War? It was every cliché you can think of, says Roger Goodwin.
“There was no warning. I just heard something going dacka-dacka-dacka. There was this frozen moment. We just looked at each other. I suddenly realised it was a machine gun going off. So I shouted ‘hit the deck!’ Just like something out of a John Wayne movie. Can you believe it? Hit the deck?”
Over a steak sandwich in a Wolverhampton wine bar, Goodwin roars with laughter at the madness of Bomb Alley. He was a Ministry of Defence press ‘minder’ in the Falklands War. Under fire for the first time, he hit the deck in the bowels of an ammunition ship in San Carlos Water. For 20 minutes as Argentinian warplanes strafed and bombed, he examined the carpet and analysed his feelings.
“I remember quite coldly thinking ‘how do I feel?’ I wasn’t scared. I was elated, excited and fatalistic. There was a heightening of all your sensations, an alertness, an astuteness. The sky was bluer, the colours sharper. There were a load of schoolboy emotions. I remember it going through my head like a piece of ticker-tape: ‘They don’t pay civil servants to do this’.”
At 39, Roger Goodwin was the Navy’s duty public-relations man in Whitehall on the “fairly quiet night” of April 1-2, 1982. Suddenly, “all hell broke loose” as news came in of the Argentinian invasion. Goodwin was sent south on HMS Invincible as minder to five Fleet Street reporters.
He frankly admits there were two wars, one against the Argentinians, the other against journalists who brought peacetime practices to the business of war reporting. Sharing an 18,000-ton warship with five news-hungry hacks and Prince Andrew was not an enviable experience. There were lighter moments, as when the Prince spoofed The Sun with a yarn about how he relaxed in force nine gales by playing pool on a gyro-stabilised table. No stranger to Fleet Street, Goodwin was shocked at the behaviour, and the naivete, of some of his charges, especially their belief that it would not come to a shooting war.
“I am no great political analyst but why couldn’t they see that here were two right-wing politicians who had painted themselves into a corner and, if either side blinked, their government would fall?”
A total of 252 British servicemen died in the Falklands War and 777 were wounded. Argentina lost 635 dead and more than 1,000 wounded. The heaviest losses on both sides happened at sea. There were 197 British deaths at sea. Argentine naval losses were 356, including 323 on the General Belgrano.
After the surrender on June 14, 1982, British forces took 12,978 Argentinians as prisoners. All were repatriated between June 18 and July 14. Three days after the surrender the Argentinian leader General Leopoldo Galtieri resigned. The military junta collapsed.
When victory came, Goodwin sent a telegram not to his wife, Wendy, but to his parents, “because mothers worry”. He said: “It was just a string of words, a jumble of emotions. Happy, elated, proud.”
Peter Rhodes' interviews on the Falklands War are featured in his book For a Shilling a Day, published by Bank House Books and on Amazon.