As the second of my two-part interview series for my new book “The First Casualty – The untold story of the Falklands War” today I interview Jim Fairfield – a major contributor to the book, a great friend and someone who holds a prominent position both as a Royal Marine and Falkland Islander.
On April 1st 1982 Jim – a Marine of the old Falklands 8901 detachment who had married a Falklands girl, left the corps and settled in Stanley as a civilian – was baking bread at home in his kitchen when news of the impending invasion came through. Immediately he pulled out his old uniform and green beret and went to re-enlist for the night to defend his home, his family and his mates. After the war, Jim was awarded as a civilian the British Empire Medal for his actions…he remains the only man of the Royal Marines defending Stanley to receive any decoration for the gallant and epic last stand action.
Here I talk to Jim to ask in more depth than the book allowed what his thoughts were, what they are now, and about his experiences:
Jim, you ‘reinlisted’ in the Royal Marines on the night of April 1st just before the invasion. Looking back now, did you see it as a choice at the time? Why did you go and would you do it all over again if you had to?
Choice? There was no choice, once you have your green beret you join a brotherhood for life, I was not going to sit back while my brother Marines took on half of Argentina that’s for sure. I also considered it the best way of looking after my wife and children as well as my many “kelper” friends. At least this way I was in as much control of the situation as possible, this was defo a situation that Mr 7.62 could help out with! Would I do it again? Damn right I would, in half a heartbeat, freedom and the Marines are not to be messed with by anyone. (Just read that back and how gung-ho does that make me sound, it’s not me but over the years my opinion has hardened rather than softened)
How does it feel to have your home invaded? Most people simply can’t understand that and will never have to. Were you angry or just ‘thinking like a Marine’ at that time that it came?
Anger was certainly in there but totally under control, when the shit hits there’s no room for anything but to win the fight and survive, so the Marine head was on and the throttle set to full. How bloody dare they! So this huge country full of riches wants to rock up on this small harmless and peaceful set of islands and take over! How very “big bully boy” of them.
Many people in Argentina particularly, but also in the UK and around the world don’t know that this wasn’t just the defence of some flag or colonial outpost, but that the Royal Marines had friends, families, even children in the Falkland Islands whom they were defending. Do you think this is something which should be understood more widely?
You have to remember NP8901 spent a year at a time in the islands, a year is a long time and close friendships where made with a group of people we (Marines) admired, and more in some cases! We weren’t defending a flag so much as people who wanted to stay under that flag, people who took us into their homes and hearts, that’s got to be worth fighting for. Do I think this should be understood more widely? Of course I do but doubt the people of Argentina will understand until their history is changed.
And did having friends and families amongst you all make doing your jobs harder, or easier, do you think?
Tricky one this, but on the whole I think easier is the right answer, while I might have wanted desperately to be with my family it was a no-brainer that I should join my other family who had the expertise, heart, and determination that this situation needed.
What was it like living under the occupation? How did it feel? I guess it is something most people in most countries simply couldn’t imagine
The “occupation” period was one of great contrasts, you couldn’t move around town for sorry looking Argentine troops nervously fiddling with their weapons and then you saw how the islanders were looking after each other and doing the best they could given the predicament we were all in. Many islanders moved out to the “camp” but just as many stayed in town, until a travel ban and curfew where enforced, for many it was a game of cat and mouse, up in the morning for a walk around town, spotting whatever you could see, troop positions, weapons, etc, passing this intel to anyone you met and vise versa so everyone had up to date info, everyone carried a pair of pliers for cutting phone cables or anything else for that matter. Defiance was on everyone’s mind, “what can I do today to make their life hard?” – One thing that really hardened our resolve was that so many homes were broken into, mine included, the homes were trashed, anything of value was stolen or destroyed and then they would urinate and defecate over everything. During it all there was a resolve that Britain would send the troops in and we as a civilian population would be here to help and cheers them on. There were many dark days once the war started and many Kelpers joined and or assisted our troops. We all wanted our Freedom back.
As a civilian you received the British Empire Medal for your services on April 2nd didn’t you? Yet the other Royal Marines, despite a number of citations, received nothing. How did / does this make you feel?
I was certainly not expecting anything, the point is we (NP8901) ultimately failed in our aim, we let the locals down irrespective of the circumstances, I think everyone who took part in the action felt shame to some degree or another. Even though many Kelpers had personally thanked me for my efforts it still didn’t sit right. I recall saying to Rex Hunt when he was awarding the gong “I hope the lads are getting one of these” Rex said rather quietly “they bloody should do” I got the message. Of course I am very proud of the award and wear it whenever I can, I wear it because the people of the Falkland Islands thought I deserved it and for the rest of the crew that I fought alongside, I still get that lump in my throat all these years later. We fought a bloody good action and never ever received our countries thanks, while the Kelpers just keep giving year after year, makes you think something funny was going on in our halls of power!!
We hear the word ‘Freedom’ used a lot in today’s world. Do you think you took it for granted before the occupation and liberation? Is it ‘just a word’ to many people? What does it mean to you now that perhaps it didn’t mean before?
Like our fathers before us Freedom has to be real and is worth fighting for, as a Royal Marine Freedom has never been just a word for me, it’s a way of life, I believe that now more than ever before and would fight for it every time.
Some people still wonder if the Falklands were ‘worth it’ – to send a task force 8,000 miles to fight for less than 2,000 people. What would you say to them?
Of course it was bloody worth it; to have done nothing would have opened the doors to all kinds of aggression from bully boy dictatorships. Every soldier signs up knowing they might meet their maker sooner than those he is defending, it’s the price we are all willing to pay and always worth it.
Many of the Marines who fought for the Falklands that day feel that there has been a great injustice – even a ‘cover up’ or conspiracy. What do you think about that?
I, like many, find it inconceivable that the British Government were caught with their pants down on this invasion, I still believe our government either “managed” the invasion in some way or at least turned a blind eye for just long enough to get the votes they needed at the UN. We NP8901 were the pawns, the defence tripwire, and expendable even and I can understand that, but to then make us just fade away is the real crime. I’ve said it before and ill say it again we fought a bloody good action on April 2nd 1982 and we know it!
You have been really helpful – as have all of the guys – in providing your own thoughts and recollections for my new book “The First Casualty” about the invasion of the Falklands and your part in it. Why do you think this is an important story to tell? Why is it important to you?
OUR story has never been told, the world thinks we were a “token defence” we were far more than that and that’s what I want to see, the truth and nothing but the truth from the horse’s mouth not its backside, justice and recognition for all those who put their lives on the line. Not a lot to ask for, is it?
Author’s Note: “The First Casualty – The untold story of the Falklands War” will be available from Navy Books and from all good bookstores from November 2016. For more updates please feel free to ‘Like’ my professional Facebook page ‘Ricky D Phillips – Military History Author’ where information about the book, release date, advanced copies, launch and book signings will be forthcoming.