I was quite fond of Roald Dahl books as a child and I still enjoy them to this day. I think
my favourite is “Danny the Champion of the World”. I also enjoyed “Fantastic Mr Fox”. To
be honest, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is something I could take or leave and I did not enjoy
the 2005 film as much as the Gene Wilder original. However on April 2nd 1982, we put down our Roald Dahl’s
as the full-horror and dare I say it pointlessness of war kicked in.
I was in the final months of my time at St Botolph’s Primary and should have really
been focusing on my induction to Shepshed High School. I was apprehensive about moving up to SHS, but the war soon provided
a convenient and bloody horrible distraction than problems closer to home.
It was on April 2nd 1982 that the Argentines invaded the Falkland Islands. I was
no doubt in the majority of the adult and child population in the UK, who up until then had never heard of the Falklands and
had no idea where they were or that they were part of a long-running dispute between Britain and Argentina.
Thatcher sent her task-force three-days later. The Falklands were 8,000 miles away and it
would take three weeks for them to get there. National hysteria and a gung-ho spirit was whipped up and part of me is ashamed
to say it, I was very much part of it. In mitigation, I didn't really know any better at the time.
I had began to collect model aeroplanes and pestered my parents for Harrier Jump Jet models
or Mirage fighters, which the Argies used. I also acquired a bizarre collection of combat gear and must have looked a sight
charging through Blacksmith’s Avenue, armed with a plaggy machine gun in search of stray Argie conscripts. My Dad’s
former work-mate and close friend Bryan Cowan used to wind me up by telling me his parents were from Argentina (they
were from Stretford in Manchester originally and settled in Coalville) but I told him they should be arrested and interned
until hostilities had ceased or simply shot!
Those brilliant Tottenham Hotspur players from Argentina, Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles were
forced into exile. I remember an interview with Ardiles from the time, where he branded it as “a crazy war” -
maybe he had a point? However this was lost one ten-year-old me at the time. Soldiers were just like the plastic ones in my
toy box, could be knocked over dead and brought back to life in an instant without all the trauma of blood, smashed bones,
their mourning families and comerades.
As well as my combat gear, my Dad found a stall on Donington Market, where he worked on Sundays,
selling t-shirts, caps, badges printed with the slogan “Don’t cry for me Argentina – cos we are coming to
beat the **** out of you!”. He bought me one. I remember some woman stopping me in the street and commending me on it.
Her own son had gone to fight. I look back on this in some disbelief now. If any of my children had been fighting in such
a war, Id be worried sick. She probably was but did not show it.
The full brutality of the war was not hidden from us as wide-eyed ten-year olds. I remember
vividly the sinking of the Argentine ship the General Belgrano, where 368 Argentines drowned. I also recall the controversy
over the sinking, where it was said the ship was outside the exclusion zone imposed by Britain and heading away from the islands.
The Sun responded to the sinking on May 3rd with the immortal headline “GOTCHA!” and who could forget
that exchange on the BBC1 programme “Nationwide” between Mrs Thatcher and Mrs Diane Gould? a Gloucestershire housewife
who relentlessly pursued and battered Thatcher with questions that clearly left her more rattled than any Prime Minister’s
question time she had faced!
Britain suffered losses too. I remember the day after HMS Sheffield was sunk. Our teacher
at the time was from Sheffield and she openly wept at the news. HMS Ardent, Antelope and Coventry were also destroyed.
On June 20th it was all over. However 913 lives had been lost. A great wave of
patriotism and euphoria swept over the country. In the General Election of 1983, Mrs Thatcher was returned to power. To be
quite honest, the debate on whether or not the decision to go to war created such euphoria and public support for her she
was returned to power on the strength of it is a debate for another time and place. In my opinion, it did not do any harm,
but then again Labour were in some disarray and were led by the "weak and frial"Michael Foot who unbelievably at the time
of writing this is still very much alive in his late 90's.
I do not wish to sully the memory of those who lost their lives, or cause offence to the many of
young lads who went out there, fought, many of whom came back with injuries barring scars and nightmares of their experience,
however in the words of Ossie Ardiles, it was indeed “a crazy war” on reflection.
Indeed I recall Margaret Thatcher visiting Shepshed unexpectedly in 1983 during that election campaign
one Thursday afternoon and being pelted with eggs by an angry mob who had greeted her arrival in the Bull Ring. Shepshed I
think in those days was part of NW Leicestershire, which was a safe Tory seat back in the day. However Maggie's meeting with
the angry-mob in Sheppy was sure fire proof that you can please some of the people some of the time etc....