Letter to Calum

In response to Stan Collymore’s ‘statement’, regarding his Falkland’s tweet, Falkland’s veteran and author Ken Lukowiak replies to Talksport’s MD,  Mr Calum Macaulay. 

Dear Calum,

Firstly let me thank you for agreeing to meet Dougie and I last week. Although, after the little dance that we seemed to need to go through before we did all finally sit down together, I’m not sure if you agreed to meet us, or we agreed to meet you. Either way, we did all agree on something, so well done us!

May I also thank you not only for your subsequent letter but also the statement that was released by your Stan after our meeting. People have been questioning if Stan actually wrote the statement. Call me cynical, but I’d be amazed if he’s even read it. As statements go I couldn’t have penned one myself to annoy and cause even more distress within our ranks. Although, I can’t help but feel that when that statement was drafted, you thought that that might be the case. I also feel it was a statement that was aimed more at your stations sponsors that it was to the people who Stan had offended.

You asked at the meeting what I thought Talksport could do to help bring about a resolution to this matter. I replied, that I felt, the first thing that needed to be done was for Stan to issue a full and unequivocal apology. Simply for him to say that he was ‘sorry’ for the hurt his tweet had caused. And that he now had an understanding of why it had been so offensive to Falkland’s veterans and their families.

His statement did neither of these things. It was also no help to the peace process when Stan re-tweeted a tweet that mocked the size of the protest that took place outside of your offices. All I can think, in Talksports defence, is that Stan’s babysitter had to go for a bathroom break, Stan then managed to chew off his mittens, and banged out a quick tweet.

Yourself and Stan seem to hold the belief that our disagreement has come about purely because of our misunderstanding of the ‘context’ of his tweet. We didn’t ‘get’ the ‘context’ of his Falkland’s rant. As Stan so eloquently tried to explain in his next tweet on the subject “Not one mention of 1982, not one mention of our soldiers, navy or airmen, not one mention of Argentina. No mention of the 20th century!!” (Yeah, you thick squaddie idiots!).

stan tweet (2)

As I said at our meeting, he didn’t need to mention 1982. I believe that you can’t have a debate about the most popular colour of nail varnish worn by the Ladies of Port Stanley today, without the war in 1982 having some ‘context’. Because if my friends had not made the ultimate sacrifice, in 1982, the ladies of Port Stanley today – wouldn’t be there. You’’d have the Senoritas of Puerto Argentino.

But I’ll tell you what Mr Calum Sir, in the interests of Détente let me do my best to try to see things your way. Stan wasn’t saying we ‘thieved’ the islands in 1982, Stan was talking about a time, back in the day, when we first ‘thieved’ the islands. Right, now I understand what he meant. Therefore, unless once more, I’m getting it all out of context, what Stan is saying is that he supports the Argentine claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. That is what he’s saying, isn’t it?

falklands tweet

But then, of course, this is Britain. And despite the fact that 258 British subjects lost their lives in the war. Or that we didn’t start the war. Or that in the war we were fighting an Evil Fascist Military Dictatorship, who not only illegally invaded British territory, but also disappeared tens of thousands of their own people. Stan Collymore has the right to support Argentina’s claim to the Islands. And if Talksport, a British radio station, have no qualms about him doing this, under their banner, and in amongst other tweets promoting their schedule, I guess that’s also allowed. I just think it’s a crying shame. But then I would – wouldn’t I. Because I’m British. And I had friends who died there.

There is one statement in your letter that I really do have to take umbrage with. You wrote that Stan gives his: “unequivocal support for the British Armed Forces wherever they are operating in the world – including the Falklands and Northern Ireland”.

I’m presuming that Northern Ireland got a mention in dispatches, because of the final part of our meeting, where we discussed Stan’s Northern Ireland tweets. In one he showed his ‘unequivocal support’ for our troops who served in the Provence, both past and present, by tweeting:

“Any country invades England, forces it’s will without mandate for 400 years. I take up arms, teach my kids, and there kids to do the same.”

So well done the IRA and splinter groups thereof for taking up arms! And that tweet is unequivocal support’? Well, I guess it is – for Republican terrorist organisations.. Or am I getting the context all wrong again?

And yet once more, this is Britain, and Stan Collymore has the right to support the armed struggle of the IRA. Who’s catalogue of crimes and murders are too numerous to mention here. Though I feel I do have to mention the 700 plus British Service personal who lost their lives through people taking up arms. Talksport also have the right to continue employing a man who supports the IRA. But likewise we have our rights. I have the right to complain about his remarks and to make my disgust known. And your radio stations sponsors and advertisers also have the right to say that they don’t want their products or services associated with Stan Collymore in anyway

Finally, let me finish on Stan’s tweet of advice for the British subjects who live in Northern Ireland. Stan told them that they should “Fuck off back to Britain”. As I am sure you are aware the Loyalist population of Northern Ireland are as Irish as Gerry Adams, and have as much right to live there as anyone. To tell them that they should F off back to Britain is racist. If someone was to say the same thing about the black population of this country, Stan would quite rightly be the first to start screaming from on high.

The peace in Northern Ireland is holding, and as someone who served there, I really do give thanks for that. But it is still a fragile peace. Ignorant, uninformed, comments by Stan Collymore, are not only stupid but also dangerous. Because it takes just one spark to light the fire. And it really is beyond me how your parent company, Ulster Media, a Belfast based company, are happy to continue giving a platform to Stan Collymore’s hate filled bile.

I’m also wondering if his ‘F off back to Britain’ tweet is illegal. What do you think? What do your sponsors think?

I hope one day that we meet under happier circumstances. No, I really do.

Yours,

Ken


https://www.facebook.com/groups/SackStanCollymore/

Advertisements

An ANZAC Memorial In Edinburgh: Dan Lentell talks to Campaigner Mike Smith

“It was an idea that got me thinking, and the more I thought about it and mentioned it to others, the more convinced I was that it should happen.”

Mike Smith runs one of Edinburgh’s best loved watering-holes, the Bow Bar, located in the heart of the famous Old Town. There he manages an award-winning array of taps featuring all that’s best and brightest in the contemporary craft beer scene.

Mike is also leading the campaign to have a permanent ANZAC memorial located in his adopted home town.

Here Mike talks to Edinburgh-based writer, Dan Lentell (who helps Ken run Warrior to Worrier), about the campaign and how it will help commemorate and celebrate the heroes and heroism associated with the ANZAC banner.



What first brought you to Edinburgh and what made you stay?

Well my father is from Glasgow, so I hold a British passport. My initial plan was to spend 4 years living in Edinburgh for a change of scene and work as an artist. I was hoping to gain some inspiration for my artwork while living here and then hold a few exhibitions. I have had 2 exhibitions, including one solo, since then.

What made me stay? Other than loving the city, I met a girl. I met my lovely wife over here in 2006 and we married in 2009. We now have the house and cat, and I’m very happy.

A generation ago ANZAC Day (25 April) had somewhat fallen out of fashion Down Under. Now it’s (rightly) a big deal again. What changed?

Well there was the political protests against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and conscription, during this unrest ‘celebrating’ our troops then became very divisive. As the last of the original ANZAC Diggers became fewer and fewer, the ANZAC remembrance returned in favour, and we had that debt of gratitude to make while we still could and for the next generation.

In  15 years or so, ANZAC Day has become more of a National Day for many young Australians – you see the flag capes and Southern Cross tattoos and it’s a very patriotic festival feel in some places. National identity plays a big role Down Under when it comes to reflecting on our national day of remembrance, and I believe there has been a lot of national soul-searching recently about where to go with ANZAC Day.

What made you decide there was a need for an ANZAC memorial in the Scottish capital? Isn’t there enough room for commemoration services at the Scottish National War Memorial [located in the castle]?

The ANZAC Day and Gallipoli Service is a brilliant event and very highly represented by all the appropriate dignitaries. Every year, it is a packed out affair with people not making it inside the National War Memorial. I managed to get away from work for an hour and made it for the first time this year, and glad I was I there for it.

As important as the service is, it is extremely limited to members of the public due to size restrictions and reserved seating. But it is the fact that Edinburgh is a permanent home to many ex-pats from Australia and New Zealand, including even more as a temporary home, plus we have all the tourists passing through. A public memorial that is easily accessible would be something of a focal point for us, not only on ANZAC Day but every day of the year.

“If I don’t do it, no one will.”

The campaign is a major undertaking. What made you decide to take up this cause in particular?

It was an idea that got me thinking, and the more I thought about it and mentioned it to others, the more convinced I was that it should happen. Of course, it is one of those things, “if I don’t do it, no one will”.

My mother’s parents both served in the Royal Australian Air Force, her father was based in Darwin, and survived many bombing raids from the Japanese. Her mother’s father served with the British in the trenches of WWI and then with the Australians in North Africa during WWII against Rommel. My father’s grandfather served in the Gordon Highlanders in Belgium in WWI and his father was in the Royal Engineers.

What kind of support are you getting, or are you hoping to get, from the Australian and New Zealand governments, or the British Government and Commonwealth War Graves Commission for that matter?

I have been in touch with the Australian Defence Force and they gave some words of support, including advice on the use of the ‘Rising Sun’ emblem. To my delight, they took it upon themselves to forward my letter to the Office of Australian War Graves.

From there I was contacted by Brigadier Chris Appleton, who has written a letter of support addressed to the Edinburgh City Council explaining the importance of the memorial and most importantly the connection that the ANZAC troops had with Scotland in both World Wars. I am still hoping to get some backing from individuals and groups before ‘selling’ the idea to the council.

“We already have important international memorials representing Norway, America, Spain and soon the Polish in [Princes Street] Gardens.”

Is there a big Australian/New Zealand community in Scotland? What can they and other ANZAC supporters do to support the campaign? Where do they start?

Yes there is, and not just behind the bars either. I know many that have moved here like myself and just kind of ended up staying. I think there are more long-term ex-pats living here, compared to the ‘backpacker’ stereotype that people think of. I still get asked by locals how long have I been travelling for.

Anyone wishing to support the campaign can find us on Facebook under “Petition for Edinburgh ANZAC Memorial”. From there they will get all updates and information on the memorial as well as the chance to share it with their friends.

What would you like the memorial to look like? Where, in an ideal world, would you want it located?

The initial plan is for a stone memorial, and in this stone there will be a carving. We are still in the design ideas stage, but the focus will be on a singular stone. I have an excellent stone carver, David McGovern from Monikie Rock Art lined up for the job. There will be a plaque fixed on the stone giving a description on the memorial, with a poppy/daffodil flower arrangement around the stone. I will be applying to have it located in the Princes Street Gardens, along with many other important memorials. I think it will fit in nicely there, as we already have important international memorials representing Norway, America, Spain and soon the Polish in the Gardens. I have found a nice spot on the East end of the Gardens, but we will see what the Council says.

What ANZAC events/memorials are there already in the UK?

There are more than people would think. Of course there is the big one in London, with both the Australian and the New Zealand war memorials located in Hyde Park, and then another service in Westminster Abbey. As already mentioned, the Scottish National War Memorial is in Edinburgh Castle.

But then there are a lot of Air Base related towns, as a lot of the New Zealand Air Force were based around the country. For example the Newcastle Branch of the RAF Association arranges an ANZAC Service each year on a Sunday close to ANZAC Day. They hold a parade and wreath laying at the gravesides of the 7 New Zealand and 3 Australian airmen who were casualties of WWII.

Also places that had a war-time connection with the ANZACs such as Weymouth, where thousands of Australians and New Zealanders were sent, sick and injured, from Gallipoli, the Middle East and the Western Front. They erected an ANZAC memorial in 2005 and hold a service there each year.

What have been the campaign milestones so far?

The ANZAC Biscuit Ale that I made with Elixir Brew Co was a great success, we sold the 2 casks all on the day, plus free ANZAC biscuits with each serving. The free biscuits were a big hit, from which I had about 10 volunteers baking for the event! Overall, we raised just under £300 on the night, it was a great night with a couple of officers from the New Zealand Air Force in, last year we had about 8 New Zealand Commandos in.

When I received the letter of support from the Office of Australian War Graves, that felt like an achievement. To get that sort of backing and approval, also knowing that it was forwarded to them by the Defence Force, it’s good to know that they also feel strongly about it.

Who would win in a fight, an emu or a cassowary? What about a robin red-breast and kookaburra?

Without a doubt, the cassowary would destroy the emu. It wouldn’t be pretty either, cassowaries are just mean and angry. The robin red-breast vs kookaburra? Well kookaburras can attack and kill snakes so I will let you decide on that one.

Another letter to Stan.

In response to Stan Collymore’s second tweet on the Falklands, Falkland’s veteran and author Ken Lukowiak, has another letter for Stan.  Only this time;  the news is all bad.

Dear Stanley,

It’s me again, Ken.  I wrote you before but you didn’t wrote back!  So, I tried sending you a tweet but all I got was a message that said:  ‘blocked from using this account by the user’.   Which I guess means you.  I’ve never been blocked before Stan, so I have to ask why?  Is it coz I is white?  Or is it because I’m a Falkland’s veteran?  Either way;  I’m not happy!

As I said in my last, you did a very stupid thing when you tweeted that insensitive ignorance about the Falkland Islands.  I’m hoping that by now even you’ve come to realises that.  If not – then I feel sure that your employers at Talksport do. Because they’re in this as deep as you are Stan.  Oh, they’ve tried saying that it’s got nothing to do with them.  ‘Our Stan’s a law unto himself – so don’t blame us’  that’s been their line.  But their logo appeared at the top of your tweet page so, people aren’t seeing it that way.

Though me, I’m still at a loss to understand why you ever thought it was an act of genius to write such uninformed rubbish in the first place.  I mean, what have you got against the Falkland Islands?  I did think that you might have a such a deep self-loathing, that by default, you just automatically hate the thought of a place that has a capital that shares your name.  But then I thought ‘Hold your penguins, maybe it’s about something that they haven’t got on the Falklands.  Something that Stan feels is a necessity of life’.  And then it came to me.  Lay-bys!  There are no lay-bys on the Falklands.  And by lay-by I mean a place with a big ‘P’ for parking sign and a corporation rubbish bin to pop your used condom in after you’ve partaken of ‘the dog’.  So no wonder you think it’s just a pile of rocks inhabited by sheep.

I did note that you tweeted a sort of explanation for your ‘what glory, what triumph’ outburst.  This time you wrote:   “Not one mention of 1982, not one mention of our soldiers, navy or airmen, not one mention of Argentina. No mention of the 20th century!!”

stan tweet (2)

A very bad tweet from Stan

And Stanley, really, I despair.  Where was your head when that one popped into it?  Did you really think that the thousands of people that you offended with your first tweet were going to go: ‘Oh, well that’s alright then’.  Did you?  Honestly?  You see Stan, for us who fought there or lost family, or friends, or loved ones there – you didn’t need to mention 1982.  You didn’t need to mention the 255 soldiers, sailors and airmen who died there.  We did that for ourselves.  We can’t help but.   ‘We shall remember them’.  Remember that?  I see by your past tweets that you’ve remembered it often.  And in a good way I might add.  You’ve recently made mention of two of your uncles who fought in the Second World War.  You quite rightly said that they were both heroes.  ‘Heroes who defeated the Nazi/Fascist scourge in WW2’.

Stan tweet

A very good tweet from Stan

That’s what we did in the Falklands Stan.  We defeated a Nazi/Fascist scourge.  It’s a fact about the war that often gets lost these days in amongst all the talk of sovereignty.  And oil rights.  And defence budgets.  And sheep.  The Argentines certainly don’t like to bring it up.  They don’t like to remember that their government, the one that invaded the Falklands, had ‘disappeared’ over 30,000 of their own citizens.  They even took hundreds of newly born babies from mothers who were then thrown alive and kicking from helicopters into the sea.  You should tweet about that sometime Stan.  Ask of that ‘What glory, what triumph’.  Maybe even see if you can get the Argentine football team to display that fact on a flag before their next international.

argentina-malvinas

A sign that does not mention the Murdered Mothers.

So what now?  Well, I guess at your end everyone’s hoping, and praying, that given time, it will all just die down and be forgotten.  If so, then you need to think again.  The people that you’ve offended won’t be going anywhere.  In 1982 some of us marched across the Falklands with 380lbs on our backs (well, maybe a bit less) and if we have the determination to  do that – then believe me – we can send emails and letters to Talksport sponsors till the arthritis sets in.  Not to mention the phone in’s.  We’re like kids ticking off the days to the holiday in Disneyland, waiting for your next phone in Stan.

Should you doubt me – well – listen to this.  There’s a march taking place next month in London.  On the 4th of July my good looking self and several hundred other ex-paras, plus a whole load of our people who care, will be marching on Downing street to hand in a petition .  We hope to get a posthumous VC awarded to an airborne brother called Stewart McLaughlin, who was killed in action on Mount Longdon during the Falklands war.   Which was 32 years ago now.   32 years and still we haven’t given up on Stewart.  See what I’m getting at here?

How you can put all of this right  – I really don’t know.  Maybe you don’t want to.  I don’t know that either.  If you do, then I think the first step is for you to just man up and apologise.  Start by just saying that you’re sorry.  Because deep down Stan, if you honestly search in your heart, I believe it’s what your two uncles would want you to do.  Or am I wrong?

Ken (again)

P.S.  Almost forgot.  Some scally wag has started up a Facebook group called:  ‘We Ask Talksport To Sack Stan Collymoore’.  In case you’ve missed it the links here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/SackStanCollymore/

And here’s the link to the e-petition for Corporal Stewart McLaughlin:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/60561

Edinburgh Audio 2012: Dan Lentell talks to Ken Lukowiak

In 2012 Ken took his one man show ‘A Soldier’s Song’ to the Edinburgh Fringe. Based on his best-selling account of the Falklands campaign, the show was a massive hit.

This audio interview was recorded immediately after Ken came off stage for the last time in the run. The interviewer is Dan Lentell, Edinburgh editor of FringeReview, who went on to help Ken set up ‘Warrior to Worrier’.

Listen to the interview here.


Interview with  Ken Lukowiak

Ken talks about this unique piece of theatre where, as writer, and as real life experiencer of the story, he has stepped into the role of this five-star production,A Soldier’s Song, directed by Guy Masterson. Interviewer: Dan Lentell.

Interview 25th August 2012: Listen to our interview with Ken Lukowiak

View original post

Was it worth it? A veteran returns to the Falklands (pt 3 of 3)

I STOPPED AT the Argentine cemetery that also lies silent and still on a hillside not far from Goose Green at a place called Burntside house. The small, bright, white wooded fence that surrounds the cemetery is the largest of its type on the island.  Row after row of white wooden crosses bare testimony to the depth of their mother’s sorrow.  I walked from grave to grave.  For identification, most of them only hold a small white plaque with the words: ‘An Argentine soldier known unto God’.  The Falkland Island Government would like the bodies of the Argentinians to be repatriated to Argentina, but the Argentine Government has refused this request.  According to them, the dead soldiers of their ‘Malvinas’ war are already buried in Argentina and to allow the bodies to be flown back to Buenos Aires would be to admit that their soldiers died on foreign soil.

In the spring of 1991, families of the Argentine dead visited the graves at Burntside.  They were flown into the military airbase at Mount Pleasant and helicoptered by our military to the cemetery.  They never met a Falkland Islander and a Falkland Islander never met them. There were more families than graves.   For a few, the graves of their sons were marked.  For most, all they could do was adopt the grave of one of the soldiers ‘known unto God’.  The cemetery was a sad and lonely place and for me it brought back more memories of the war than any other part of the island.

Ken Lekoviak visits a war cemetery on the Falkland Islands

Ken Lukowiak at the Argentine Cemetery

Thirteen years on, the sympathy that we Paras held for our enemy after the battles was still there. A sympathy that stemmed from our professionalism.  No one had forced us to go to war.  And when we did have to go, we were ready and trained well for it.  The Argentine conscripts were not.

Parked close to the cemetery were the new expensive-looking Japanese Shogun four-wheel drives belonging to the young Falkland Islanders who were going to drive me back to Stanley. Rock music blared from their car stereos, interrupted only by the laughter and conversations of the happy young islanders inside.  It didn’t seem right to me that anyone should be enjoying themselves near such a place, and finally I could take no more and asked them to please turn their engines and music off.

One of the young islanders asked me how many Argentine graves there were. I replied that I thought about 240.  I hadn’t counted yet, ‘Whatever it is,’ interrupted one of the young women, ‘it’s not enough of the bastards.’  With my anger showing, I suggested that maybe if she had been responsible for putting some of them there she might not feel that way.  The music and engines were turned off.  I returned to the gravesides to spend some more time with the dead soldiers used by that wicked South American military dictatorship.

On the return drive buck into Stanley I began to realise that my earlier thoughts towards those happy young islanders were harsh. During, the war in 1982 all of them would have been small children who, along with their parents, had been taken from their homes at gunpoint and held captive in the community centre at Goose Green. Even my war wasn’t  as bad as that.

On my final day on the islands, I visited our military cemetery at San Carlos. It is a beautiful cemetery. It looks out on to the now still waters of San Carlos bay, where so much damage was caused to our ships in 1982.  The lawns are well tended and the stone wall that surrounds it has been built with care   At one end, on a large wall, carved in stone, is a memorial to the sailors, soldiers and airmen who gave their lives in 1982 who have no grave but the sea.

Standing before it I felt, at 36, all of 86.  I felt like one of those old men I had seen so much of on my television lately, standing and crying and remembering in front of similar walls in France.

Below the memorial are the graves of the men whose families wished for their bodies to remain on the islands. Four of these graves are those of soldiers from my battalion. Private Holman- Smith, aged 19. Captain Dent, aged 34.  Colonel Jones, aged 42.  And Private Slough, aged 19.

I stood before the graves of my dead comrades and remembered times when we had no thought of death. I stood before Colonel Jones and again thanked him for  his sacrifice to us on that day in May. At Private Slough’s  grave, I picked up a small statue of the Madonna, encased in glass that the wind had blown over.  At Private Holman-Smith’s grave, l felt sad that I had no memory of ever meeting him when he was alive. And at Captain Dent’s grave, I once again became a breathing sorrow.  It was the words inscribed upon his headstone that did it: ‘Chris, your smiling face we shall never forget, Kathy and son Robert.’  And, even 13 years on, there lies the true tragedy of the Falklands war.  Of any war.  There are too many Kathys.  Too many Roberts.  And still they mourn.

Two hundred and fifty five dead in 1982, plus 777 injured.  lt’s a lot of sacrifice. Since the war there have been many explanations  for why our nation put so much into liberating so few. To get Thatcher re-elected is a favourite. So is the Argentine’s military Junta`s need to do something popular. So is the protection of Antarctic oil, gas and mineral rights. So is the Armed Forces’ desperation to hang  on to their budget.  I have even heard it argued that the Falklands war was about freedom and democracy and the rights of the Islanders. I discovered on my return to the Falklands that I couldn’t look an islander in the eye and say:  ‘Hey, I fought for you.’  I’d simply walked into an Army careers office and signed on the dotted line. The Falklands could have been Lapland. The Argentinians could have been Taiwanese.  Wouldn’t have mattered to us.  We would have done exactly the same job.  The islanders were Bennies.  In the war, we were looking after the next soldier over, not them.  We liberated them almost as a side-effect of trying our best to save our fellow soldiers’ necks.

In Stanley, I met another ex-soldier from the war. Kevin Ormand, 40, was an Army cook attached to 2 Para.  The day after the battle for Goose Green, Kevin  met Tina, a second-generation islander. Love blossomed between liberator and liberated and before leaving the war for home, he asked Tina to marry him. They returned to the islands in 1988, and Kevin now works as a house parent in one of Stanley’s school hostels.  ‘They’re all still incredibly grateful for what Britain did in 1982,’ he says. ‘They will never forget. Never.’

Prior to meeting Kevin, I couldn’t imagine that such people existed: a soldier who fought in the Falklands war – listen to this! – ending up moving out there. To live!  Forever!   Who would ever want to live there?  He mentions the community spirit, the safety, the schools.  What a place to bring up kids, he says.  Those teacher to-pupil ratios that Japanese parents would commit hari- kiri for.  Sixteen subjects up to GCSE level, as well as vocational qualifications.  And budding Einstein’s can get a Falklands Government Scholarship, courtesy of the money from the fish,  to go to a sixth-form college in Winchester, Hampshire.

It was all rather different when Emma Steen, daughter of a shepherd, started at school 70 years ago in the settlement of North Arm.  ‘We used to have school in the Camp. The teachers would come and visit for three weeks at a time.‘ Emma’s grandparents came to the islands from Scotland in the 1860’s. She has two children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great- grandchildren, all still on the Falklands.  There is no fear that she will sit out her days in solitude, like many a seventy-something in the seaside towns of Britain.

On my last morning on the Islands I visited the new Leisure centre, where something strange came over me.  There was a morning crèche taking place and l finally felt truly proud to have been a member of our Task Force.  It was the sight of the young mothers and their children that did it.  Because 1982 we’d prevented a jumped-up bunch of military animals –  not the people of Argentina but the generals in charge – who would murder and torture and ‘disappear’ tens of thousands of their own people with no qualms, from ruining the lives of this new generation of islanders.  So, until you have seen their lives at first hand, please never again ask of the Falklands: ‘Who would ever want to live there?’  It wasn’t for nothing.

Islander

Ken Lukowiak holding one of the reasons why it was worth it

Was it worth it? A veteran returns to the Falklands (pt 2 of 3)

Return to Goose Green

Thirteen years to the day after the first land battle of the war, I returned to Goose Green.  In years, unlucky for some since I had prayed so much.  Promised so much.  Maybe my return would have been easier if something in the settlement had changed in that time.  A new building perhaps, or a lawn, or a pavement, even a puddle.  But nothing had changed.  It was all just as I’d pictured it a thousand times since. The community centre from where we had set free the captive Falkland Islanders.  The garage I’d slept in the first night after the battle.  The shop where I had sat in darkness and wrote a love letter home.  Even the large white POW’s we’d painted on the prisoner’s sheep sheds could still be seen.  Faded with the years.  But still there.

Nothing had changed.

img076

Goose Green

The hedgerow where in the days after the battle we’d lined up the Argentine dead.  It was no taller, no shorter, just as I’d remembered it.  The dead were now gone of course, but standing there again, I remembered the time I had stood there before, forcing into my mind the fact that I was standing before a pile of dead people, asking myself to feel something, to understand something. I brought them all back.  And they were as cold and as motionless in my mind`s eye as they were that day. Thirteen years on, l asked again the same questions. But again, no answers, still no understanding.

I began to cry. I didn’t want to.  I had even firmly told myself that I wouldn`t. And as the tears fell from my eyes, I fell to my knees.  And I realised that my sadness was not for the dead that I had once known or for the fear that I had held during the battle.  My tears were for the 13 years since and the confusion  I have made of my life.  I didn’t know if anything that I saw or did on the battlefield of Goose Green had made a difference to who I am now.  Even though many times since I have forced into my mind the dead men I saw, and tried to blame them.

I walked away from the settlement and began my journey back through the battle field. And here’s a strange thing:  Goose Green, the battlefield, was bigger, much spacier  than I remembered it.  What I remembered as a 100 yards turn out to be a full mile.  Along the way I passed the 18th hole of the new golf course.  I passed the airstrip  where the damaged twin-propeller Argentine Pucaras had sat helpless and harmless on the morning after the battle. My route of memories was stopped by a fence of barbed wire and a sign that read `Minefield – Keep Out’.  This was one of the fields we had crossed the day we entered Goose Green. I had no idea at the time that I was walking through a minefield. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

Ken Lukowiak 7

Silhouetted on a skyline, facing out to sea,  stood the large black cross of the memorial to the soldiers of my battalion who had lost their lives that day.  I walked around the minefield and headed towards it.  I opened the gate in the bright, white, wooden fence that guards against sheep and stood alone before the pile of rocks that holds the cross and the brass plaque that bears the names of the fallen.  Fallen. My battlefield memories made it a strange word to use. `Cut down’ or ‘ripped apart’ or ‘flesh punctured’ would be better, more truthful descriptions to pass on to our young.

I carried no flowers to lay, so, with a  need to do something, I reached into a small silver box by the memorial which contained two tins of Brasso and a few stained dusters. I began to polish the plaque. I made it worse! I rubbed harder to remove the polish, but the plaque would not become cleaner. The problem was that the dusters had no clean patches. I pulled down the cuff of my shirt, and polished the plaque to a shine. I thought of the girl who had bought me the blue shirt from a shop in Oxford Street, many, many miles away.  And I hoped if she ever saw the shirt again she wouldn’t have a go at me about the stain.  And then I thought `liar’. I wanted her to have a go, so that, for once, just for once, I could stand and argue and hold what I believed to be the moral high ground.

Then I thought, ‘Why me?` Why was I back here alone? Was I blessed? Or was I cursed? I couldn’t decide.  I came to attention before the names of our dead. I remembered the ones I had shared rooms with, the ones I had patrolled with in Northern Ireland, the one I had twice had drunken fights with, and the two I had never heard of until the day they died.  Or was it the day after?  I tried hard to find some meaningful words.  Meaningful thoughts. But the only thing I could find were my tears, though I didn’t know what meaning they had because I didn’t want to cry them.  They were just there.  Like me now.  Like me then.  Like our dead on the day they died.

From the memorial, I looked out over Goose Green to my front and then Darwin to my rear. The same thought crossed my mind that had crossed it a few days before, when I stood on Wireless Ridge and then on Mount Tumbledown.  How on earth did we win?  Goose Green, by Falklands standards, is a very flat, open place. What cover did it offer to advancing troops? The answer was no cover.  How did we win against an enemy that outnumbered us and had had weeks to dig in and prepare their positions? A large part of the answer lay a few hundred metres away from our memorial, on the side of a gully that cuts through Darwin Hill, where Colonel Jones, or ‘Jonesie’ (never ‘H’, as the tabloids called him, which was a new one on us after the war), gave his life.  I knew the gully well. Three of my most vivid memories of the battle took place there, and yet I had no idea that this was the spot where our colonel took his dying steps.

On the other side of the gully from where Colonel Jones died, a stick now marks the spot of the trench from which the Argentine gunners killed him. He attacked a trench on the left of the gully and was shot from their trench on the right. Thirteen years on, having the time and the safety to walk up and down the gully, l had to ask myself, ‘Would I have done what he did? Could I have done it?  My answer was no, I`m just not that brave.

Since that day, many words have been written about Colonel Jones’ final gallant deed.  Some of them have even been critical, arguing that he shouldn’t have been that far forward, that by putting himself, a leader, in danger, he endangered us all.  They miss the point.  In Stanley, there is a Falkland Islands Museum. In one corner lies a small room dedicated to the-war of 1982.  One of its glass cabinets contains two Argentine 24-hour ration packs: one for an officer and the other for a conscript.  The officer‘s pack is at least three times the size of that meant to feed the conscript.  In another cabinet hangs a note written by an Argentine conscript that was passed to a Falkland Islander. It’s a begging note for food.   It also pleads that if the islander sees the conscript standing with men who have stripes or pips on their shoulders then please do not talk to him.  If, in 1982, there had just been Colonel Jones and I and we had only one 24-hour ration pack between us, he would have ensured that I, the private soldier, would have had it.  And I, the British private soldier,  would have turned around and asked him to share it with me. (Except of course for the Mars Bars – they’re mine, mate.)

And at Goose Green, while the majority of the cowardly Argentine officers sat in their bunkers far from the front line, leaving their brave but poorly trained conscripts to fight their battle for them, our Colonel, along with all of our officers, was at the front with us.  Maybe there is a text book, on a shelf in a centrally heated room at Sandhurst, that explains why Colonel Jones did the wrong thing.  It still doesn’t seem that way to me.

Part 3 here

Letter to Stan

In response to Stan Collymore’s tweet, Falkland’s veteran and author Ken Lukowiak has some positive news for Stan.  

Dear Stanley,

This afternoon I’m looking at my Facebook page, when up pops a post containing a screen shot of a tweet you made.  It was about the Falklands and you said:

‘Falklands?  Wasn’t anyone’s.  We just theived (sic) it, as we do.  What glory, what triumph.  A fucking island with sheep.  Rule Britannia’.

I was just about to rip into you with my bayonet type wit, when I think ‘Hang on a minute here handsome.  What if it’s fake?’  And to be honest, as tweets go,  it was so insensitive and so ignorant, that it could well be faked.  So I checked.  And it’s not fake.  You actually wrote those words.

So, immediately I think:  ‘Is he fucking stupid or what?’  But then I remembered the tabloid headlines and the confessions of dogging, not to mention the time you decided to get all big boy with some international rugby players.  And yes, of course, you are stupid Stan.  You know that.  I know that.  Everybody knows that.

So Stan, really, I have to ask: do you have any friends?  Is there not someone in your life, that can look over your shoulder and say: ‘Stan, you don’t want to be tweeting crap like that bro’.

And why?  Because when you do, and this is from a purely selfish point of view, for you Stan, all  you’re really achieving is the bringing up of your past.  Almost every comment in response to your tweet made reference to either your physical assault of Ulrika Johnson or your fondness for the sport of layby sex (woof, woof!)

download

I was going to try and explain a few things about the Falklands.  Give you a few facts.  A few figures.  But what would be the point?  But I do have to share one figure with you.  One cold hard fact:  255.  That’s the number of your countrymen who, in 1982, lost their lives on The Falklands.  And what your tweet brings up, from a purely unselfish point of view, is thoughts of them.   Though what do you care – hey Stan.  They’re only dead British servicemen.

But wait:  It’s not all bad news from the Military Facebook pages.  There is something that should give you a bit of cheer.  In amongst all the comments, and as I’m sure even you can imagine, they’re all none too flattering,  I haven’t found one word that makes reference to your skin colour.  I see that when you’ve been stupid on your twitter before and people ripped into you, you managed to spin it into an issue of race.  Well not this time.  This time it’s only about the memory of the 255 heroes who lost their lives during the Falklands war.  Nothing else.

You’ve done a very stupid thing Stan.  But I guess, by now, you know that already.

Anyway, must dash, I feel a need to watch  ‘Basic Instinct 2’ again.   I love the scene that you’re in.  Don’t know why.  Maybe it’s Sharon Stone’s lack of knickers?

Ken

P.S.  Oh, hold on, hold on, hold on.   I’ve had a thought.  Maybe you’re a lot smarter than we think Stan.  Maybe it was a cunning plan all along?  I’ll tell you what, if I find out that you’ve landed a job on Argentine TV doing commentary for the World Cup ……..

Was it worth it? A veteran returns to the Falklands (pt 1 of 3)

First published August 1995 Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day magazine.  All photographs ©  Jez Coulson.


Imagine a village on the coast, where the neighbours are nice and the winters mild.  Make believe a post office, a bank, three hotels and two churches.  Picture a handful of shops, five pubs, a race track and a golf course.  And pretend there’s a school with a teacher to nine kids and a hospital where the words ‘private health insurance’ are never uttered.  Imagine to that your village has no unemployment, a negligible crime rate and streets safe enough for the children to walk down alone, no matter what the hour. Now include a village council budget of £34 million a year.  Finally, accept that you are in need of urgent psychiatric help, and give the 1,600 villagers £200 billion worth of oil and mineral rights.  What a village, eh?

Well, such a ‘village’ does exist and in Britain people ask of it:  ‘Who would ever want to go and live there?”  The village? Stanley, ‘capital city’ (one of those churches is a cathedral) of the Falkland Islands.

In 1982, my last view of the former ‘Puerto Argentina’, very briefly capital city of  ‘Las Malvinas’, came from a ship’s rail.  Eighteen of 2 Para dead, two battle honours’ gained, and everyone asking: what was all that about then?  Don’t know, don’t care was the popular answer, just get me home.  Although, as Stanley disappeared over the horizon, I did kind of half wish, half joke, that one day l might return. “For three days max.”  That was my punchline.  We hated the Falkland Islands.  And if the truth be told we didn’t go a lot on the Falkland Islanders either. A mere 12 years, 11 months and two days later, I Finally got my ship`s rail wish and returned to the islands.  In 1982 they were four weeks away by ship.  Today they’re only a 15-hour, £1,000, twice weekly, no-smoking flight between us. Still, distance wise, it’s about as abroad as abroad can get.  Though the first striking thing about the islands (once past the lecture on minefields while you wait for your luggage) is that it just doesn’t feel abroad.  Stanley could be picked up and dropped into the British countryside and it would fit in.  And It‘s more than just the language, or the money, or the clothes, or what‘s in the shops, or even the TV soaps talked about in the post office.  It’s the people.  Falkland Islanders have no doubts about which Test cricket team they support.

Falklands5

Most of us had never heard of the Falkland Islands before news pictures of Argentine marines on the streets of Stanley, grinning big, patriotic smiles reached our screens.  Now, of course, we all know where they are, but surprisingly we still know very little about them.  As l was to discover, we carry huge misconceptions which, hands up, I did my part in helping to create.  Like most soldiers, when I came home in 1982, I sat in the pub, drank my beer, and reminisced about my battles in the coldest place on earth.  Everyone listened, very impressed, as they should have been.  And everyone laughed when I told the ones about the inbred islanders and worried-looking sheep.  Though here’s a strange thing: I’d never spent enough time with a Falkland Islander to distinguish his or her taste in hot drinks, never mind their sexual preferences.  For thousands of soldiers, who no doubt told the same jokes that I did on their return, the only contact with islanders was a passing nod on the streets of Stanley.  We didn`t like them much.  A few days after we’d entered Stanley, the West Store (which is still there) re-opened for business. Two queues formed outside: one for the islanders and one for us troops.  To get served we had to queue and wait, and smoke, and bitch and wait some more, for literally hours. The islanders walked straight in, which didn’t seem right to us. After all, we were the ones who’d done all the fighting. (Though maybe, had the islanders been made to queue with us we would have moaned, ‘Why have we got to queue with them: we did all the fighting?)

As for the climate, winter in the Falklands is actually milder, with less rain- fall, than in Britain.  I’m not saying it wasn‘t cold in 1982 – it was – but I can recall being on exercises in England and in Wales, and being much colder than I ever was on the Falkland islands.  Not as tired maybe, or as scared, or as weak, but definitely colder.   Yet everyone back home thought it was the coldest place on the planet, and hey, 2,000 people who live with 710,000 sheep are going to be on the end of a few mint sauce jokes no matter who they are.

Falklands2 copy

Today, if British television shows any Falklands news, it tends to be in connection with money, like, for example, just how much it costs us to defend the place. Many figures have been offered via the Autocue, and if you asked, most of us wouldn’t know what it costs, or probably even have the time to care.  So the distortions persist.  His Excellency the Governor of the Falkland Islands, David Tatham, told me the latest:  ‘Last week a British newspaper said it cost Britain a billion pounds a year. Well, that’s almost 20 times the actual figure. We’re talking about £67 million as being the cost of keeping a garrison here’.  When you take into account that our troops on the islands, if not there, would be somewhere else, the figure drops below £20 million.  That’s still a lot of money when measured in closed hospitals, but next to nothing when measured against our total annual defence budget of £22 billion.  In and around the bars of Stanley though, the money talk of 1995 is not of defence budgets, but of the Argentine President Carlos Menem’s offer of cash for sovereignty.  Basically, the good President’s deal runs like this: the Argentine government gives each and every Falkland Islander – that’s 2,120 folk – a cash amount (it has varied from £100,000 to £1m).  In return the islanders renounce British sovereignty.  Easy!  They don’t have to move, or leave their houses or their jobs; they can keep all that.  Just live under Argentine rule: i.e. flags, postage stamps, money, police, army, and any evil junta that may or may not come to power.  Nor so easy.

When first hearing of the offer, I made: a joke of it, Oh that I’d met some local girl after the war, got married and had 13 kids.  Could cash us all in for 15 million quid now.

And l wondered if deep down I actually even really cared whether or not the islanders took the money?

Part 2 of Return to the Falklands

Ambush in Argentina. A Falkland veteran’s trial by television. (pt 3 of 3)

The following day Ignacio phoned my hotel and asked to see me again.  He had bought my book and read it in one sitting and wanted to talk things over with me.  He picked me up that evening and we headed for a bar and stayed there till five the next morning.  I liked Ignacio very much, and that was a little awkward for me because  Ignacio had been an officer in the Argentine army and I had always cast Argentine officers, because of their treatment of the conscripts, as the real villains of the war.  But I know that Ignacio never treated any of his men badly.  I just know that.

Fourteen years on, Ignacio still carries his burdens of war – like all of us, I guess.  His main one concerns three British soldiers that he saw one morning silhouetted on the skyline.  He lifted his rifle and aimed and began to squeeze, but then stopped.  He couldn’t do it.  He felt it would have been murder, even though no-one on the planet could have accused him of such.  Now he lies awake, or stops during the day, or thinks at traffic lights, and wonders how many Argentine lives those three British soldiers ended up taking.  If, of course, any.

And all I could say to console him was that either way he was a loser.  If he had killed he would be worrying today that he had taken a life unjustly.  And both of us realised that all of us had lost as soon as we’d set foot on the islands.  Except not really.  Because my side had won by over two-an-a-half to one.

On my second Friday in Buenos Aires, my birthday, I was invited to meet some Argentine veterans who had actually shot bullets at me, or at least people dressed very like me, at Goose Green.  We were to meet at a restaurant on the Avenue Belgrano, and, like the good soldier I still sometimes am, I arrived five minutes early.

I was met at the door by the woman who had arranged the meeting, Julia Pacheco, and was surprised to realise that I had met her five days before at the Buenos Aires book fair.  Small world.   Ms Pachenco  is an author and she has just published her second book in Argentina on the Falklands conflict, ‘Malvinas: What next?’

I was shown to a table at the back of the restaurant, pointed to a seat, and introduced to a veteran, who was sitting opposite me; a translator, who sat next to the veteran; and another man, who was in his sixties and balding.  I never really got to discover who he was.

When I shook hands with the veteran I felt, maybe because of his grip or the briefness of the contact, that he didn’t want to do that.  His problem, hey?  Then, via the translator, he asked his first question: “How do you sleep at night?”

Now me, I think that there’s a bit of poor translation going on here and what he must mean is: “How do any of us sleep at night, after what we all went through, during those terrible days?”  But no.  His face said something very different.  It said: “How do you sleep at night after what you’ve done?”  And once again, I think: “His problem, hey?”

Before I could get my: “What do you mean by that?” out, the room suddenly becomes very bright.  I hear voices behind me, turn and come face-to-face with a television crew being followed by a whole pile of people.  And they are not happy people, because they are all screaming in emotional Spanish – and whatever it is they are saying, it is aimed at me.  Suddenly the veteran in front of me starts shouting, I turn, look once more into his eyes, and then I become scared.  And I still don’t know what it is I am supposed to have done.  Over the noise the translator tries to explain that I am a murderer, a war criminal.  That I executed an Argentine soldier after the cease-fire.

And for about half a second, I think, thank Christ, they’ve got me mixed up with someone else.  But no.  Almost as one, three or four of them pull out photocopied pages from my book and start waving them and screaming at me a whole lot more.

And I become frightened.  And a bit of my brain gives thanks that a TV crew are there because at least – hopefully – they can’t lynch me in front of the cameras.

To my left a female voice starts shouting and I turn to see what are for sure a whole group of mothers.  And I pray, dear God, please don’t let them be the mothers of soldiers who died on Wireless Ridge.  Please.  And now I’m really scared.

At one point I stood to get something out of my pocket.  A hand was placed on each of my shoulders and I was forced back down again.  I stood again but was hit in the back.  It didn’t really hurt and I turned to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the veteran who had hit me.  And I thought, and I don’t know why – training I guess – palm up fast under his chin, then smash his skull backwards in the wall 12 inches behind him.  But I held back and I sat down again.

How it all ended now  is a blur – they all arrived as one and, with a few exceptions who had then pulled out, they left as one, fists waving, screaming all the way to the door.

Then I got to have my somewhat shaken say to the TV cameras, though the first question took me back a little.  In fact, a lot.  I had just been accused on national television of committing war crimes, and the first thing I was asked was whether I believed the sinking of the Belgrano was a crime against humanity.  And I wanted to scream at the TV journalist: “Listen, I was a fucking nobody with a rifle.  What the fuck has the sinking of the Belgrano got to do with me?”  But of course I didn’t say that.  I said I didn’t know.  Our Parliament had been lied to, for sure, but I didn’t know.  Then I refuted the allegations that had been aimed against me.  The Argentine soldier was armed and I was a professional soldier.  If I had not shot him I truly believe that he would have shot me.

And I felt I was in a horrible position, because for me to say: “Please listen, the Argentine soldier who I killed on Wireless Ridge was a pop-up target.   No more.  No less.”  Seemed callous, cruel even.  But it’s true.  And this is also true: my mind at the time I put paid to his future may have been having a thousand thoughts and my heart may have been in a state of complete panic, but my right index finger wasn’t getting involved.  As it squeezed the trigger on my SMG 9mm, it remained calm, as did the rest of my body.  And then the word “calm” worried me.  Because added to “killing” or “killer”, it turns it up a notch or two.  It forced me to wonder if I really was the cold, ruthless killing machine that so many books and paper articles say that members of my Regiment are.

The news crew left.  I sat down,  stunned, as if I’d just come out of combat.  All I wanted then was to leave.  But I could see that, outside, the veterans and mothers were still huddled on the pavement.  Then the restaurant door flew open again and back came three of the mothers – who, I was about to discover, had all lost sons on the Belgrano – screaming and sobbing and heading my way.  They reached my table, stood in a line facing me, and the one who had been the most vocal before, started pointing and shouting into my eyes all over again, while the other two provided backing vocals.  And they held so much anger and hate, so much grief that they reminded me of a group of Bosnian peasants I had seen, distressing to camera while their village burned on a hillside out of focus in the background.

74596975.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

A mother of the Belgrano mourns her lost son.

One of the ladies, still crying, still accusing, still hating my way, fumbled in her purse.  She pulled from it a small black-and-white photograph and held it under my nose.  It was of her son, standing proud in his white dress uniform.  He looked about twelve, and I wanted to say sorry he was dead.

And I wanted to ask: “How old was he? Please?”  But she didn’t want to hear it.  The other two brought out similar photographs of their dead sons.  And they cried so much I wanted to hold them.

But there was no way that I could.  And then, shame on me, I got angry with them for what they were putting me through, and I wanted to jump up and shout back.  “Don’t you understand – your son was  me and my mother was you.”  But that was not really true.  Their sons were dead and I was one of the men aboard the MV Norland who had cheered the day they had died.  Three hundred less of the bastards to worry about.

The mothers then left, with one final show of anger, and I pleaded with the translator to tell me what they had said.  “Really, you don’t want to know.”

Eventually I could no longer see anyone through the restaurant glass and I left.  And quickly.  Outside, further up the pavement, they were still giving talking heads to the TV news crews.  Just as they spotted me, I jumped into a cab, and looking out of the rear window all the way, I returned to my hotel.  I checked out immediately, and sought sanctuary for the night at the house of some Argentine friends.  They told me that on television the veterans had called for my immediate arrest and detainment to await a war-crimes trial.  They were horrified for me and tried to cheer me up with a bottle of birthday champagne and wishes for my future, but my thoughts were elsewhere.  Everywhere.  And I couldn’t stop pushing them through my mind.

A lot of my thoughts were angry.  I wish that I had shouted at the veterans: “Shame you weren’t this brave in back 1982.”  I also really wished that I had thought to say: “You outnumbered me back in ’82 and I wasn’t fucking scared of you then, and I’m not fucking scared of you now.”  Though, of course, this would have been a complete lie.  I was very scared.  Especially back when we were killing each other.  No messing.  No words.

And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop imagining things I might have said: “You want to ask me anything? Ask me about the wounded, screaming Argentine soldier that  Bill and me had run out to under shellfire – your shellfire, I might add – to pull into cover.  Or go find the Argentine sergeant  who was unarmed and on his own, and who I took prisoner only ten minutes before you say I murdered someone.  Go ask him about me.”

And I hated those conscripts.  Hated, hated, hated.  And then I hated myself.

So I tried to understand them.  Young boys who had been sent by an evil junta, under-trained, under-equipped, under-fed, just not prepared to fight.  And when they returned to Argentina defeated – no-one wanted to know them.  They were ignored, forgotten, like a football team that had just lost a crucial international.

And since those days, us Falkland heroes have had the odd, justifiable moan that not enough head doctors had been provided for us back in Britain.  But if you were an Argentine conscript and, say, you lost a leg, when you got back to barracks, they gave you a crutch and off you hobbled back to your village.  No pay-off.  No pension.  No fuck all.  No wonder more than 240 Malvinas veterans have committed suicide since then.  And if only that was a fact that was taught to the young immediately after their first Amen in infant school.

So I felt real bad about myself then, and I said: “Don’t judge these men Ken,  Because they’re the real soldier victims of the Falklands war.”

Then, just like that, I turned again.  I said: “Who do you think you are Ken Lukowiak? Jesus or something?  ‘Forgive them Lord for they know not what they doeth!?’  Fuck them.”

Then I didn’t know what to think.  And I realised that, just like Ignacio, I lost both ways.  So I broke down, and couldn’t stop crying.  And I wished I had never come to Argentina.  Which saddened me so much, because since the end of the war, I’d always wanted to go there.

Ambush in Argentina. A Falkland veteran’s trial by television. (pt 2 of 3)

There’s one area of the high-class Buenos Aires city centre that’s pretty much like Leicester Square.  Except it’s not a square, it’s two streets.  But they are filled with huge cinemas and entertainment centres that had queues that I wouldn’t join if they were for the last loaf in town.

One of the cinemas was showing ‘Sink the Belgrano’.  Naturally enough, I had to go in.

2130-hundan-al-belgrano

So, anyway, I’m sitting in this packed cinema in downtown Buenos Aires, watching ‘Hundan al Belgrano’.  And I’m thinking if you had tried telling me that one when I was up to my neck in mud, blood and sheep shit, I would have thought “battle fatigue”.

And it got better.  Or worse.  Because there I was, up on the screen, running around the beach at Fitzroy, with the Galahad burning in the back-ground, and 50 Welsh soldiers dead or dying out of camera shot. Who’d believe, hey?  And yet, is it really that strange?  The film was about the Falklands and I was there.  It was being shown, 14 years on, in a cinema in Argentina, and I was there also.  Perfectly reasonable.  But I wouldn’t like to put it in a novel.

At one point, early in the film, the narrator said something that was accompanied on screen by a Union Jack swallowing up a map of the South Atlantic.  The audience, as one, let out a knowing laugh, in an ‘Oh-they-think-so-do-they’ sort of way.  Then something else was said and a chorus of boos went up.

And I surprised myself, because I didn’t like it when they booed my flag.  Now me, I’m cool, okay.  I know war is wrong and I also  know that the jingoism got neither side anywhere.  I’ve wept tears for Argentine mothers, I understand how we were all victims.  So I’m Mister Bleeding Heart Compassionate on all things Falklands.  I am.

But sitting in a cinema in Argentina, 14 years on, I couldn’t stop myself sniggering:  “You lot, you can boo all you like.  Don’t mean shit – because their fucking ours. Ha. Ha.”

Then on came Tam Dalyell.  And everyone around me had to start reading subtitles.  But oh – the words of Senor Dalyell, were poetry to their eyes.  So me, I get angry again.  But I keep it to myself because I am the single Chelsea fan sitting among  Highbury season-ticket holders.  Tam was going on, as he does, about the Belgrano and the Peruvian peace plan and the direction of the ship, and blah, blah, blah.  And I think: “Not in front of the Argies, Tam.”  And I want to jump up and shout: “Traitor!” at the screen.  Which is not right.  And I told myself so.  But another voice told me to shut up.  Asked:  “Whose side are you on boy?  Remember, some of your mates are buried there.”

Up to that point, I had taken Buenos Aires in my stride, and any thoughts that I felt needed to be stored on paper could be divided into two neat categories:  The Falklands war, of course, and the long legged women of Buenos Aires.

In a bar on Saint Martin Street one night, watching tight-skirted bundles of lust flirt by, I hit upon the perfect joke for Argentine ears:  “General Galtieri got it all wrong.  He should have dispatched 10,000 Argentine women to the Falklands.  I would have laid down and said: ‘Take me baby. I’d love to be your prisoner.’ ”  Every time I told it, it went down well.  It didn’t matter who I told it to. Right-Wing.  Left-Wing.  Girl. Boy.  Soldier.  Civilian.  It was a hoot.

Only once, among close friends, did I turn the joke around and slap a bit of reality over it.  I was actually a British Paratrooper, I explained, and if they were shooting at me, I would have shot and bayoneted holes in Argentinians, no matter how female or attractive they were.  Yes, sir.

With hindsight I can see that Buenos Aires was actually strange from day one.  And maybe it was my own vanity that prevented me from seeing it at the time.  My English-speaking contact told me that a friend who, by chance, that very night, was getting a film show together in a hall somewhere downtown.  The film was to be about the Malvinas Islands.  Well, that’s me, that is.  Sort of thing I’m here for – so we’re on our way.

What we were heading for was actually a gathering of Argentine patriots –  and this is Buenos Aires, so why not? – who were having a get-together to watch a film and have a good natter about the voyage of a yacht that bobbed the ocean waves from Argentina to the Falklands.  Or to their much-loved, sadly missed, stolen “Malvinas.”

The hall downtown was actually a modern conference centre and on its second floor we found the auditorium where ‘Valeros En Malvinas’ was making its world premiere.  On our arrival, I was introduced to the senor who had organised the event.  He was in his early forties, I’d guess, slightly overweight all over, very smartly dressed and he spoke perfect English.  Which I later found out was the product of a private education in one of Buenos Aires’s English schools.  And they’re expensive.

So, we shake hands, and, as you do, I say: “Hi, Ken Lukowiak.”  And then he suddenly gasps, looks amazed, taps the palm of his right hand on his forehead and says: “Ken Lukowiak.  I can’t believe this, Ken Lukowiak.   That I should ever meet you, the author of The Song of the Soldier.”  I swear.

Anyway, ten seconds into knowing this man, I love him.  I do.  And it got better.  Because not only had he read my book, but he must have studied it with the Open University.  He knew every line.  Or at least the Spanish translations of them.
“In England it’s called A Soldier’s Song” was about all I could squeeze in.
“Of course, I know this” he said in reply.
And then he started to explain what some of my words said to him.  What they made him think.  He picked up on something I had written about the British Remembrance saying “At the rising of the sun and the setting of the same – we shall remember them.”

I wrote: “For me, these words are a lie.  When I awake each day, my mind rarely recalls the dead I once knew.  It’s usually occupied by thoughts of how I am going to pay the outstanding bills I have pinned to my kitchen wall or what the day before me might hold.”  And so on.

So he says that, to him, the fact that I don’t remember the dead every day is incredible.  Each morning, he explained, on his journey to work and then on his way home again in the evening, he passes the “Malvinas” monument and he remembers.  “How can you not remember your dead comrades?” he asked.

Well, I think he’s misunderstood me.  So I try to explain.  “Look, I’m not saying that I don’t remember my dead mates.  Of course I remember them.  It’s just that I struggle to make it a twice-a-day ritual.”

By this time I’m assuming he must be a veteran himself.  But, just in case he isn’t, I ask “Were you on the islands during the war?”
“Unfortunately not” he replies sadly.
He had volunteered, of course, but, alas, his country had felt no need of him.  I can see by his face and the tone of his voice that he looks back on this piece of life-rejection as about the saddest, most unjust thing that has ever happened or could ever happen to him.

So, I put on an understanding face, one that showed I realised just how unfair, and stupid, the decision not to send him had been.  But inside I felt like saying: “Get real, pal.  If you had the shit bombed, shot and then bayoneted out of you up on Mount Fucking Whatever, you wouldn’t have thought it ‘unfortunate’ had your invitation to the party not arrived.  Dickhead,”

Too cruel, I know.  But crap like that brings out the best in me.  Thankfully, before I had to be polite some more, the need arose for him to go and get the evening’s proceedings underway.

It started with him making a speech, which was in Spanish, so I didn’t get a lot of it.  But whatever it was, it was delivered very sincerely and the crowd of 60 or so certainly appreciated it.  And then another five or six guys, who turned out had been crew  members aboard the yacht that the film was about, got up in turns and made similar, softly spoken, sincere speeches.  And I use the word sincere not in a mocking way – make no mistake, your Argentinians are very sincere about everything to do with the Falkland Islands.  Or, as they see them, their much loved, sadly missed, stolen “Malvinas”.

Eventually, the film starts and I discover, which is handy for me, that one of the crew is an English man called Paul and, when Paul gets to have his windswept say to the camera, I learn the gist of the plot, which is that this group of men plus one woman are sailing to the Falkland as a sort of protest thing.  When they finally get to the islands, they naturally want to pop ashore and stretch the old legs, even though they know they won’t be allowed to, because Argentine passport holders are not allowed on the Falklands.  Which is where Paul comes into it, because he’s got a British passport.  Now, what they want Paul to do, if he does get ashore, is to deliver a sack of Christmas cards to the little “Kelper” children from their little brothers and sisters on the mainland.

Well, how I stopped myself laughing I do not know.  Sentimental  buggers.  The last thing the little children of the Falkland Islands want is Christmas cards from the little kiddies whose country put armed troops on their streets.  This might be very sad – but it’s sadly understandable.

So our gallant Argies, plus one, only get to bob around for a while in the waters off Port Stanley, look rock-like and wronged at the land ahoy, before pulling anchor and setting off back home.  And my silent conclusion is that every single one of them is a raving loco.

But then, after the film had finished, I was introduced to one of the crew members, a Senor Ignacio Gorriti.  Ignacio had been a soldier during the war.  He fought on Mount Harriet against the Royal Marines and the conflict has been a large part of his mind ever since.  We shook hands and both asked and answered the same first question: “Where were you on the islands?”  Then Ignacio began to reminisce about going off one day to look for a battery for a radio.  And I said: “I’ve heard of you.”  And I had, because Ignacio was one of the soldiers featured in my very favourite book on the Falklands war, ‘Fight for the Malvinas’, by Martin Middlebrook.

Ignacio and I were interrupted by the reappearance of Mr English Public School.  He was sorry, but he had to go and he wanted to ask me a question before he did.  Fire away.
“Why did you kill the soldier on Wireless Ridge when you knew a ceasefire had been called?”
I explained that the soldier had a rifle and it was him or me. “But surely,” he pressed, “you could have shouted that the war was over”

Before I could come up with a reply that, once again didn’t begin with the words: “Get real, pal”, Ignacio jumped in on my behalf and pointed out that battlefield etiquette’s just not like that.  The man seemed to accept that and with a short hand-shake, which was more than a little cold, he sulked off.  “They don’t understand,” said Ignacio, “They can never know what it was like on those hills for us.”

When it was time for me and Ignacio to go our separate ways , we shook hands once more and then, with no words, we fell into something I had waited 14 years for.  An embrace with my one-time enemy.  And over the years I had fantasied that it would be a tearful event.  But it wasn’t.  With my chin resting on Ignacio’s shoulder, all I could do was smile.  Then we both said:  “Goodbye, my friend.”

I left the conference centre on that moon-warmed, beautiful Buenos Aires night, with not a care in the world.  It never entered my head to think over the questions I had been asked about the life I had ended on Wireless Ridge.  And that was a mistake on my part.  A big mistake.

Ambush in Argentina Part 3