in the pitch black and freezing cold, my thoughts turned initially to the fact that tomorrow is Liberation Day, and being a public holiday here in the Falklands, I wouldn’t be making the same journey tomorrow but would instead be enjoying a lie in. Then I began to think about how it must have been 35 years ago today for the British forces fighting to liberate the Falklands, and for the Argentine forces who were about to be brought to their knees. Suddenly my walk to work didn’t seem so bad.
I should say this upfront; I’m not a Falkland Islander, I wasn’t here in 1982. Instead I was a happy 4 year old half a world away. But I have lived here with my wife and three children for the past 5 years, and so have directly benefited from the Falkland Islands being a free and peaceful country.
There are many books that describe the Falklands war; mainly written by veterans or ex-serving military, and a few describe what it was like from a civilian perspective. They describe scenes which are hard to imagine now in a modern Falkland Islands; hard to imagine because in many ways the violence seems so very far away from the peaceful islands they now are, and hard to imagine because going to that dark place, even in our thoughts or imagination, makes us feel uncomfortable. But go there we do.
Then I began to imagine, as I have done many times before, what it must have been like for the people of the Falklands, who knew what life in the Falklands was like before the Argentine invasion, and before the Falklands war. Before images of war ships ablaze and burned soldiers were emblazoned on the front pages of newspapers and on the collective psyche of the British public and Falkland Islanders alike. We now experience the Falklands war with the benefit of hindsight; we know now that the Islands were liberated and the Falkland Islanders won the right to freedom and self determination, we know now that the loss of civilian life was ‘minimal’ – though minimal is never a satisfactory word to describe the loss of any life, or to describe the impact it has on the families of those who died or on this close-knit community.
Imagine waking up one day and seeing soldiers and tanks rolling down the street – a street which until that day had never known war. It must have been utterly bewildering. And make no mistake, this was a real war; there was shooting and shelling, burning buildings, and death. People hid under their floors while soldiers searched their homes just above their heads, not knowing if they would be deported, beaten or murdered. Not knowing if they would be forced to live under a harsh dictatorship, where people with opinions were ‘disappeared’. They witnessed young Argentine conscripts without adequate clothing or equipment go hungry, while officers stockpiled more food than they could eat.
The Falkland Islanders saw their town, their homes and their beautiful islands turned over, their belongings thrown out into the street, and much of what their ancestors strove to build, destroyed. The Argentine soldiers thought they would be welcomed as liberators, such was the propaganda of the Argentine government, only to find that they were in fact the invaders.
When you look at the pictures of Liberation Day in 1982, you see the Argentine soldiers, many of them no more than boys, being quietly and respectfully directed by the British forces onto the jetty to the awaiting boats, and you realise that this was a day of liberation, but it was not a day of victory.
There is a 1982 war memorial in Stanley, and it holds a very dear place in the hearts of everybody in the Falklands. It represents everything the Falklands has become since liberation, which is built on everything that was sacrificed by those who fought for it. However, part of me feels sad that there is no memorial for the Falkland Islanders who endured so much, and still live with the physical and emotional scars of what happened in 1982. I think sometimes what they went through is not recognised as much as they deserve.
Tomorrow, on the 14th June 2017, I’ll remember with sincere gratitude all those who fought for our freedom 35 years ago, and I will remember the Falkland Islanders who had their world turned upside down, changing them and their Islands forever.