By James Hoyle, Archive Coordinator at British Pathé
Most people had probably never heard of the tensions between Britain and Argentina over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands before they were invaded on April 2nd 1982. Many people had probably never heard of the Falkland Islands at all. But history did not pass the Falklands by. Footage in the British Pathé archive details its involvement in the First World War and life on the islands in the 1960s, including the attitudes of the islanders towards Argentina.
The South Atlantic islands known by their inhabitants as the ‘Falklands’ lie 8,000 miles from the British mainland. It was Captain John Strong who first set foot there in 1690 and it was he who named them for Lord Falkland. After this, it gets a little complicated. When the British signed the Treaty of Utrecht, Spanish ownership of the islands was established. Regardless, both the French and the British soon placed settlements there, though the French subsequently handed their territory to Spain in 1767 and the British were evicted. From that point on, Spain held the islands until, in 1820, former Spanish colony Argentina claimed them as their own. But after a disagreement with the United States over sealing rights, the USS Lexington removed the Argentine settlers by force in 1831. Soon after, the British took their place and have enjoyed sovereignty over the islands ever since, though Argentina has repeatedly requested the islands, which they call the ‘Malvinas’, back.
From that time until 1982, life on the Falklands was a mostly peaceful affair, with the exception of 8 December 1914 when the British and German navies clashed off the coast. The Germans, under Spee, planned to land on the islands to destroy the wireless station and pick up coal supplies, but when they arrived, the British were already there. In the ensuing battle, the Germans lost six of their ships and 1900 men, but the British fleet survived intact, with only 10 dead. This astonishing victory was celebrated in Britain and raised morale. Admiral Sturdee was proclaimed a hero and given a baronetcy in gratitude. Newsreels in the British Pathé archive mark the occasion of the victory, and pay tribute to Admiral Sturdee after his death in 1925. No further vessels or men would be lost over these islands for nearly 60 years.
Despite the short but fierce war fought between Britain and Argentina, outlined in British Pathé’s A Day That Shook The World series, in which Margaret Thatcher’s government successfully reclaimed the islands from Argentine invaders, public knowledge about the Falklands remains limited. A picture of what life was like there prior to the conflict can be seen in the footage taken by Pathé cameramen in the late 1960s.
By 1980, the population of the Falkland Islands was a mere 2000 people and declining. Even today there are only 3000 living there. An aerial view of Stanley, the only town, can be seen in the still above. The most numerous inhabitants by far live in the wild. Along with the sheep and horses that exist in the farms, there is also an abundance of birds and marine life. The most famous of these are undoubtedly the islands’ penguins, which earned their own dedicated British Pathé newsreel, in what might be the only footage that was used from the camera crew’s visit. Other newsreels from the early 1950 show Vancouver’s Stanley Park Zoo and its only collection of King Penguins existing in Canada, a gift from the Governor of the Falkland Islands.
Yet a great portion of the footage filmed by that 1969 camera crew is of the people living on the islands. There are many unknown faces in these silent clips, and it would be fascinating to hear about them and their experiences during the later Argentine invasion. In the clips though, life on the Falklands appears relatively tranquil. Men and women go about their daily routines, working in the sea, loading cargo onto ships, herding sheep, and so on.
We also get a glimpse of the leisure activities engaged in, with families turning out to witness a local game of football.
But an ever-present British warship, the Leander-class H.M.S. Arethusa, is a reminder of the tensions over the islands and its disputed sovereignty. Although to many on the British mainland, the Falklands conflict came as a surprise, the tensions over the issue of sovereignty were felt long before on the islands themselves. The same 1960s footage of the islands contains many glimpses of just how strongly the inhabitants felt more than a decade before the war.
Negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands began in 1966 after a UN resolution the year before forced Britain to the table. For many years a succession of foreign secretaries attempted to promote the virtues of Argentine sovereignty, encouraging the Falklanders to submit. The reactions of the islanders to the opening of negotiations are plainly to be seen in the following stills from the 1969 footage.
Images such as these were captured by the Pathé camera crew in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. In the footage, which seems to have never made it into a finished newsreel or cinemagazine, signs and graffiti revealing the Falkland Islanders’ desire to remain British are ever present. These displays appear in shop windows and outside houses, placed as stickers in car windows, or painted on the side of buildings or scrawled on the side of a plane.
It would be interesting to know exactly who these signs were meant for. Presumably they are aimed at the Pathé camera crew, or some other visitors rather than at the other islanders.
Sadly, the Argentines soon felt the negotiations were going nowhere and that their unpopular government might be saved by waging war against British colonialism, reclaiming islands they believed to be legally theirs. War ensued and 907 people lost their lives.
During this 30th anniversary year (the war lasted from 2 April to 14 June 1982), it is interesting to look back not just on that terrible conflict, but also on the years leading up to it, and reflect upon what the future may also bring.
For British Pathé’s collection of pre-war Falklands footage and A Day That Shook The World episodes for the British taskforce setting sail and the sinking of the HMS Sheffield, click here.