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.
For a few minutes after it disappeared, I stood by the window, listening to the sound of guns. Then I went into the bedroom… Iris was awake, listening to the announcements on the radio through the open door. ‘You’d better get dressed,’ I said. ‘If you’re going to meet the enemy you might as well be properly clothed!’ I managed a smile. Several fluttering butterflies had somehow found their way into my insides and wouldn’t go away.
Iris got up and dressed quickly. We made coffee. Neither of us felt much like eating. I went back to the window. The firing around Government House was louder and more persistent. The radio was playing music, interrupted occasionally by brief announcements from the station manager. In between announcements I paced from window to window. I prayed constantly – brief ‘arrow prayers’, just calling on the Lord to be present in this new situation and to guide us in it. It was a totally new circumstance. I tried unsuccessfully to think what I as a minister should be doing at such a time. Surely there were actions I ought to be taking, even though we were confined to the house . . . but nothing came to mind, and I continued to watch and listen and pray. It was impossible to relax; I could not sit down for any length of time, much less do anything like read a book.
At 7.10 a.m. Governor Hunt broadcast again. His Voice was relayed from a telephone in the studio: earlier attempts to fix up the radio link between Government House and the broadcasting station had been defeated by lack of time, and Rex Hunt simply rang the station on his domestic telephone. His news was grim. Government House was under attack. The Island forces were heavily outnumbered. The Argentine strength there was at least 200 men, and the forces defending were probably no more than forty strong. The Governor was not aware of any British casualties; the Argentines had been forced to retreat several times; but he doubted whether his small garrison of Royal Marines would be able to hold out for much longer.
He broadcast again at 7.30, confirming that Government House had not surrendered. There were ominous reports of armoured cars approaching from the airfield. It seemed that the troops surrounding the Governor’s residence were simply waiting for these reinforcements to arrive, rather than risk their lives by attacking too soon. There were also disturbing reports that civilians living in light prefabricated houses were in great danger because the enemy, approaching from the east, were met with resistance from small patrols. Some of these residents, understandably frightened, were telephoning the studio while the fighting was going on.
We knew that it was only a matter of time before the British forces surrendered. In the Deanery because of the State of emergency we could only guess what was happening, as we listened intently to each exchange of fire at Government House just a few blocks away. But there was only one conclusion to the matter, and we did not think it could be otherwise. The radio continued to bring us information as Patrick Watts, the station announcer, received telephone calls from our neighbours and people living on the edge of Stanley. The military pressure was irresistible. One caller had a six-foot hole blown in his roof and his water tank had been burst by gunfire. People rang to say that they could see Argentine troops taking up positions at the edge of town; others reported vehicle movements in the streets. The messages from the Governor all told the same story: despite the bravery and the considerable accomplishments of our forces, it was all going one way. Report after report told of new areas of the Islands which had fallen to the invading Argentines: Moody Brook. The airport, places we knew well were overrun and destroyed. Much worse were the phone calls to the broadcasting studio from residents of Port Stanley, people we knew, friends and neighbours who were ringing in to say that there was heavy firing nearby, or their house had been struck, or some other information equally disturbing. In the Deanery, we really only saw the end of the invasion. These people had seen the troops coming over the hills and through the streets of Port Stanley, and those living at the other end of the town had been near to the heavy fighting around Government House.
At 8.30 the news came of negotiations for a ceasefire. One of the prime negotiators was an Argentine resident of Port Stanley, Vice-Comodoro Hector Gilobert.
Vice-Comodoro Gilobert had lived in Stanley for the past two years and had recently returned after a few months in Buenos Aires. Though I had not seen anything of him since his return to Port Stanley, I knew him quite well from his previous residence, and liked him; we had dined together – he had a charming family – and our conversations had often touched on spiritual matters. Iris had been quite friendly with his wife. He was the manager of LADE, the Argentine Air Force providing services to the South American mainland.
It emerged later that Gilobert had had a hard time convincing the Islanders the previous night, when news broke that an invasion fleet was coming, that as a member of the Argentine armed forces he had known nothing about it – if indeed he hadn’t. It had not been possible to find and arrest all the Argentines in Port Stanley in the short space of time since the Governor’s announcement, and Gilobert was still free. Whatever his implication in the matter (and there were many people who believed that he had been planted in Port Stanley to make preparations for the invasion), Gilobert showed considerable courage that morning.
His Excellency sent for him when it became clear that surrender was inevitable, to talk to the Argentine commander. Gilobert left the house in which he was staying and, bearing a white flag, made his way to Government House. His fellow-countrymen were not quite sure what was going on and shots were fired. Whatever the truth of the allegations of complicity in the invasion, it took a brave man to face the guns of his fellow-countrymen unarmed.
After some discussion it was announced that a white flag party-consisting of dick Baker (the Chief Secretary) and Vice-Comodoro Gilobert – would go to meet the Argentines. They left Government House and walked towards the Town Hall. Iris and I could follow what was happening on the radio; there were no Argentine officers in sight, and a message was sent by the radio station to the Argentine forces asking for a representative to meet the party. In the event, the argentines took some time to arrive, and in the interval the two men gradually moved in the direction of the Upland Goose Hotel beyond the Deanery. From the Police Station, a few police appeared on the roadside and watched the proceedings. As we watched from the window, we saw the party come into view. Dick Baker was carrying the white flag; the Governor’s umbrella with what looked like a net curtain tied to it. They halted in the road near our gates, waiting.
So we watched with camera ready, from our grandstand vantage point, the first meeting between Admiral Busser the Argentine Commander-in-Chief, and the Governor’s representative, Dick Baker. Three men appeared from the direction of the Upland Goose. There were handshakes and introductions. Gilobert, who made the introductions, was greeted warmly by the Argentines. We could not hear what was being said; had we been able to hear we would not have understood Spanish. But it was clear that some sort of agreement was being made. After a brief exchange of comments, they all went off in the direction of Government House.
As they disappeared, we saw the Argentine soldiers for the first time. Figures in combat dress and steel helmets, their faces blacked, advanced down the road. It was not yet quite daylight. They seemed exaggeratedly cautious, peering behind every fence and under every bush, nervously whirling round at unexpected sounds. They carried various weapons. Shortly afterwards the first armoured landing craft arrived, huge vehicles carrying anything up to fifteen men and loaded with a fair assortment of equipment. They created an enormous din. The first of them trundled past and took up position near the Town Hall. Two or three others followed and lined up behind it. Eventually there were about a dozen of these vehicles there, each with between twelve and fifteen men. I called Iris, and she came and watched with me at the window.
In between the occasional bursts of gunfire and the movements of vehicles in the street, it was very quiet and still outside. The main activity outside the house was now over, and we came away from the window. It was an odd feeling; there wasn’t anything one could do or wanted to do. We still had the radio on, and reception was now rather variable because of the comings and goings outside. Iris prepared some breakfast a little after seven o’clock. We ate, but we didn’t feel very much interest in food.
‘So they’ve come,’ said Iris calmly. She stirred the coffee. ‘I wonder what happens next?’
After we had eaten, we cleared the breakfast things away, and I took up my observation post at the window again, listening to the distant machine-gun fire alternating with heavier explosions of mortars and small artillery. Iris set up her spinning wheel. From time to time I turned from the window and watched her intently spinning. She doesn’t normally have time to spin, because there are so many other things to do. She smiled when she saw me watching her. ‘I can’t settle to do anything else,’ she said.
The cease-fire became official soon after 8.30 a.m., and a message was broadcast asking for medical help at the hospital where three Argentine men seriously wounded in the fighting at Government House had been taken. From the kitchen window I watched Alison Bleaney, one of our local doctors, hurrying past accompanied by her husband and child, heading for the hospital building. She was carrying a white flag. The announcement of serious injury was sobering.
‘That was Alison,’ I called to Iris in the living room.
Iris shook her head. ‘It’s hard to take in,’ she replied. ‘Those are our Marines, they are servicemen we know. And they’re fighting a real battle, it’s actually happening, and people are getting hurt. It doesn’t seem real somehow.’ I knew how she felt.
Shortly after the cease-fire was announced, I called Iris to the window again: we watched as the invaders raised the blue-and-white flag of Argentina on the flagpole of St Mary’s, the Roman Catholic Church. The soldiers watching, as it unfurled in the light morning breeze, still seemed to be quite nervous. It was like a moment in a bad film, with everyone overacting their parts. I glanced at my own flagpole, standing in the Deanery garden. Nobody seemed to have noticed it yet.
At 10.15 the radio station was taken over by the Argentines. We listened in silence to the voice of Patrick Watt’s, desperately tired now after manning the station continuously through the night:
Just a minute- just wait there – No, I won’t do anything until you take that gun out of my back – We have been taken over as expected by the Argentines. They have given me some tapes they want me to play . . .