Tommy and the Road to Stanley: A Bedtime Story of the Falklands Conflict

By Dan Kim

Author’s note: This is the second in a series of conflicts adapted into a children’s bedtime story, aided and abetted by both Angry Staff Officer and Toby Dickinson.  Toby, I can’t thank you enough.  I apologise in advance to any member of two particular regiments who may take offence to my portrayal; with that said, however – come on, it’s a kid’s story, get over yourselves.  And if you think this Yank leans Tory or Labour – guess again.

Maggie, of number ten, Downing Street, was proud to say she was a perfectly normal Prime Minister, thank you.  One would have thought she’d be the last person to project British power halfway around the world to protect the Empire; one would be very, very, mistaken.

One would be wrong, one would, and one would suffer for one’s errors (ABC)

Maggie had been so distracted by domestic issues that Leopoldo, who lived far away in Buenos Aires, took advantage to take over islands so remote that they had two names, the Falklands and the Malvinas.  Maggie became very animated, and sacked Lord Carrington for not foreseeing the invasion.  She was severely tempted to sack Sir John as well, but needed him in charge of the Ministry of Defence until the crisis passed.  Government gnomes at Whitehall whispered that Maggie was never happy unless she’d pasted at least one unsuspecting bureaucrat each weekday before tea.

Within hours, Maggie saw news broadcasts of chuffed Argentines posing with Royal Marines who’d been captured on the Falklands and South Georgia.  More reports showed what looked like Leopoldo’s entire fleet in Ajax Bay.  She wanted to honk, then get back at the impudent outlaws who would commit such a dastardly act.  She could just imagine them at Government House in Stanley, taking the piss out of Her Majesty’s government while gleefully emptying Her Majesty’s liquor cabinets.  She’d show them, just like she’d shown those unemployed tossers in Brixton and Toxteth last year.  This lady wasn’t for turning.

“Prime Minister?”  It was an admiral named Sir Terence, who had so much gold braid and colorful ribbons on his uniform that his shoulders drooped.  If anyone knew how to get ships into a fight, people said, it was he – though how much of this he remembered from hunting U-boats 40 years before was anyone’s guess.

“Yes, Terry?”  Maggie had just sacked an underachieving underling and thus was in a grand mood.

“We have a problem, ma’am,” Sir Terence said meekly.  With one hand on her forehead to forestall the oncoming migraine, she waved for Sir Terence to continue.  “Your economic policies, and Jimmy’s before you, have laid waste to the milit’ry.  Even if we wanted to go after Leopoldo’s brigands, we’ve scant little with which to do this.”

Maggie grew more vexed by the second.  “We are the British Empire, for crying out loud!  Surely we have something we can bludgeon them with.”

Sir Terence scratched at his service cap’s gold-crusted brim to settle his nerves.  “Right.  We have two aircraft carriers, but not enough escort ships or transports.  The enemy’s anti-ship missiles outrange ours, we will have no airborne early warning capability, and not enough anti-submarine assets.  We need to nationalise up to a hundred merchant vessels, and activate the entire Royal Fleet Auxiliary to make up the shortfall.  Our Harriers will be outnumbered three to one, not to mention outgunned by faster Argentine fighters.  We have no idea of the enemy force garrisoning South Georgia Island, but hope we can at least tie them up with a small force of SAS and Royal Marine commandos.  As for actually invading two rocky specks on the arse end of the earth?”  Sir Terence shrugged helplessly.

“Splendid,” Maggie said, sounding like a girl whose parents just told her that Father Christmas received her letter.  “Make it so.”  With a solemn bow, Sir Terence left for Northwood to fire off the requisite cables.

And so, like Dunkirk in reverse, the fleet departed Gibraltar and Southampton and began their 8,000-mile tramp southward.  They were a mixed lot: aircraft carriers, frigates, fleet oilers, converted luxury liners and cargo ships, all heading south to teach Leopoldo a lesson like a rolled up Daily Mirror on a misbehaving dog’s snout.  The admirals commanding the fleet, Sir John and Sir Sandy, did their best Johnnie Walker impersonation and sank an Argentine cruiser that ventured too close to Maggie’s exclusion zone, a 200-mile-wide circle around the Falklands she had been thrilled to draw on a map.  Maggie so loved the maps the Sirs produced for her War Cabinet meetings.  For good measure, the Royal Air Force bombed Stanley Airfield with Avro Vulcans, ungainly beasts with big wings and big engines, but not enough bombs at that range to do enough damage.

What a pretty boat, er, ship. The QE2 carried troops to the Falklands, what fun!

Six weeks after sailing from cloudy but warm England to the sunny but bollock-shrinking cold South Atlantic, Maggie and the Sirs planted a miniature Union Jack on the map at San Carlos Water.  Maggie’s spokesman frantically called top editors on Fleet Street, demanding to know why their coverage wasn’t as blatantly jingoistic as in 1944.  Why couldn’t they be more like The Sun, with references to “our lads,” rather than “British troops,” with helpful headlines like “Stick It Up Your Junta?”  What no one in the War Cabinet had expected, but should have, was that Leopoldo’s soldiers and airmen would be tenacious fighters.  His pilots, forewarned about the Royal Air Force’s and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s lack of airborne early warning, continued their nightly bombing runs on Her Majesty’s forces for two weeks.

Tommy the British infantry soldier, probably from some anonymous lane under the shadow of a smog producing factory in Manchester, christened the place “Bomb Alley” because of the constant raids.  It was not a very hospitable place.  Another Tommy, this one a Para from the East End who couldn’t understand what the bloody hell the Manchester Tommy was saying, said “sod the bombing” and trekked southward to Goose Green.  Goose Green had no geese, scant little greenery – and worst for the Paras, no glorious parachute jumping like Otway at Merville.

Despite the fierce winter winds, horizontal rain, cold rations, lukewarm tea, a marked lack of intoxicating spirits, and a shortage of dry fags, Manchester Tommy and Para East Ender Tommy pressed on from Goose Green.  Leopoldo could bomb all he wanted, but when he sank Atlantic Conveyer along with her stores of the aforementioned tea and fags, Tommy was quite cross.  Tommy could tab for days on end without food, but not without regular breaks for a brew and a smoke.  It was, he said, the only civilised way to wage war, and fully expected Leopoldo to honour those tea and smoke breaks.  A crusty old Royal Marine named Jeremy took command of the land forces, after leading the mad motley assortment of Commando units here in the arsehole of the world.  If anyone knew how to dislodge ne’er do wells from difficult terrain, it was the man who’d put the boot into Malayans, Cypriot guerrillas, Bornean insurgents, and Fenians for over thirty years.

Tommy loved ‘is tea, ‘e did.

Jeremy’s Tommies and Commandos tabbed, yomped, or rolled eastward like a grubby camouflaged tsunami.  First, they took the mountaintop outposts surrounding Stanley and its vital airfield.  Top Malo was muy malo.  Then Two Sisters Ridge, so named because from the south the hills looked like a pair of flabby baps trying but failing to reach into the gray sky.  Mounts Longdon and Kent, craggy redoubts from Tolkien’s most vivid nightmare, fell after thoroughly confusing night attacks that looked like five teams competing simultaneously on one dark football pitch.  Meanwhile, the Sirs’ attempt to re-enact a miniature version Sword Beach at Bluff Cove turned tragic.  “Get your finger out” became the unofficial motto of the battle fleet.

The Scots Guards, along with the Blues and Royals, contributed to the final attack on Stanley, primarily because certain high-profile regiments needed another Battle Honour on their colours.  Mount Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge, the last two defensive positions west of Stanley, were the last to fall.  First Wireless Ridge, to cavalrymen sorely put out for being ordered to leave their polished curaisses and helmets at home; then Mount Tumbledown, atop which there were, sadly, no pipers and/or kilts for the Scots.

Back at Government House in Stanley, Mario knew the game was up.  He’d long since drunk the last of Her Majesty’s liquor, and now faced two thousand thirsty Tommies on the high ground west of him, with another three thousand offshore.  He knew he’d lost, not because anyone had had to tell him; not because Leopoldo had broken every grandiose promise of supplies and reinforcements from the mainland; not because Her Majesty’s Tommies were fighting their way to a proper pint in Stanley’s only passable pub.  No, Mario knew he’d lost because he saw Maggie’s face on every seditious Englishman’s mantle, heard her words of encouragement broadcast to the Malvinas English from half a world away like a warbly voiced headmistress.

Jeremy accepted Mario’s surrender, and promptly transmitted a message to Maggie of No. 10, Downing Street.  Ronnie, of No. 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue, sent his congratulations.  As did Jacques, of No. 55, Rue de Faubourg St. Honoré.  The petit guerre down south so boosted Maggie’s popularity that she soundly trounced all of the usurpers from Labour the following year.  Michael, of the fabulously leonine hair and fabulously outsized ambition, replaced Sir John at MoD.  Three knobbers we would hear more of in later years – Tony of Sedgefield, Jeremy of Islington, and Gordon of Kirkcaldy – were first elected at this time.

Back at Downing Street, however, Maggie had no time for three nobodies from the opposition party who still needed directions to the House.  She ordered Denis to bring her a cup of tea, and settled into a comfortable chair to await the arrival of a bureaucrat who needed to be sacked.

The End

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About the Author: Dan Kim is a former infantryman who did all sorts of stuff in the pre-9/11 Army that you won’t read about in books. He can be found on Twitter at @DanielMKim and writing at Appa for Two.

About the Editor: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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