These days, the only chance I get to do any serious reading is just before I go to bed! Usually, when I need to buy a new book, I sit and think about events in history that I know little or nothing about and then I search Amazon to find an appropriate read to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
Before Christmas I was scratching around trying to find a new subject when I saw something on T.V. about the Falkland Islands. Although I’d lived through the Falklands War, as a twenty-two year old political animal and, as a fervent anti-Thatcherite, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know anything at all about the war, apart from what I’d seen and read in the media at the time. For anyone living anywhere else in the world in the Spring of 1982, you cannot believe just how the media in this country swung around, from bashing Thatcher’s government and its policies, mainly because of the unprecedented levels of unemployment, to flying the flag and raising the ‘Iron Lady’ up to goddess status from the first moment that Argentinian soldiers set foot on ‘sovereign territory’! Newspaper headlines switched from the doom and gloom of unemployment to racist, war-mongering propaganda virtually overnight. As you can imagine, the diet we were fed was probably not one of un-biased, fair and balanced reporting.
With this in mind, I did my usual Amazon search and came across an account of the war written by Martin Middlebrook. Middlebrook is one of my absolute favourite authors and his histories of the major battles of the First World War are some of my all-time favourite reads. Middlebrook ‘s telling of events is done in his usual gripping and authoritative style and has the advantage of looking at events from well after the dust had settled. At times, both sides conducted affairs with such incompetence, that you can’t believe that either of them achieved anything at all. So many of the events that were reported in the nightly news at the time were the result of an extraordinary series of happenings that would seem preposterous if you had read them in a work of fiction. But then again, there were extraordinary feats of heroism, sacrifice and endurance, that enabled the British to overcome the Argentinian occupying forces, that you can’t but respect and admire those who took part. By the time I’d got to the end of the book, I had changed my view considerably and now believe that events were reported to us in an accurate and balanced way as it is possible to do under such conditions as prevailed at the time. I still believe that Margaret Thatcher was never going to allow the United Nations or the Americans to de-rail her plans to go to war with the Argentinians over the Falkland Islands, because she saw it as an opportunity to change the way our nation viewed her and was ultimately a turning point in her career, which ensured that she would secure her place in Downing Street at the next election.
If you are looking for an informed and authoritative account of the events leading to the Falklands War and the subsequent campaign to re-take them, then I would highly recommend Martin Middlebrook’s work. Furthermore, and this is the actual point of this post, having decided to read the book, I then found myself looking for something to read once I’d finished it. This time, rather than turn to Amazon, I knew exactly what I was going to read and that was a little book that has been sat on my bookshelf for a good many years.
My next read was Barrie Pitt’s account of the two naval battles that took place in the same part of the world nearly seventy years earlier, during the opening phase of the First World War. Again, the battles of Coronel and the Falklands are stories of immense human suffering and endurance which are lost in the vastness of that grim conflict, but they deserve to be known to a wider audience. Coronel was the Royal Navy’s first major naval encounter since Trafalgar and they were soundly defeated by a German admiral who commanded technologically superior war ships, crewed by men with greater skill and experience. Britain’s response to that defeat lead to an epic naval battle, where the tables were turned and the German East Asiatic Squadron was decimated by faster and more powerful ships. This little book is an enthralling read, brilliantly written and painstakingly researched. If you can get your hands on a copy, then I would definitely recommend that you do. Was the completion of this little masterpiece followed by a trip to Amazon? No! It was back to the bookshelf for my current bedtime reading, with another volume that has been sitting patiently since it was last read… Jutland by V.E. Tarrant! Another brilliantly scholarly work on one of my favourite subjects. I wonder where the trail will lead after this…