'The whole city was involved'
David Owen was a key political figure during the Falklands war. Here Herald Defence Reporter Tristan Nichols talks to former Plymouth MP Lord Owen about his memories of the time, and some of the decisions which helped shape the outcome of the bloody conflict.
"IT WAS a very personal time for me," Lord Owen, pictured right, reflects with a deep sigh recollecting the events surrounding the Argentine invasion.
"I knew that the invasion could have been avoided. We should have had a submarine down there as I had suggested before."
In 1977, when David Owen was Foreign Secretary in James Callaghan's Labour Government, he ordered a nuclear submarine – and two warships – to be deployed to the South Atlantic when Argentina began casting its eyes over the Falklands.
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By 1982 Margaret Thatcher's Tory Government had removed much of the Royal Navy cover from the Falklands.
And on April 2 that year the Argentines invaded the islands they refer to as 'Las Malvinas'.
Instead of making reference to his previous decision and using it to attack the current Tory Government, the then Mr Owen stood side-by-side with his politician colleagues.
He was at the special Saturday sitting of the House of Commons on the day of the invasion.
This was the first such sitting since the Suez crisis, 25 years earlier, and followed an emergency Cabinet meeting which approved sending the task force.
"We took the view that whatever had happened in the past, had happened in the past," he said.
"We knew we needed to get the Argentines out and I supported the Government completely.
"There was pretty much unequivocal support in the House and a real feeling of patriotism.
"We knew we had to get the Falklands back but we knew following the invasion, it would be hugely difficult to recapture the islands.
"The hardest part was working out how to do it.
"When the invasion happened it was not our finest hour, but we all realised we had to turn the page and move on.
"At the time the defence budget was under great strain and we were arguing for a stronger Royal Navy.
"Margaret Thatcher was very shaken by what had happened.
"There was a big issue about the role of Britain in the world. Were we past it? Were we burned out? Or did we have some fire in our belly? Can the lion roar?"
Of course history now dictates that Britain was up for the challenge, despite the huge strain of sending a task force down to the South Atlantic.
And as Lord Owen says, Plymouth itself was on the "frontline" of the conflict.
"Alan Clarke (MP for Plymouth Sutton at the time) and I discussed the Falklands on an almost continuous basis, whether in the House of Commons or in a restaurant in Plymouth.
"A huge number of people were leaving [to go to the Falklands] from Plymouth. And a huge number of dockyard workers were also involved.
"In a way the whole city was involved to some degree. We all knew the risks."
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