The title of Rex Hunt’s own autobiography is, perhaps, a fitting title for this last seven months of my life; that thing I talk about which my friends and family refer to wryly as “The F-word” – Falklands – and which is met with that ‘here we go’ roll of the eyes. Well, when something takes up seven months of your life and you basically live the same day, April 2nd 1982 or ‘invasion day’ every day like Bill Murray and the Ground-Hog, it is bound to happen.
Still, it has been an unforgettable journey, and it looks like it will run and run until this time next year what with appearances, the Edinburgh Book Festival if we can squeeze in there, and who knows, we are even chatting to a few people about TV and film…just chatting right now, but we’ll see. I spoke to the boys of 8901 and said how sad I would be to move on and get back to Napoleon, Hannibal and lots of other stuff. The reply was; “You’re not leaving us! You’re one of us now!” – It seems I’ll get done for desertion! Of course, it isn’t just them. The Argentine friends I have made – the men who faced off against our own Royal Marines – are equally as important. I have a few invites to dinner in Argentina if ever I can get over there (and presuming they don’t want to lynch me) – and of course the wonderful Falkland Islanders to whom I am “Almost half-Chay” apparently. Only Rex Hunt got to be full-Chay. It’s a mighty compliment.
I’m still going through the manuscript of “The First Casualty” every day. I twiddle here, check there, polish this bit or that but it is basically done. On the whole I’m as pleased as one can be. It isn’t perfect…is anything? There is always more I can do, there are new things flooding in to me daily from supporters; reports, photographs, personal stories, diaries…I hope that when the book comes out, we might get more. Enough for a revised second edition which will hopefully answer some of the questions this leaves…not that there are too many. Of course, the whole thing is a question. The battle of Stanley (for a battle it definitely was) is nothing like we know, or think we know. What I do love are the battle maps. Lovingly hand-drawn by me and traced into graphics by the outstanding Mark in the graphics design team…not the usual one or two pictures you get but nine – yes NINE original maps showing the action down to a microscopic level. Wargarmers are going to love this! Of course, that’s one of the things I’m known for; punchy style, a clear ‘paper trail’ of evidence and the battle maps…always more battle maps! This is no exception.
I think what surprises me most about the battle of Stanley is just how this story has not been told before. Everyone knows but nobody prints or or writes it…I suppose nobody ever collected all of those stories before and presented them as they are. One thing is certain; there was a battle – a battle both the British and Argentine governments say didn’t happen – and the Argentine casualty counts are bogus. Officially they report 1 man killed and 3 wounded…in reality, well I can count where at least 95 men dropped. The final figure was at least 100 men killed and wounded. It could have been more. The British have their own secrets too, and reasons for keeping this all a secret. Curiously it seems that the ‘official’ story of April 2nd 1982 is about the only thing our respective governments have ever agreed on when it comes to the Falkland Islands! Of course, to have more casualties means more men…more than the ‘official’ story gives us…they were there too. I can account for some but not all. My gut feeling is that most of the men involved didn’t know about half of them. It was a battle within a battle and what was going on in the periphery of this battle is quite amazing.
In answer to a lot of questions and comments (not all pleasant) I should state that nothing in this is my own opinion. People used to reading my work know that already; I don’t do bias and where I give my opinion, you know it’s mine and mine alone. I don’t dress my opinion up as history.In order to do this properly, therefore, you have to go to the sources. To the men themselves. Luckily, with British, Argentine and Falkland Islanders all chipping in, I have a perfect 3D view of most of it with very few blind spots. Of course, you receive accounts and the you have to test them for validity. There’s memory lapses, time lapses, embellishment, Chinese-whispers…you really have to look at and challenge everything. Some people have, when discussing this, accused me of perhaps inventing the evidence to change a case to something almost surreal…well no. You have to write what is told to you (as Herodotus said) and though you shouldn’t automatically believe it, when the same thing keeps coming up from lots of different sources and angles and fits the story like a glove then it is bound to be true…or at least more accurate than we understand. So the opinions in this are from those who were there. As a diligent historian, I just make sense of them and see if they work. I’m satisfied that the story is how it happened.
You have to split this…the British reaction and the reaction of the people of the Falklands have been excellent. People are excited. When you uncover what was hidden from them, for the most part in their own lifetimes and which for many they always knew to be true, then this is bound to happen. In Argentina…well it’s split. Many (in particular veterans) are very keen to read it. Nobody is going to outright admit it as such…but then as I say, I question who, if anyone, even really knew? They have told me what they saw…most of it completely harmless until added to the rest of the story. Several Argentine veterans of that day are very ‘in the know’ on my research (more so even than the men of the Royal Marines) and are already huge fans. When it comes out…well that’s another thing. In Britain and in the Falklands (where it will be on sale too) I think the general reaction is going to be great. Of course, people hate ‘new history’ particularly on per subjects…look at poor old David Hamilton-Williams when he dared to diddle on the hallowed turf of Waterloo! You will always get that; a measure of cognitive dissonance, the inability to exchange one false belief for a new one. In Argentina this is going to be different. And yes we are working on a Spanish translation for sale in Argentina. Disbelief possibly? Rejection maybe? Well I’m prepared for that….here’s where your evidence and paper-trail has to be tip-top. If you can’t prove what you say then you’re in trouble. Luckily I can. So long as there are no mass book-burnings on street corners then I’m happy…actually it’s probably good publicity, so long as they buy them and then burn them, of course!
Well I’m in ‘publishing limbo’ right now, so I can’t do anything until she hits the print in February 2017. Luckily this is giving me time to spend with my wonderful dogs….long walks, a bit of exercise…when I’m not reading or writing I’m with my dogs. My best ideas have come in the park or along the river with them. I’ve still got a lot more to do. Interviews lined up, lots of pitching, press stuff, marketing…then the book launch, the 35th anniversary reunion of the Marines…lots to do still. Slowly, my head is turning back to other projects…this is my tenth book so far and more still to write. My book on Caesar needs the last few bits of graphics work done, my book on Hannibal needs completing, there’s a WW2 memoir I have been asked to edit into all that it can be, a little pet-project which is lurking but hasn’t come to anything yet (with what time?) – if I can get that lot out by the end of 2017 it will be a miracle, but it might happen.
However, something tells me that my Falkland Days are not even half way done yet…