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Open Features: The Falklands War - 3

Former Yorkshire Post chief reporter Derek Hudson, later publishing editor of Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, concludes his account of experiences with British troops during the Falklands Campaign which ended on June 14 1982 when Argentine forces on the islands surrendered.

Our small band of correspondents almost tip-toed the last few miles into
Stanley, as Royal Marine Sergeant Dave Munnelly warned of snipers in the
hills, and unmarked minefields.

"Space yourselves well out, 15 yards at least, there's no point in blowing
up somebody else." We scanned the ridges, and followed the boot prints of
the man in front, stepping through the litter of Argentine retreat: pistols,
rifles, cartridges, clothing, 155mm and 105mm shell rounds, burned out
jeeps.

Colour Sergeant Brian Faulkner, of 3 Para, warned of booby traps. Somebody
spotted six land mines in the back of a truck wired to a grenade.

Thousands of confused and demoralised Argentines roamed the eastern side of
the little capital. It would be six hours before Major General Jeremy Moore,
Commander, British land forces, announced the Argentine surrender.

The Press had a bet on; I forget the stakes, but Max Hastings won; about who
would be first in the main local bar. I came fourth, and by this time I had
a personal escort to get me through the enemy lines, an Argentine military
policeman.

People at garden gates waved Union Flags, cheering. "I'm only a civilian, a
reporter, " I explained. "It doesn't matter, you're British. Hurrah!" a
middle-aged woman exclaimed.

Argentine military padres were still in the Upland Goose, lounging
comfortable in the same bar as the Press, and a few British officers, and my
escort sat in a corner smoking cadged cigarettes, accepting drinks of orange
squash, which became a novel entry on my expense account:” Hospitality for
Argentine soldier”.

An angry Argentine captain burst in, Zapatak moustache twitching with rage,
grenades clipped to his military smock, heading a well-armed patrol. He
accusing us of breaking the curfew. Somebody pointed at the tough, tired men
marching by. "Why don't you tell that to the Paras?" He left.

Next day, thousands of defeated soldiers waited in driving rain near Stanley
Airport. Four of we hacks stopped an Argentine jeep and told the military
driver to take us there. Still-armed, a company of professional-looking
Argentine marines marched into view. Spotting our British windproof military
jackets, a major offered a vigorous V-sign, as they chanted "Viva, Republica
Argentina."

We were flagged down. A familiar face looked in, Major Mike Norman, who had
been photographed lying in the gutter after Argentina's April 2, 1982,
invasion. He grinned. "It's you buggers! I wondered why Argies were still
driving about when my men had to walk. Want anything?" He pointed towards a
hillock of Argentine weapons, webbing, helmets and bayonets.

When Canberra returned to Stanley after ferrying home some of the 11,313
P0Ws back to their South American homeland, I went aboard to try to book a
berth home, but she was full. (Eventually, I returned on a 26-hour Hercules
flight, via Ascension Island.) But before returning to the Upland Goose, I
joined a celebration where upturned Argentine helmets acted as ice buckets.

The men of 42 Commando nursed rationed beers until the Press arrived with
extra supplies. The chill of the trenches was sluiced away by hot showers.
There was fried fish, or pork chops to eat and eggs to look forward to at
breakfast, instead of 24-hour ration packs cooked on individual hexamine
stoves.

The lively party was punctuated by serious moments in memory of fallen
comrades, and the National Anthem was sung after the Royal Marine Band Jazz
Quartet finished their act. Two Marines gave me a miniature souvenir
Canberra life belt customised into a Falklands Task Force memento. "Hang on
to it, " said one, "you've been through the same as us." Not quite, I
thought. But I certainly did hang on to it.

Back in the Upland Goose, matters deteriorated, as ITN's Michael Nicholson
related in A Measure of Danger, Memoirs of a British War Correspondent. The
Upland Goose carpets, he wrote, were very nearly ruined by the blood of what
was almost "the first and only death in the Press Corps".
Max Hastings had been entrusted with a pooled despatch. But only his story
arrived in London. That famous night in the bar, said Michael, the
newspapermen were not in a forgiving mood. "Ian Bruce, from the Glasgow
Herald, slammed down his whisky glass and shouted: 'Yes or no, you b*****d.
Have you been sending my copy back?'... he grabbed a bayonet, one of many
captured war trophies, and charged. (Derek] Hudson grabbed him just in time
and held him with only inches to spare. Then Hudson immortalised the scene
with the words, 'This is neither the time nor the place to kill Max
Hastings'." Did I really say that?

Time to fly home to RAF Lyneham, Mary, my wife, had driven down from
Yorkshire through a storm, and almost walked straight past a husband who had
lost 21 pounds in weight and also the beard which had to be shaved off to
accommodate a gas mask.

I asked a friendly RAF officer if he could recommend a nearby hotel, but he
had a better idea. There was a vacant VIP double room with en suite
facilities. Why not be the RAF's guests and stay there?

So, after breakfast next morning, we travelled back on a deliciously sunny
day, to re-join our two daughters, Sarah and Jenny. Life was returning to
normal, and it was wonderful to be home.

**

This article first appeared in the Yorkshire Post.

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