Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On this day in 1982

Well, really, there wasn't one. 1982 was not a leap year. So, in 1982, looking back at the events of the last Saturday and Sunday of that February, it was actually Monday, March 1st.

On the preceding evening Margaret Thatcher stood outside number 10 Downing Street and waxed poetic about how, "We handled it superbly." That would be a "royal" we. She was referring to the outcome of a hijacked aircraft sitting in the middle of Stansted airport which saw passengers and crew released and the hijackers taken into custody after a relatively long set of negotiations. The aircraft was never stormed by the waiting SAS unit and Thatcher, while she gave credit to the police, couldn't resist giving her Home Secretary a nice firm stroking.
First it was handled right by the police in the field and then by Willie Whitelaw at the centre.
... were her words. She had been at the Royal College of Music that night and Willie Whitelaw to whom she referred had become notorious for his largely ineffectual "law and order" agenda which, along with a prison-building effort, included a regurgitation of the 1824 Sus Law which allowed police to stop, search and arrest anyone they thought suspicious for any reason.

The 28th of February 1982 had seen some activity in New York. The Puerto Rican nationalist group Fuerzas Armadas de LiberaciĆ³n Nacional bombed Wall Street. Not that such bothered anyone in the UK much. Since Thatcher had gone all crunchy on Northern Ireland bombings by the IRA Provos had become epidemic in England. 

The other thing that had happened in New York over the weekend was a meeting between British and Argentinian representatives in an effort to sort out the differences that existed over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Thatcher had something to say about them too. Productive and cordial was her description. We were all well aware that the Argentinians didn't see it that way. 

Heading into March we were aware of other things. HMS Invincible, one of three anti-submarine warfare aircraft carriers, was about to be sold to the Australians. And we had just heard that the Antarctic patrol ship, HMS Endurance, was to be permanently withdrawn from the south Atlantic at the end of her deployment. 

Thatcher, now profoundly unpopular in Britain, had embarked on a "thinning" of the armed services which were to add redundant service personnel to the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed. In fact, she was about to rip the guts out of the British forces in being despite her continuing rhetoric demanding that Britain be viewed as a world military power. 

What we now know, thanks to the expiry of the 30 year rule prohibiting publishing internal British government documents, is that Thatcher was intent on dismantling the Royal Navy and was locked in a heated fight with then-First Sea Lord, Sir Henry Leach. If you were there at the time you had a fairly good understanding that things were not well between the RN and Thatcher, but Leach, in keeping with solid RN tradition, uttered not a word outside his office. 

Not so a young colour sergeant who was having a heated exchange with an armourer back in garrision. The week before had seen him and his men spending more time clearing stoppages on weapons than putting ordnance on targets. He was complaining that if he had to use them to actually fight, a lot of people other than the enemy would be getting killed. 

The armourer was sympathetic but tried to quell the NCO's fears by suggesting that nobody was going to war anytime soon. He would take a look at the weapons. 

The NCO replied with, "You know, mate, with Mugsy (Thatcher) on her belly the way she is, the only way out for her is to get us into a shooting match. It wouldn't surprise me if I'm somewhere in the Middle East aiming at Arabs by the start of Summer."

He had the enemy and the location wrong. 

1 comment:

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