June 14, 1982 – Democracy is restored to the Falkland Islands — MercoPress
Timeline: June 14, 1982 – Democracy is restored to the Falkland Islands
On April 2, 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands. Patrick Watts, who was head of Falklands Radio, broadcast a marathon 11-hour non-stop depiction 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 gives a personal account of his memories of the day British forces liberated the Falklands.
At around 11:00 a.m. on June 14, 1982, the Falklands War unofficially ended. The Argentine guns which had inflicted heavy casualties on British troops on Mount Longdon ceased firing while the British artillery which for the previous 3 days and nights had incessantly bombarded the outskirts of Stanley in their attempts to make silence the Argentine armament suddenly closed as well. It was as if someone somewhere had flipped a switch at a pre-established time!
Snowflakes were falling softly; the roads were icy and it was freezing cold as thousands of young Argentine soldiers abandoned the mountains, ridges, hills and valleys they had occupied for the previous 73 days, and marched sadly and discouraged towards Stanley, resigned to their defeat and seeking shelter, warmth and food. Always fully armed, they occupied public buildings such as the town hall, post office and gymnasium and commercial warehouses in an attempt to escape the cold. They were all very hungry despite the fact that many containers of food, brought to the islands by Argentine freighters, languished laden on the grassy borders and in the paddocks and gardens. For some inexplicable reason, it seems that no attempt was made to distribute food to the starving troops.
I climbed to the roof of my house at the Police Cottages and saw the blue and white Argentine flag still flying over the 3 main masts of Government House, Secretariat and Falkland Islands Defense Force Headquarters. There were no white flags anywhere, despite British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s announcement in Parliament later that 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 about 10 miles west of Stanley on Two Sisters mountain. He was filmed emerging from a bivouac saying the infamous words: ‘Damn wonderful – white flags are flying over Stanley’. 25 years later in 2007 Major Dawson returned to the Falklands and openly confessed to me that he hadn’t seen 1 white flag anywhere but was encouraged by a TV crew to exaggerate a report of a soldier who was positioned further forward on Mount William, and who had telephoned him to say he thought there might be a white flag flying as he saw something blowing in the wind. “It was most likely a white woman’s underwear on a clothesline,” Major Dawson suggested. He was later reprimanded by General Moore for his indiscretion. But the myth of “white flags flying over Stanley” persists to this day.
At 3:00 p.m. I walked to the Government Secretariat/Treasury building and spoke with Air Commodore Carlos Bloomer-Reeve who had been flown in from Bonn where he was attached military and appointed head of civil affairs. He had previously spent 2 years in the islands at the head of the national airline LADE 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 redoubtable Major Patrico Dowling. Bloomer-Reeve conveniently told me there was a ‘ceasefire’ and took me to a window from where I could see the dark silhouette of British paratroopers standing next to the 1914 War Memorial and only 400 meters away. I knew then, as 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 p.m. I returned to the Secretariat building as I had been informed that Major General Jeremy Moore, who commanded the British land forces, would arrive to take the surrender of Brigadier General Mario Benjamin Menendez who, in early April, had taken an oath. as governor of the islands. It was a short reign. In the passage to the top floor stood Menendez resplendent and immaculate in his uniform complete with medals and decorations. Her shoes shone so brightly that I could almost see my reflection in the polished toes. Beside 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 primary legal adviser.
Major General Moore and his considerable entourage arrived a little later than expected. He was much shorter than I had imagined – a light build compared to Menendez – wearing green combat type clothes and a pointy “desert” type hat while his face was covered in camouflage. He looked more like the vanquished than the victor! After the surrender was signed, the Argentine delegation left, and as he passed General Menendez, he looked me straight in the eye and said a single word, “sorry.” Perhaps he recognized my face during the official tour of government services he undertook in early April?
The document he had signed ended: “The surrender will be effective from 23:59 GMT (20:59 local time) on June 14 and will include the Argentine forces currently deployed in and around Port Stanley and the others on East Falklands, West Falklands and the Outlying Islands.”
General Moore later sent a telegram to London which ended with the words: The Falkland Islands are again under the government wanted by their inhabitants. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.’
The general asked: ‘Where are the premises?’ and like I looked around and realized with pride that I was the only civilian resident of the Falklands actually present at this historic and momentous occasion.
I warmly thanked him, on behalf of the people of the Falklands, for the rapid and decisive liberation from the unwanted Argentine military occupation. He wanted to know where the civilians were and I quickly replied that I knew more than 120 residents were sheltering in the safety of the stone-walled West Store building. He demanded to visit them and seemed completely unaware of the potential danger posed by the thousands of armed Argentines still occupying the dark and snowy city. Earlier, the shells had destroyed a generator and most of the city was without electricity or street lights. “They know it’s all over so let’s go” was his playful response. In the dimly lit store, where people had arranged their mattresses between cheeses and hams, he was cheered with much cheering, hoisted onto his shoulders and paraded between the sleeping bags, photographed shaking hands with a young child and congratulated on the success of the ground forces. Western store manager David Castle gallantly invited the incarcerated civilians to help themselves to the shelves of liquor, and bottles of liquor were soon consumed in a celebratory fashion. Many toasts were proposed, first 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 Police Cottages, along with his fellow senior officers, his guard body, a few reporters and a photographer, and he ate cakes and scones that my mother had made. Coincidentally, she celebrated her 66th birthday that day. At that time, I struggled to comprehend the full significance of this momentous occasion. The head of the British land forces was sitting in my little kitchen drinking tea and we had been released. Was it just a dream or was it real, I wondered. As he left for Government House, he thanked my mother profusely and added the immortal words: “Best goddamn cup of tea I’ve had since we sat down.”
Later that night, the defeated Argentines sought “revenge” and we found that private homes, 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. Local firefighters assisted by numerous volunteers and the Argentine military police provided by Captain Romero prevented the fires from spreading and destroying the city. Romero, an honest man, was a reservist who had been sent by the junta to supervise the military police during the 74 days of occupation. He took appropriate action against conscripts caught robbing unoccupied dwellings and tried to help the civilian community as far as his rank allowed. Fortunately, the fires were eventually brought under control and the small town survived. The disarmament of Argentine soldiers and their repatriation to Argentina on British merchant ships began the following day. DEMOCRACY had returned to the Falklands.
By Patrick Watts-Stanley