This year marks 40 years since the Falklands war and we at DHT have been commemorating the war on social media via old articles from the Gazette, so I thought I would write a little about what this had taught me about both the war and the value of having such a rich newspaper archive.
The Falklands war was in my mind a short, fairly uneventful war that had become for the most part nothing more than a bit of historical trivia related to Margaret Thatcher but after researching the war through old issues of the Hemel Gazette I was proved entirely wrong. I’m sure many of you reading will have clear memories of the war and may have served or know someone who did and that much of this article will seem self-evident or perhaps slightly naïve but as someone born long after the war had ended and been relegated to history books I found my journey into the war via the Gazette deeply fascinating and enlightening to the reality of the war.
British Military history is not a particular area of interest to me and nor are South American territorial disputes so I admittedly had done very little research into the Falklands war and what its impact had been but I was very quickly taken aback when looking at the Gazette with the sheer speed at which the war came to dominate almost every aspect of people’s lives from the slightly funny loss of a school trip cruise to the Pyramids to the harrowing accounts of families spending nights not knowing if their sons had survived a battle. I’m sure these feelings are well known to anyone who has a family member that has served in a conflict zone but as someone who hadn’t, it was startling to me that even 40 years later I could so acutely feel the terror and anxiety that must have gripped these families and must still continue to grip the families of service people everywhere, perhaps testament to the fantastic writing from the Journalists at the Gazette but I think also the locality of the Gazette brings the war from a historical event that happened a long time ago (well relatively at least) and far away to something that happened to real people who lived lives incredibly similar to my own in places I recognise and can still visit to this day.
Not only was I surprised by the all-consuming nature of the war, I was also struck by the speed at which the events of the war took place having grown up in the era of 20-year long conflicts, the idea of a 10 week conflict beginning with the Argentine occupation and ending with their complete surrender taking place in such a short space of time is almost unbelievable particularly when you consider that they did not have the instant connectivity of the internet to maintain direct communications making the ability to rapidly mobilise even more Impressive. Maybe if I had experienced the war day-to-day it would not have felt like it took place with such rapidity but reading the articles weekly the pace of the war is almost light-speed, and this is highlighted most obviously in the language of the articles themselves initially describing it as the “Falklands Crisis” before it eventually began to be referred to as the “Falklands conflict” by the end of the war perhaps a minor change but one that certainly reflects the rapid changes of the war and attitudes towards it.
Although the articles do provide factual details about the conflict and when battles took place which can be useful, their real value is the ability they have to translate the war from a series of static dates into a very real, very emotional conflicts that involved real people whose story can get lost and forgotten when only looking at the large picture and that would truly be a tragedy as the war was not fought as a series of dates and events but by real people with real lives that the Gazette has thankfully preserved so that the reality of the cost and struggles of war are never forgotten.