Falklands/Malvinas: War, Media and Society- History and Legacy’
University of Manchester 25/26 April 2019
Report by Andy Grainger, BCMH
This Conference was organised by BCMH member Alex Clarke of Kings, assisted by Louise Clare. BCMH sponsorship enabled the event to run for two days rather than one. In his closing remarks Alex explained that the idea for the Conference had been fostered at a BCMH New Researcher event where the two had met. As a result of the Conference we have enrolled a number of new members.
Our investment was very worthwhile. See this Conference Report https://sites.manchester.ac.uk/alc-grad-school/conference-report/
The programme included 27 speakers in four panels and three keynotes. They included journalists, academics, young researchers and veterans from General / Commodore to private. A number of Falkland Islanders were present as well as some who had been or were native to Argentina.
Highlights (these are very personal) included:
- Brig Julian Thompson and Commodore Michael Clapp doing a double act presentation on planning the amphibious landing.
- Jeremy Larken who had commanded HMS Fearless showing his filmed addresses to the ship’s company and videos of the landings in San Carlos.
- A young researcher, Jade White, spoke about H Jones, supported sympathetically by one of the company commanders during questions,
- The Ops Officer of 1/7 GR talked about the inadvertent media propaganda campaign around the Gurkhas when a routine media photo of them sharpening their kukris at Church Crookham led ultimately to Argentine requests in the UN for Nepal to recall its knife wielding mercenaries from this colonial campaign.
- The Navigating Officer of HMS Conqueror talking about the voyage south, the naval campaign and the sinking of the Belgrano.
- Lawrence Freedman talking about writing the Official History.
- Steve Badsey on the Govt handling of the media.
- Leonie Roberts of the Falklands Islands Council, aged 10 in 1982 spoke about the impact of the war on the Islands. Her lack of trust in the Argentines – or Argentina was apparent and echoed indirectly by Grace Robertson who spoke on the political and economic impacts of oil exploration around the Falklands before the war.
- John Beales talked about a group memoir of 3 Para on Mount Longden to counter allegations of war crimes made in some earlier memoirs.
The main realisation for me was the complete improvisation on the British side. It reminded me of Gallipoli, the only difference being that the Falklands worked and Gallipoli didn't. The Falklands could so easily have gone the same way - or not at all. The initial view of Thatcher and Nott was that there was nothing Britain could do to recover the islands after the Argentine invasion but four days later a task force sailed, shambolically loaded and not complete but it committed the UK and demonstrated resolve. Ironically the junta had intended to withdraw their forces following the invasion and await the outcome of an international conference to resolve their claim but then found they could not withdraw because the invasion was so popular at home that withdrawal was simply not an option.
The Conference was a very worthwhile event - the first conference I have attended where senior officers have been present as well as junior ranks.
The range of papers was very varied and included coverage by journalists, veterans and academics of how the war was perceived both now and at the time.
One area which was not examined and which would seem relevant for a cultural historian would seem to be the impact of the war on the psyche of the British public and the armed forces. We know that Mrs Thatcher (deeply unpopular in 1982) was re-elected in 1983 with direct social and economic effects that we are still working through. What impacts might there have been on the armed forces and the country if we had done nothing or we had despatched the task force and been defeated.
All one can say is that things would have been different and that the impact of even a ‘small’ war can have very far-reaching effects.
FM37 Conference Report.
This was never going to be an easy conference, veterans of all kinds (journalists, soldiers, sailors, airmen and civil servants), academics of all levels and Falkland Islanders – it was either going to be amazing or explosive, either would require a lot of work to make it run smoothly. In the end, it was not always smooth, there were moments when a loud hailer might have come in handy – especially when trying to make people take breaks! Keeping things to time, keeping things fair was the biggest issue. It was such a crammed conference that I honestly do not how we would have managed to fit it into just one day, we barely fitted it into the two; and that was before the wonderful, Rear Admiral Jeremy Larken mentioned he had a little paper and could we squeeze it in – of course we did, it was worth it, but it did possibly hasten grey hairs for the conference organisers.
The first day began with a lively welcome, not just by the conference organisers but also Commodore Michael Clapp (the 1982 Amphibious Task Group Commander and one of the Day 2 Keynotes), that led into spirited papers and questions, with young academics, including the conference team’s Louise Clare, a PhD student at Manchester, alongside more experienced academics like Professor Stephen Badsey from University of Wolverhampton. Of course, as was a principle intention of the conference, there were a large contingent of veterans too, including the excellent Lou Armour and Dr David Jackson, giving their first hand perspective on events and their legacy – the panel at the play, Minefield/Campo Minado, was especially unexpected in what it was, but so special because of that.
The keynotes were always going to be something special, the official Historian, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, was day one – and frankly it was a wonderful kaleidoscope of history, explaining not just the facts and the lessons, but the process of the research. The issues he had faced and the complexity it had brought with it; especially intriguing was the idea that Falklands/Malvinas War might be the last to have such an official history of the type he produced. This speech was followed by the conference dinner, which was a welcome chance to digest all the thoughts the day’s papers and the keynote had created especially.
The next day began early again, the first panel was kindly chaired by Professor Freedman, but due to transport issues was comprised only of a PhD student, Jade White and the author of a book about the Falklands War, Ricky Phillips – this was different as most panels had had four members, so it enabled the chair to allow for a more free flowing question and answer session after each of the papers rather than them being handled as a group as every other panel received. Both papers were well prepared and provided interesting perspective, although the other conference organiser, Dr Alexander Clarke, was very happy he was in the next panel and back to standard group question taking as it meant he could dive off at points and help with conference stuff.
Lunchtime was over very quickly as honestly day two was running a little late already, but more importantly everyone was very eager to hear the day two keynotes, Commodore Michael Clapp and Major General Julian Thompson giving their account of their experience, their role, their conundrums of the War. It was a breath-taking presentation, the clarity, the detail, for many attendees this was the session which crystallised so much of what they would take away from the conference. It was not though the end, this conference was the gift that kept giving.
In fact, there were two further panels following on from this keynote, which included beautiful presentations by the Hon Leona Roberts on The Islands of the Falkland Islanders and the legacy of the War, and Jennifer Wood of Aberystwyth University’s discussion of the cultural narrative. Both so different and serving to illustrate the sheer range of papers attracted to this conference, but both providing more. In the end though, even all good things have to come to an end, even conferences. However, with the FM37 conference, its ending was a different kind of veteran, a photo journalist, Paul Haley and his Unseen 1982 Photography… it was haunting, for some in the audience it was pictures of friends, of sights, of themselves that they may not have seen for years and certainly not in that way. For all in the audience it was another vibrant line to the events that already been brought to life by the two days discussion.
All in all, it was a great conference and it is hoped that with a research network in the process of forming, and fingers crossed a publication for the fortieth anniversary, that it will achieve a long lasting legacy – but honestly it would not have been half as successful as it was, if it were not for the second day which the BCMH funding allowed it, certainly that funding made a major difference to the postgraduates who attended.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We would like to thank you all very much for attending the ‘Falklands/Malvinas: War, Media and Society- History and Legacy’ conference held at the University of Manchester on 25th & 26th April 2019.
We are currently in the process of writing up the conference proceedings, as well as wrapping up the paperwork, the former we will send out to you in due course - the latter we will keep to ourselves!
The keen interest expressed in joining the Falklands/Malvinas Network means that we are pleased to announce that we will be setting one up very soon, hopefully with plans for a publication for the fortieth anniversary - thank you for bearing with us, this has understandably become a very busy period for us and we apologise for the time its taking.
Thank you to all who presented and attended the conference once again.
Louise and Alex.
Image copyright IWM
The Type 42 destroyer HMS SHEFFIELD on fire after being struck by an AM.39 Exocet missile fired from an Argentine aircraft from a distance of 6 miles.