Forty years since the Falklands, I can remember having a loaded gun to my head like yesterday | The Sun

FRED CLARK is still haunted by the moment an Argentinian officer held a loaded pistol to his temple and threatened to blow his head off.

Fred’s crime? Walking on the pavement in Port Stanley after the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands 40 years ago.



Brutal Major Patricio Dowling, an Argentinian of Irish descent, snarled: “The pavement is for officers. The rest of you walk in the gutter.”

Fighting back tears, the tough 79-year-old, who was a policeman on the islands at the time, said: “He hated the British and made life hell for an awful lot of people. 

“He was the equivalent of Germany’s Gestapo in Port Stanley. Little things, like being caught out after curfew, he would lie you in the gutter, belly down, overnight as punishment.

“I once asked if the British were coming and Dowling told me, ‘If they are, I will kill you before I leave’.

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“A black 99mm pistol was put to my head — and they treated their own just as bad.

“I saw two Argentine military police throw a conscript down a flight of stairs, carry him up and throw him down three times just for fun.”

Now retired, Fred is telling his incredible story for the first time ahead of Tuesday’s national commemoration to mark the 40th anniversary of British forces liberating the Falklands. 

On the day troops loyal to Argentina’s military dictatorship overran the British-run islands in the South Atlantic in 1982, Fred and two other Special Constables were locked in their own cells.

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Fred says: “This Argentine corporal came in, speaking fluent Texan, chewing gum, and said to me, ‘You guys don’t have guns?’ 

“I took my night stick out and put it on the table. He marched us down to the four cells which were normally used for drunks. After a couple of hours two senior officers came in to interrogate us.

“I was s****ing bricks. Nobody knows where you are, anything could have happened. You don’t know what these buggers are going to do. I was saying my prayers.”

Fred feared he was in for a beating. Then suddenly the men were told to go home. They were under house arrest.

He later found out that when the Argentinians who were sleeping in tents discovered the lock-up had central heating they threw the police out and moved in them- selves.

Along with special constables Terry Peck and Jeremy Baylis, Fred was photographed leaving the police station after being put under curfew, where he was only allowed out from 9am to 1pm.

But being outside allowed the officers to set up a resistance movement, helping the locals to sabotage the invading forces’ equipment and to aid the British take back the islands. 

Argentinian soldiers put a gun to my head and locked me in our own police cell. At least we had heating… they were freezing outside in tents

Fred, now living in Bromyard, Herefordshire, remembers: “In the early days, if you wanted to go out shopping you had to pin a white handkerchief to your chest to indicate that you were subjugated to them, and they would let you through.

“We didn’t have many telephones so if you wanted to contact anybody on the farms or to get messages to the British, you used small radios. We carried them around Stanley in plastic bags. You’d go to the supermarket checkout, leave your bag there and the guy behind you picked it up and walked out with it, and took it to his house for 24 hours.

“I almost got caught using a metal tube as an aerial out of a window when an Argentine patrol came by. We had to disappear rather quickly. 

“I was told by the British on our clandestine radio that on no account were we to use violence against the Argentinians, to avoid reprisals. 

“We did what we called a Gandhi — peaceful resistance — by pinching street names and misdirecting vehicles. But mainly we were concerned at finding brick houses which were pretty substantial against bullets, so in the event of a street fight we could put people in there. 

“People who had brick and stone houses would put a symbol on their doors, so if there was an attack you could dive in a doorway. That was set up by the Resistance.”

Fred’s colleague Terry Peck — radio call sign Rubber Duck — slipped out of Stanley and trekked over the mountains to eventually join up with the British forces who had landed 50 miles away at San Carlos water.

Terry became a tracker and spotter, leading 2,000 British soldiers back to Port Stanley.

Originally from Sunderland, Fred served three years in the Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, then spent nearly 20 years working all over the world as an engineer and in security.

In 1980 he was working for the Shah of Iran when the Islamic Ayatollahs took control of the country and he was forced to flee.

A friend invited him for a holiday in the Falkland Islands, 8,000 miles from the UK, and he stayed 30 years.

Fred says: “I nipped down to Uruguay, where somebody offered a lift on a plane which flew mail to the Falklands. Two years later that same pilot was flying bombers for the Argies and bombed me.”

The islands’ chief of police, Ronnie Lamb, offered him a job as a £12-a-week Special Constable. 

He stayed, working as an engineer on a coastal ship and as a part-time reserve bobby on his weeks ashore.

On April 1, 1982, Fred was on leave when his landlady, Mary Goodwin, received a phone call ordering her lodger to report to the station, where Ronnie Lamb told his officers that the islands were about to be invaded by Argentina.

At 5.30am the next day, 2,000 Argentine troops stormed ashore.

‘It was 72 hours of non-stop bombardment’

Fred says: “We saw three armoured personnel carriers coming over the beaches, taking out the airport then trundling the mile into town. Then the serious firing started and we had street fighting for about two hours.”

At Stanley, 70 Royal Marines were out-numbered and out-gunned. Ordered to surrender, the Marines of Naval Party 8901 were shipped to Uruguay, along with Ronnie.

Even when our Task Force landed at San Carlos, Fred had his doubts that the islands could be retaken.

 He says: “Two thousand British troops with just what they carried had to go a mile and a half across open ground to take the mountains above Stanley where Argentine troops had been holed up for six weeks.

“Would you walk across that field? And the Argentinians complained that we cheated because we attacked at night.

“In Stanley, we watched the fire fights day and night. Para flares lit up the landscape, everywhere you looked was tracer (pyrotechnic bullets fired to locate targets in the dark). It was 76 hours of non-stop bombardment.” Tragically, Fred’s landlady Mary was killed along with a school teacher and a local girl when a Royal Navy shell hit their home near the racecourse. 

They were the only civilians to die during the 74-day campaign which claimed the lives of 255 of our forces and 649 Argentinians.

Of the British victory, Fred says: “We saw the Argentinians running towards the airport throwing their weapons away. They had been told there was a ceasefire. 

“I got in contact with the British and we told them there were white flags flying over Stanley, but the Argentines were burning the houses they were leaving behind.

“I didn’t see any of Liberation Day because I was fire-fighting all day. The next day someone gave me a bottle of whiskey — that was my liberation. It wasn’t until a week later that we really started celebrating. You were too tense, because 2,000 British troops were guarding 12,000 Argentinians who could have broken out any time.”

Evil Major Dowling fled back to Buenos Aires on a Red Cross ship.

After the war Fred bought a piece of land near the airport and built the Great British Hotel. Over the following years he met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was in No10 at the time of the conflict, and Prince Philip.

Fred says: “The Duke of Edinburgh casually said at dinner one night in Government House, ‘I often wonder what it would be like to be on an island on one’s own’. 

“So we vacated an island for 24 hours and took him out there without any security guards, just his paint box and his brushes. Next day we went to pick him up and panicked because he wasn’t where he should have been. We found him in a little inlet with his easel and paints, still painting his swans. He said, ‘Do I have to come now?’”

Fred believes that, 40 years on, the people of the Falklands are more proud than ever to be British.

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“We have a street named Thatcher Avenue. We still fly the Union Jack. Council meetings start with the Lord’s Prayer. We haven’t changed. 

“Go down town in Stanley on a Saturday night and say something bad about the Queen or Maggie Thatcher and you’ll soon find out how we feel.”


SERVICE FOR THE FALLEN

NEARLY 3,000 veterans of the South Atlantic campaign will attend a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands.

The event, organised by the Royal British Legion, will be held at the National Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffs.

Veterans of the British Task Force who travelled 8,000 miles to the islands will hold services at regiment and unit memorials in the morning.

At 2pm all 2,800 veterans and the families of 160 bereaved will gather around the Falklands memorial, inset, to remember the 255 British dead.

The service will be linked by satellite to a commemoration at the 1982 Liberation Memorial at the Falkland Islands’ capital Stanley, recently made a city to mark the Platinum Jubilee.

The ceremony will be led by Sir Max Hastings, who was the first reporter into Port Stanley when the Argentinian invaders surrendered.

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