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The Same Voices - not the Forgotten Voices
on 21 April 2007
This is indeed a disappointing book, given its claim to be "the definitive oral history" and "the real story" of the Falklands War. It's especially disappointing that it has been written by one of those who served in that war, and shows a remarkably unenlightened and narrow overview of the whole.
Fewer than seventy different 'voices' tell their story and it is, in some 480 pages, therefore the story of a tiny fraction of those who served in the forces of Argentina and the UK in this war. Many of the contributors are very familiar indeed, and thus not at all 'forgotten' - some have even written books of their own.
Whole units and branches that comprise a task force are forgotten and the writer does his comrades a disservice.
More of the British naval dead were from the supply branch than any other. Of those, fourteen were naval cooks. No surviving naval cooks are interviewed and the author clearly is unaware of the make up of a ship's company. Almost never is the story of civilians who serve told, like Hong Kong Chinese laundrymen - two were killed in HM Ships - and NAAFI staff. Yet this volume, with its overblown claims, does not even attempt to cover areas of the war that have hardly ever been mentioned in the past 25 years. No stories from the 1,865 casualties or the six hospital ships or Montevideo or STUFT (other than famous names) or the smaller naval ships - and most not even in the index, let alone a story. Just what was it like for the damage control teams trying to save a ship that was hit by a missile or a bomb, or for an engineering rating in the bowels of a ship while under attack? Don't ask, because you won't find it in this book.
What there is to read is interesting enough, for sure, and some of the stories I have not read elsewhere - but some I have. What is truly shocking is the endorsement of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) because this is very selective history written as if it was the result of fulsome research. It is very lazy a volume indeed.
It is tiresome to see almost all of the people interviewed given their full names, repeated over and again - such as Graham John Edmonds (he is just plain Graham Edmonds to me!) - as if they are names being listed on a memorial for the dead. Thank goodness no one seems to have had three or four 'first' names!
The author's knowledge of the armed services, other than his own, seems poor and he has not troubled to have experts cast an eye over his work. Thus, the Glossary must be treated with care: the entries for LPD, RAS, SBS and 'The Flag' are either wrong or inaccurate and the entry, for example, to MoD does not make clear that it is the UK Ministry of Defence to which it refers, yet his book has interviews with both UK and Argentine servicemen (and no servicewomen). The SBS did not become the Special Boat Service until 1987.
The publisher, the author and the IWM had, in bringing this book together, a real opportunity to give voice to those who voices generally are forgotten, those who merit hardly a footnote in other histories. Sadly, indolence and lack of inspiration, interest and intelligence, has won the day and this book is being sold under a title that is misleading and, arguably, not in the spirit of 'all of one company' - a spirit that I certainly felt while serving in the South Atlantic in 1982.
It does not please me to write this but those who were awarded the South Atlantic Medal of 1982 - and those in the Argentine forces - deserve a lot better than this lazy effort, especially from one of their own.