View Full Version : Briton tells of fight for Argentinian side

04-01-2007, 06:31 AM

Alan Craig, (R), with two friends during his two years of military service

Alan Craig vividly remembers the morning of April 2, 1982.

He had just started at university and was drinking a coffee in a café when there was a newsflash: Argentina had invaded the Falklands. "Straight away, I knew I'd be called up," he recalled.

A few days later the order came. But the café where Mr Craig was sitting was in Buenos Aires and the barracks to which he reported belonged to the Argentine military.

The Falklands veteran has strong memories of his call-up to fight against a military force from "home".

"I didn't want to go," he said. "But my father told me to do my duty. He said: 'We've never had a deserter in this family, and it's not going to happen now'.

"My mother felt rather differently, she felt as any mother must feel when her son goes to war. They fought like hell. I found out later it almost destroyed their marriage."

Mr Craig, 44, is one of an estimated 100,000 Argentines of British origin still living in Argentina. Apart from his Scottish name, he speaks word-perfect English, as well as Spanish, he loves "rugger" and shepherd's pie and his father and grandfather won decorations for service with the British armed forces in both world wars.

A coffee table in his flat in the Argentine capital is fashioned from an old drumskin from the Grenadier Guards, the regiment Mr Craig's grandfather served with during the First World War.

Perhaps most significant is his liberal use of Argentina's forbidden F-word: Falklands. In Argentina it is not used. They are instead nuestras Malvinas - our Malvinas.

Argentines regard it almost as a badge of honour to disagree on most things, but one thing is sure to unite them: a belief in their rightful claim to the Malvinas, seized by British pirates in 1833.

(Actually the Royal Navy, after the US Navy destroyed the Argentine settlements as revenge for the Argentines seizing sealing ships, and a few mutinies to boot.1000ydstare)

But Mr Craig, who lives with his wife Veronica, son Brian, 18, and daughter Samantha, 16, in a flat on the south side of Buenos Aires, was always going to be a bit different.

His grandparents emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland, in 1923. A decorated veteran of the First World War, his grandfather David wanted to leave post-war Europe.

After finishing school in 1980, Alan went on a rugby tour of Britain.

On his return in 1981 he was called up for military service. It was here that Mr Craig met Adrian Gomez-Csher, the man who would become his best friend.

"We remained firm friends throughout military service. We helped each other through it."

Little did they know that one month after their military service ended, they would be conscripted to fight in the Malvinas, where, sharing the same foxhole, they would help each other through the most terrifying experience of their lives.

As the south Atlantic winter approached along with the task force, Mr Craig was to discover how his grandfather must have felt in his First World War trench.

"We were cold, wet and hungry. Our clothes were completely inadequate for the conditions, we didn't even have an anorak at first. I had three pairs of socks which I wore all at once. Cold and miserable, and waiting: waiting for the British to come. In the first few days, I used to get into terrible fights because I said the British would come. I was sure of it.

"I knew the British, and they wouldn't let this happen without a fight." He was right. The British came nine weeks later.

Mr Craig's 7th Infantry Regiment, dug in on Mount Longdon, suffered more casualties than any other in the Argentine Army: 36 men were killed, most in a vain defence of Longdon and then Wireless Ridge against crack troops of the Parachute Regiment. Mr Craig doesn't talk of bravery, or glory: just confusion and fear.

"The British started shelling at night. You could see the tracers lighting up the sky. The Argentine artillery were bombing the British but they were falling short and hitting us. We fought overnight and then at daylight there was a pause in the fighting. We looked around us, and most of the officers had gone.

"Then the fighting began again. It was fight or run, sometimes we couldn't run so the only option was to fight. We would fight, then retreat. Fight again, retreat, working our back to Stanley, until we ran out of ammo."

A few hours later, before the British troops arrived at Stanley, the Argentine commander-in-chief, Brig Mario Menendez, agreed to surrender, ignoring Gen Galtieri's orders to fight to the death.

For many Argentine soldiers, their return to civilian society was more traumatic than the war. More Malvinas veterans, some 370, have committed suicide since June 1982 than died in the whole of the land campaign.

Mr Craig had always considered himself one of the lucky ones. "I went back to my family and thank God my father helped a hell of a lot.

"He knew what I'd been through. He went to war when he was 18 or 19 like me, but he was at war for years: how could I complain about a few weeks in the islands? I thought I could cope with everything and then last year a bomb went off in my life."

Like many war veterans, for Mr Craig, the impact of the experience was just lying dormant. Early last year he found himself jobless, and increasingly depressed. Then he had a breakdown. He spent six months talking to a psychiatrist about the war, telling her things he'd never even shared with his wife.

"I realised I had just been keeping it all bottled up. I thought I was being strong, not needing to talk about it, but I was fooling myself."

With that in mind, Mr Craig is returning to the Falklands for the first time in June.

"I remember my Dad took me back to the UK in 1977 or '78. We went to every aerodrome where he flew from: you could see he was closing a story many years after.

"In 1982 I went against my history, it was very hard. When I go back I finish closing up my story."

I beleive at the time, the Argentine National Service was for one year. Technically starting in January, and finishing 12 months later. It didn't work out that way, with conscripts still arriving as late as February and even March.

I was under the impression, that the previous years intake (who would have been fully trained) were not kept and were realeased of duty, much to the dismay of the Argentine Army commanders. It appears that some were obviously recalled.

Many of the conscripts who were on the Falklands would have been only a few months in to training. To compare, it takes 24 weeks (6 months) for the British army to take a civilian and turn them in to a basic Infantryman, this process continues for a further 12 months or so, before the lad is classed as fully trained.

Parachute Regiment training is a further 4 weeks and then further Parachute training and the Commando Course (civie to Commando) takes 32 weeks.

Many Argentine Conscripts were unable/untrained to operate the support weapons on the Islands (which may have been why people such as Mr Craig were recalled).

On return, none of the Conscripts were looked after properly. Whilst profesional, regular soldiers received physical and mental health care, with appropriate pensions and pay, the Conscripts were discarded.

Falklands veteran Luis Alberto Lopresti, who committed suicide in
1999, wrote in his farewell note: "I want to return with my comrades.
I do not want to be a nuisance to my family or to society."

Former conscript and veteran leader Roberto Piccardi has said "just as Argentina was not prepared to go to war against Britain, it was also not prepared for the return of thousands of young, traumatized veterans".

It seems the Argentine junta took a huge gamble in 1982, and Argentinians are still suffering because of it. The military plan was conceived with the idea that the recuperation of the islands would force a negotiation, and not a
military answer on the part of Great Britain.

The head of the junta General leonardo galtieri was found guilty for the mis-planning of the Falklands war, and sentenced by a military court to 12 years in jail.

It took 11 years for campaigners to get even negliable support (mental, health and financial) for the Conscripted Veterans of this fools gambit.