I’m proud to be from the Falklands – and proud to be British
As Argentina cranks up the pressure over the Falklands, the Daily Mirror’s Rob Burnett – a proud islander – explains what rule Britannia means to the inhabitants
Tensions were further ratcheted up by the deployment of Prince William on a six-week tour of duty as a helicopter rescue pilot to the Islands, with Argentine officials declaring he had arrived in the “uniform of a conqueror”.
I know what it’s like to live under a cloud of constant intimidation from neighbours 300 miles away who have never dropped their claim to “Las Malvinas”.
My parents first moved to the Falklands in 1976, when my dad became book-keeper and storekeeper on a sheep farm on West Falkland called Port Howard. Population: 35.
My mum worked as the farm’s teacher and for the next five years they lived there with no telephone or television… but all the mutton they could eat.
After 10 years back in the UK, they returned to the Islands in 1991 with my younger brother Matthew and I now in tow. I immediately took to the way of life.
At that time we relied on a peat stove for all our cooking, heating and hot water, and my job was bringing the peat in from the shed. My brother fed our hens, while Dad kept a vegetable garden.
I went back to visit over Christmas, after nearly five years away.
One of my best friends is Nick Rendell, 29, who now works for the Falkland Islands Government as its Environmental Officer.
Nick says the Islanders greatly appreciate the support shown by Britain, particularly David Cameron’s reassurances in the Commons last month when he told MPs: “As long as they want to remain part of the UK and be British, they should be able to do so.”
Nick says: “It’s very reassuring to have that from the very top of the British Government. It makes people feel a lot more secure.”
Nick studied at Sheffield University before returning to the Islands. “I love the community spirit here,” he says. “We all pitch in helping out on farms at busy times. Having been away studying overseas you really do understand how lucky you are to live in the Falklands.”
Dan Fowler, who survived his house being shelled in 1982, when he was just weeks old, is another close friend. He works as a conservationist in the Islands after studying at Edinburgh University.
“There’s nowhere else I would want to live,” he says. “From the sense of freedom to the amazing nature on your doorstep… it’s just a great life. As 12-year-olds we were going off on our bikes for a day at the beach, or going fishing, and our parents had no worries about us being out on our own all day. The freedom was amazing.”
Nick and Dan reflect the large number of young Islanders who, having been educated abroad, return to make their lives – and insist that their beloved home remains British.
And like the rest of the Islanders, their determination to stay British has nothing to do with the potential for a massive cash windfall from oil reserves beneath the South Atlantic waters that lap the coast.
While the economies of European countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy have been collapsing, the Falklands is a vibrant, prosperous and small democratic nation with full employment, massively improved infrastructure and a rising population – up to nearly 3,000 from less than 2,000 in 1982.
Around 85% of them live in Stanley, which has a dozen or so pubs, bars and restaurants – with the rest spread across an area about half the size of Wales.
The Islands are financially self-sufficient, except for defence costs, and entirely self-governing. They have a future that looks bright, apart from the dark cloud of Argentine aggression hanging over the population.
Banning Falklands ships from South American ports is branded as “economic warfare” by one of the Islands’ eight elected leaders, Mike Summers. The Argentine government has also threatened to stop the crucial weekly flights to Chile, has banned charter flights, and Argentine ships have harassed Falklands fishing vessels.
It is all designed to make life increasingly difficult for Islanders and to try to force the UK to negotiate sovereignty. But local politician Jan Cheek says the residents will not be bullied. “We will not bow to Argentina in their attempts to undermine our home and our way of life,” she vows.
But how far will Argentina push the situation and could it really lead to another military conflict?
A major deterrent to a second Argentine invasion is how much better the Islands are defended now, compared to 1982. Then, there was a tiny detachment of around 60 Royal Marines, overwhelmingly outnumbered by the invading Argentine forces.
Now there is a permanent RAF base with some 1,500 troops and four Typhoon jet fighters, a Royal Navy frigate and, from time to time, a nuclear submarine. Dan insists it is vital these defences are maintained.
“The presence of the military is comforting,” he says. “And the fact our situation has been discussed in the National Security Council tells me they are taking our defence seriously.”
Dan and Nick are both members of the volunteer Falkland Islands Defence Force. “I did feel a sense of duty to join,” says Dan. “I don’t think there’ll be an invasion but it’s good to know we are well trained and capable of playing a meaningful role if it came to it.”
He is unequivocal in the Islanders right to continue their way of life. “We’re so sure of our right to be here and be British,” he says. “And we are determined not to be bullied by Argentina.”