BBC Radio 2 – The People’s Songs, Shipbuilding
Original broadcast date: 4 September 2013
When Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands on the 2nd April 1982, few could have foreseen quite how this event would play out. Certainly not the Argentineans, who gambled on the fact that the Brits wouldn’t respond militarily. For them, a successful and swift campaign would be a welcome distraction from the country’s dire economic situation and would rally the nation’s flagging spirits. Unfortunately for the South Americans, Margaret Thatcher felt much the same way; a war could be a quick and simple way of uniting the country and boosting the industrial manufacturing base at a time of recession.
Though it occurred only 30 years ago, the conflict seems to have happened in an altogether different age. The BBC only found out about the invasion from some islanders, via amateur radio. But this conflict would last for 74 days, 649 Argentineans would die, as would 255 Brits. A British ship, HMS Sheffield was sunk, as was an Argentinean ship, The Belgrano, which was responsible for half of the total number of Argentinean casualties and which was sunk in debatable circumstances.
But beyond these sad and stark statistics, more existential matters arose. Firstly, as a nation how could we lay claim to islands that were thousands of miles from us? It also inspired some soul-searching as to what an empire meant and if it was worth the blood, sweat and tears to maintain it. It certainly provoked a reaction from some of the nation’s songwriters. You had The Pretenders’ “2000 miles”, New Model Army’s “Spirit Of The Falklands”, Billy Bragg’s “Island Of No Return” and probably the most famous example: a song written by Elvis Costello, but made famous by Robert Wyatt.
This is an interesting programme that will have you alternately nodding in agreement or gnashing your teeth in anger. There are some cracking insights from Roger Lane-Nott, commanding officer of HMS Splendid during the Falklands War.