READING, WRITING AND CONCENTRATING. III – ‘FAITH UNDER FIRE’

November 26th 2018,

I am currently struggling to read books. I tell myself every day that I should read on my lunch breaks at work etc, but my mind races from one thought to another and I mainly fail at opening a book and discovering what is contained within.

Today, I have decided to chain myself to my desk for each of my lunch breaks at work until Easter, and copy from whatever book I happen to have at  hand.

It forces me to read, write and concentrate at the same time, in the hope that it may replace some bad habits with some good ones, and generally help me become a better reader and writer.

This series of posts will be shared, just in case the words being copied might be of interest to you.

(No copyright infringements intended).

I have a different book at hand this lunchtime, a book that has been staring at me and egging me on from my small bookshelf for quite some time…

FAITH UNDER FIRE

HARRY BAGNALL

with
DAVID PORTER

To unknown and unnumbered
friends who prayed for us.

Foreword

As a member of the Reverend Harry Bagnall’s pastoral flock and a fellow-Yorkshireman, it gives me great pleasure to write this short foreword. Harry and Iris beat me to the Falkland Islands by only a short head but, by the time I arrived in February 1980, they were already well settled in and seemed to me to be a permanent feature of the Stanley scene. I could not then and cannot now imagine Stanley and Christ Church Cathedral without them.
It was characteristic of Harry to stay with his flock in Stanley during the Argentine occupation. He and Iris could have left with other expatriates in the first few weeks, when the Argentine airline was still running. Or they could have gone to Camp at any time until a week or two before the British troops closed the ring around Stanley. But they chose to stay in town to give succor and support to all the townsfolk who remained. As one Kelper put it to me after my return, they were like Falkland Islands flightless steamer ducks sitting on a small pond as the huntsmen moved in with their 12-bores from all sides. In his typically modest, sincere and self-effacing way, Harry tells the story of how his faith upheld him in those last unnerving days. Typically, too, he kept his sense of humour.
It is an inspiring story and I commend it to all who have faith or who are seeking faith.

Sir Rex M. Hunt
Civil Commissioner and former Governor,
Falkland Islands

……………………….

Acknowledgements

In working with Harry Bagnall on this book I have been given generous help by a variety of individuals and organization. I am especially grateful to the Falklands Office (as it was then) for initial advice and encouragement, Hamish Robertson of the ITN News Service, several serving officers of the Royal Navy (some of whom were on duty off the Falklands during the conflict), and a number of individuals involved in Christian work in Argentina and the Falklands at different times, who have contributed various information. Any faults in the book are not the responsibility of the above sources.
In some cases minor facts given in this book are at variance with other published accounts. In such cases the details have been thoroughly checked and the version contained here, based on direct observation by Harry and Iris Bagnall, is given as a correction to other sources which, it must be said, are often at variance with each other on matters of detail. By the same token very little is included about events outside Port Stanley, except in so far as news came through to Harry and Iris at the time. This is a ‘Port Stanley’s eye’ view of events, not a documentary history of the war as a whole.
This book would not have been possible without the commitment of the International Church Society. I am especially grateful to Don Irving, Janet Berkovic, and Jack Hywel-Davies who effected introductions.
The people who have done most to ensure this book’s completion are Harry and Iris themselves, who saw the project consuming more time than expected out of a precious furlough in Britain, and put up with it with very good humour.

Prologue

‘Situated in South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands lie about 772 km (480
miles) north-east of Cape Horn. They consist of about 200 islands,
the largest being East Falkland and West Falkland, and their total
land area is some 12,173 sq km (4,700 sq miles)’.

Paper No. 152/82/Revised, ‘The Falkland Islands and Dependencies’. Prepared for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the Central Office of Information, London

On the evening of Wednesday 31 March 1982, the secretary of Defence, Mr John Nott, arrived at No.10 Downing Street. He was a tallish man, whose face habitually relaxed into the expression of vague apology. That night he was in a hurry. So were the other ministers and Government advisers who arrived one after the other over the next hour. The hurriedly-convened conference called by the Prime Minister went into immediate session.

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, had already been recalled from Israel. An urgent request was dispatched to the United Nations seeking an immediate emergency meeting of the Security Council. Margaret Thatcher cabled the White House, asking the President of the United States if he would use his personal influence in South America to intervene in the developing crisis.
It took until 8 p.m. the next day, but in the end, the President of Argentina agreed to accept a telephone call from the President of the United States. President Reagan urged General Galtieri to change his mind. He gave a number of reasons and argued them forcefully. Galtieri, less fluent in English, used an interpreter to convey his reply. There were no concessions, no promises. At 8.50 the conversation came to an end. The President of the United States looked grim as he reported back to Mrs Thatcher. In Downing Street, it was a quiet, warm evening.

The cable that governor Rex Hunt received in Port Stanley was unequivocal. Invasion was imminent, the Argentine Armada – an aircraft carrier, four destroyers and four landing craft – was heading for the Falkland Islands. At 8.15 Rex Hunt made a statement on Falklands Radio.

Good evening. I have an important announcement to make about the state of affairs between British and Argentine governments over the Falkland Islands dispute . . . I have alerted the Royal Marines and I now ask for all serving or active members of the Falkland Islands Defence Force to report to the drill hall as soon as possible . . . If the Security Council’s urging to keep the peace is not heeded by the Argentine government, I expect to have to declare a State of Emergency, perhaps before dawn tomorrow . . . I would urge you all to keep calm and keep off the streets.

After the Governor’s statement the radio announcer said that the station would remain on the air all night, and promised to broadcast any information as it became available. Then the interrupted music programme was resumed.
I was restless; I paced around the room. Through the Deanery windows I could see the waters of the harbour, black and slow-moving in the early moonlight. It was a quiet, warm evening in Port Stanley.

1: The Argentines Arrive

‘I ordered [the Admiral] to leave
forthwith . . . he tried to take my hand
. . . I said I didn’t shake hands with
enemies, and I certainly didn’t shake
hands with people who had been trying to
shoot me five minutes before.

His Excellency Rex Hunt, Governor of the
Falkland Islands, on the telephone to
Falkland Islands Radio, early morning
Friday April 2.

A boat was slowly making its way into the harbour.
I could just see the lights. It had slipped through the narrows and was making its way round., holding to the harbour’s far bank. Its grey outline, unidentifiable in the early morning twilight, passed the jetty and approached Government House, and about 200 yards from the Deanery though out of my line of sight. It appeared to be some sort of landing craft. As it moved past, sporadic small-arms gunfire broke out from the vicinity of the jetty. The firing continued after the boat had disappeared from view – long bursts of rapid fire interspersed with isolated shots. From time to time a dull, heavy Wuff! Indicated mortar fire. The invasion had begun in earnest.

It was 6 a.m. I hadn’t slept much. The previous evening had been the night for our small weekly Bible study; we only had a few regular attenders at the best of times, but that night, because it was known that an important statement was to be broadcast by the Governor, everybody stayed at home to listen. Iris and I listened to the broadcast together. When it was over, we looked at each other. There was no need to say much.

The Bible reading ‘system’ that we follow in our group is to take passages appointed for the Sunday following each weekly group meeting in the Church of England lectionary. We find it helpful to come to the service having spent some time beforehand looking at those passages and praying together. That night, though Iris and I were the only ones present, we turned as usual to the lessons for the following Sunday: they were from the twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah and the twenty-second chapter of Matthew. It was very moving to read the two selections, both chosen and printed in the lectionary long before anybody knew that in April 1983 our islands would be invaded; Jeremiah’s encouragement and promise to his conquered countrymen, and Matthew, born of a conquered race himself, recording Jesus’s words to the Pharisees about how they should relate to their Roman masters. If we had needed reassurance that we were not entering this new and uncertain period of our lives without God’s knowledge and concern, those readings removed our doubts.

We read the passages, and then we prayed together. We had a great deal to pray about. Afterwards we had supper and buy ten o’clock – our normal bedtime – we were in bed. Almost immediately, Iris had fallen into a sound sleep. I got up again after an hour and pace quietly around the house, staring through the windows at the moonlit bay and listening to the reports that were now coming through on the radio.

Until the Governor’s announcement the previous night, delivered with a sombre gravity that commanded total belief, I hadn’t seriously thought that an invasion would ever happen. On March 21st His Excellency had arrived at Evensong uncharacteristically late. He explained to me afterwards that the delay had been because he had had to make an emergency broadcast. A party of scrap merchants had landed illegally on the Falklands Islands Dependency of South Georgia, and had raised the Argentine flag. The situation had rapidly reached a stalemate. In the days following, the Governor broadcast regular bulletins on the situation. The day after his first broadcast I sent my regular prayer letter to the Intercontinental Church Society (Intercon), the missionary society I serve, for distribution to our prayer-partners. It contained news and information. We requested prayer for more Christians to come to the Islands to help in the work, prayer support for a number of Christian families in ‘Camp’ (the rural areas), and prayer for an increased response to our broadcast services. I did not think it worth mentioning the South Georgia incident.

Some of the Islanders thought that the developments in South Georgia meant that serious trouble lay ahead; others saw the whole episode as a piece of sabre-rattling from Bueno Aires. Many thought that the Argentines were too rational to abandon the conference table and try to get what they wanted by force. I had been inclined to agree with them, and like them I was now taken by surprise.

In a few short hours, the eyes of the world had turned towards the South Atlantic – a new experience for us; most people in the West a month before would have been hard put to say in which ocean the Falkland Islands were, let alone their exact location. It was different now. The Argentine Armada really was sailing steadily towards the Islands.

His Excellency, as he had promised, broadcast regularly through the night. At half-past midnight he told us that the Argentine government had not responded to demands that their ships be recalled. At 4 a.m. there was a further bulletin; an offer of US mediation had been refused by Buenos Aires. When it became clear that the invaders were not going to turn back, the Governor announced the State of emergency that he had anticipated. Arrangements were being made to place all Argentines on the Islands under arrest, ‘for their own safety’. Watching from my window in the early hours of that morning, I saw a van drive up to the Upland Goose Hotel two houses away from the Deanery, where servicemen and Marines had arrived to take Argentine residents from there into safety. I ventured out of the house for a few minutes and spoke briefly to the people in charge, but returned home almost immediately. One or two people had emerged from the Police Station on the other side of my house and were also watching, but they too went indoors after a short time.

At five I had given up any hope of sleep. That was when I dressed and prowled about the house. An hour later I saw the lights of the ship entering the harbour….

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