22 May 2007

San Carlos Water

Another fellow I met had been a serving officer at the time of the Falklands War. I never had to ask him about his experiences, because he volunteered information from time to time when he thought it relevant.

The first thing he used to talk about was the state of the facilities available to the Army after Mrs Thatcher came to power. He was scathing at the neglect and the poor quality of housing and other structures. His basic view was that the Army was treated with absolute contempt.

However, his real eye-opening experience was when the ship he and his men were aboard sailed into San Carlos Water. He was alarmed at the absence of proper air cover. During one of the Argentinian raids a bomb fell close by and he was knocked out, I'm not sure if it was by the concussion or whether the blast knocked him into something. He was, if I recall correctly, manning a GPMG vainly firing at the jet aircraft rushing by. He basically felt he and his men were sitting ducks.

After the war, he got out of the Army as soon as he could.

Here's a sailor's memory of the sinking of HMS Antelope.

21 May 2007


Today is the 128th anniversary of the naval battle of Iquique, part of the War of the Pacific between Chile and the allied states of Peru and Bolivia. The battle featured the ironclad Huáscar, on the Peruvian side, which engaged in a duel with the Chilean warship Esmeralda. You can watch an animated map of the battle here. Scroll down to the button labeled "Ver animación". The animation clearly shows the tactics adopted by the Huáscar in the battle at one point, when it took advantage of its turret.

11 May 2007

War and Marriage

While we often remember the dead of war, it's much less common to organize a celebration of the life that may have come out of war. The Halifax Daily News reports on a War Bride Train leaving for Ottawa where the Canadian War Museum is holding an exhibition to commemorate War Brides. My mother was a war bride, so it's fair to say that if it hadn't been for Herr Hitler, I wouldn't be here. Maybe I should write a book about war brides and their children. How many of the latter, like me, voluntarily came to the land of the mother's and settled down?

10 May 2007

The Loss of HMS Sheffield, 1982

I once met a fellow in Portsmouth. We had separately intended to visit the same club meeting, only they had arranged to meet in a member's house that day. We walked together to a lovely house near the dockyard. Unfortunately for him, the club member he wanted to meet wasn't around, so while I stayed he went home. Six years later (or so), he turned up in Slough, being good friends with an acquaintance of mine. The reason he was in Portsmouth in 1976, was that he was in the Royal Navy, while I was staying with my grandparents in Fareham. The reason he was in Slough in late 1982 was that he'd left the Navy about a year earlier, having served on a ship I had visited during Navy Days in 1976 - HMS Sheffield.

Some twenty-five years later (we had met frequently over the period so by now were well acquainted) I asked him about his service in the Royal Navy. He explained to me how, as a member of the mess staff, his role in combat was to control fires and to take casualties to the sick bay. At this point, he began an unprompted reminiscence about the day HMS Sheffield was hit by the Argentinian Exocet missile. It was quite a shock for him and, characteristically for him, he didn't go to work but to the pub instead. At some later point he found a casualty list and went through checking for the names of those he had served with. Had he still been aboard, he might have been among their number. I think he was still bothered, though, that he hadn't been there to help his shipmates at their time of need.

09 May 2007


When I first came to Britain, as a student, in 1978, the scars of the Second World War were still in plain view. "Bombsites" were the playgrounds of inner-city youth. Shelters still stood in people's back yards. Then, when I moved here in the mid 1980s, you'd hear every other year or so about traffic problems caused by the discovery of an unexploded bomb. I think the last one in London was in the mid 1990s. Occasionally, a note would crop up in the newspaper about a farmer uncovering some weapon of war on the Continent. However, it's worth remembering that there are other places to find relics of the war.

08 May 2007

Jeanne d'Orléans

Today is the anniversary of Joan of Arc raising of the siege or Orléans, a key military event that has been overshadowed to some extent by subsequent accomplishments. There's an interesting summary of the context and events of the entire siege here.

07 May 2007

Falklands Memories - Introduction

I was going to write a short note about the loss of HMS Sheffield on the 25th anniversary, but the more I poked and prodded with the text, the more I realized that it wouldn't do the subject of the Falklands justice. This little war of 1982 was the subject of a page-long review article in The Guardian this weekend. Of the four books reviewed, I have encountered three of the authors in my time in publishing. I've also met a couple of other people with links to the conflict, one as a direct participant, the other someone who had just left the service when the war came.

I wanted to call this post "The Comic Book War", but I thought it would be misunderstood. No war is a comical affair. My point was that the war played a role on the Home Front equivalent to those comic books such as the Commando series. The "Argies" were the bad guys, although perceived more like Second World War Italians than Nazis. We tuned into the TV each night to see retired officers discuss various options over a sand table, with a man named Snow. Naturally, since civilians tend to overlook logistics, and retired offices play their roles in disinformation campaigns, most of the speculations were very wrong-headed.

But what stands out most for me about the Falklands War was that it was the only truly popular war I've ever experienced in my lifetime. People of a certain age who had been through the Second World War, those who at the time of the Falklands were just under 60, couldn't see the point of the conflict. Everybody else in Britain seemed to determined to see this thing through, even welcomed it. Compare that with the Vietnam War, which divided my school and my family; the Gulf War of 1991, which I demonstrated against; the Yugoslav War of 1999, which most people I met thought a waste of money and effort; and the ongoing Iraq War, before which my wife and children took part in the March of a Million through London, and you'll see what I mean.

However, having said that, I must recount my favorite story related to the Falklands. Just after word of the Argentine invasion reached us, the man in whose house I was living came back from work. He had been expressing his unhappiness with the potential loss of many young men's lives for some scraps of turf in the South Atlantic with work colleagues. One of them, a youngish office junior who frequently featured in his stories from work, protested: "I don't see what business they have up there anyway." Puzzled, because he would have expected the circumlocution to be "down there", not up, the much older man probed further into this young lady's notions. It quickly became apparent that this young lady thought the Falklands Islands were somewhere in the vicinity of the Faeroes.

01 May 2007

Antony Preston

I discovered that Antony Preston has been provided with a Wikipedia entry. I first saw Antony Preston in the summer of 2002, when he came into the offices of Conway Maritime Press, then part of Chrysalis Books. Eventually, I had the opportunity of editing his last book, The World's Worst Warships, which was published, very late, in 2002. The picture research was done mostly by me, although Antony found a few of the pictures in the old Conway Maritime archive, and we went through all the images before the book went into design. I also introduced a howling error in the book, which I never had the chance to apologize to Antony for making. It was a very stressful time, as the designer seemed more interested in ordering new Vans than ensuring the typography was correct and all the necessary retouching done to the photographs, and I was standing in for the entire editorial department who had gone off on vacation. Antony himself was at this time in hospital, where I visited him a couple of times. He was so bored he was grateful to accept the proofs to distract him from the tedium of a hospital stay. He's the sort of niche author whom I think deserves a Wikipedia entry. But they really ought to spell his Christian name correctly!