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Held at gunpoint, harbouring spies and defying occupation – Falklands survivors recount their heroic tales from conflict

ARGENTINA’S brutal occupation of the Falkland Islands came to an end 40 years ago today – but for many, the scars of war remain ever-present. 

The liberation of the archipelago, which is 8,000 miles away, off the coast of South America, followed 74 days and the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine forces, and three local civilians.

Port Stanley during the Falklands conflict back in 1982

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Port Stanley during the Falklands conflict back in 1982Credit: Getty
One of many iconic photos from the Falklands conflict

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One of many iconic photos from the Falklands conflictCredit: Getty – Contributor

Today islanders paid homage and commemorated those who lost their lives at the annual military parade at Victory Green, in the capital city Port Stanley. 

For some, Argentina’s invasion is eerily familiar to the conflict in Ukraine, where Vladimir Putin’s bitter landgrab has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

The people of the Falklands, 99.8 per cent of whom voted to remain a British overseas territory in 2013, have not forgotten the sacrifices made to ensure their right to self-determination. 

Here, four share their heroic tales from the Islands’ darkest days.

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‘Held at gunpoint’

He’s known as “the voice of the Falkland Islands” after broadcasting on the radio throughout the Argentine occupation – but behind his words were coded messages.

Patrick Watts famously stood up to Argentine forces who broke into his radio station, telling them: “One moment… Wait there. No, no, I won’t do anything until you take that gun off my back.”

Reflecting on the moment he was held at gunpoint, Patrick, now 77, said: “I got a bit belligerent. I was pretty angry that they had set foot on our islands illegally.

Patrick Watts being ordered to read a message by the Argentine invaders

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Patrick Watts being ordered to read a message by the Argentine invadersCredit: Patrick Watts

“When they burst in there were a lot of young men making a lot of noise with their guns and smoking cigarettes.

“I yelled, ‘Look! Be quiet! First, I don’t like smoking anywhere in my vicinity and put your guns outside in the passage.’ To my surprise, an officer said, ‘Better do what they say!’

“It felt like round one to me, but I knew there were another 11 rounds to come.”

Soon the Argentines enforced curfews, confiscated vehicles and forbid locals from entering certain areas. 

I got a bit belligerent. I was pretty angry that they had set foot on our islands illegally

Patrick Watts

They allowed Patrick to stay on air, believing the friendly voice of a local would help quell any opposition – but the broadcaster had his own plans. 

He refused to broadcast propaganda from the station, which was renamed LR60 Radio Nacional Las Malvinas, including false claims that Islanders were adapting well to the military dictatorship.

He undermined them countless times, despite being fully aware of the danger it put him in.

Patrick recalled: “A nasty fellow named Ernesto tried to get me in trouble on several occasions for saying things on the radio that may be heard by the British.”

In one instance he tried to send a coded message to British troops to let them know Stanley Airport, which was believed to be unusable after a bombing raid, was actually functioning.

Patrick with his two children around the time of the conflict

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Patrick with his two children around the time of the conflictCredit: Patrick Watts

“The bomb hit the very edge of the landing strip, so the Argentines camouflaged it to make it look like a big hole and put turf there to hide the truth,” Patrick recalled.

“I was frustrated because Argentine planes were still coming in and bringing in troops, ammunition and supplies.

“So I locked the studio door, went on air and said there was a lot of activity around Stanley airport and kept mentioning strange birds flying up the harbour and through the narrows. 

“I hoped someone from the British task force was listening. I got in trouble for that and was told it was my last chance, sent home and put under house arrest.” 

As the early hours of what would be known as Liberation Day dawned, Patrick walked outside to discover the Argentines had surrendered.

I remember what happened with a lot of feeling and affection for the British Forces who liberated us. While I’m honoured many people consider me ‘the voice of the Falklands’, I find it strange and don’t necessarily agree

Patrick Watt

Once electricity was returned to Stanley, Patrick headed to the radio station to broadcast Land Of Hope And Glory and God Save The Queen throughout the islands.

Now he leads tours and has taken the relatives of fallen soldiers to the locations their family members likely died.

This Liberation Day, Patrick will take a private moment to reflect. He said: “For me, I remember what happened with a lot of feeling and affection for the British Forces who liberated us.

“While I’m honoured many people consider me ‘the voice of the Falklands’, I find it strange and don’t necessarily agree.

“But I was extremely committed to the radio and my fellow Islanders – it was an honour to do what I could in our time of need.”

‘We harboured spies and dug up weapons’

Lisa Watson with her family at Long Island Farm, where they harboured a spy and soldiers

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Lisa Watson with her family at Long Island Farm, where they harboured a spy and soldiersCredit: Supplied

Many Falklands residents were unable to assist British Forces in reclaiming the archipelago – but not the Watson family. 

Lisa Watson was 13 during the conflict and evacuated to her family’s home, Long Island Farm, in Camp – the name for rural areas outside Stanley.

It wasn’t an easy trip, as her dad Neil was pulled over, dragged out of the car and held at gunpoint after clipping a journalist with his vehicle.

Now 52, Lisa recalls: “I was left in the car with another child, who said, ‘If they shoot him, how will I get home?’

“It was a really scary moment. I decided to hide the knife dad had because I thought it would get him into more trouble if it was found.”

Thankfully he was released 45 minutes later, and after a five-hour drive they reached the 15,000-acre sheep farm 20 miles north of the capital.

While Lisa expected to be in a peaceful paradise far from the conflict it was anything but. The day after her arrival, six members of Naval Party 8901 (NP8901) showed up on their doorstep.

They were a 70-strong royal marine battalion stationed in Stanley. Despite being greatly outnumbered by 800 attackers, they fought the Argentines without suffering a single casualty before being ordered to stand down by the Islands’ governor Rex Hunt.

Lisa said: “It was emotional for my parents. They warmed NP8901 up, gave them food and told them they could hide in the nearby hills and my dad would deliver any supplies they needed.”

Concerned that the Watson family could face repercussions for helping them after they’d be ordered to surrender, NP8901 told them to call the Argentine troops.

“When the soldiers came they surrounded the house, kicked the door open, searched everywhere and treated us like suspects,” Lisa said.

“They were convinced we had hidden an extra marine somewhere on the farm and carried out surprise visits to check the house.

“The troops were very aggressive, they forced their way in and made my parents and brother Paul line up outside.”

Naval Party 8901 after deciding to hand themselves into Argentine troops

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Naval Party 8901 after deciding to hand themselves into Argentine troopsCredit: Supplied

The troops were especially suspicious because her father had lobbied against Argentina and was high up in the Island’s volunteer militia, the Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF).

Despite the risks, the family sheltered other British troops, served as spies and even recovered buried weapons from the beach.

During one “close shave”, they were nearly caught helping out war hero Terry Peck, a member of the local military group who spied on the Argentines in Stanley before travelling to join paratroopers and act as their guide.

“To mark the Queen’s birthday we had a flag up and a bit of a celebration with lots of drinks, which must have annoyed the Argentines because they raided us,” Lisa recalled.

“We hid Terry in the bathroom and luckily that day, they came through but didn’t search all of our rooms. He was with us for a few days.

“He picked up the guns that NP8901 had buried on the beach near to our farm. In the dead of night my dad, Paul and Terry creeped out and found the weapons under the Argentine troops’ noses while they were watching the beaches.”

Lisa Watson now climbs mountains in the Falklands to remember the sacrifices made by those who helped to liberate the Islands

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Lisa Watson now climbs mountains in the Falklands to remember the sacrifices made by those who helped to liberate the IslandsCredit: Supplied

Paul added: “The Argentines couldn’t have been more than 300 metres away but we managed to get the weapons. I was scared but I was more excited, I forgot it was real and not a war game.”

The family also provided shelter for a group from the Special Boat Service as well as a former member of NP8901. Neil later joined a rally of farmers in their Land Rovers, who drove troops and their equipment to the frontline to continue the fight for liberation.

Now Paul trains future recruits in the FIDF to defend the islands. Lisa also honours those who ousted the invaders in a special way.

A keen rock climber, for the last seven years she’s ascended the rough mountainous terrain where soldiers died to pay her respects.

Lisa said: “It’s not about the formal ceremonies for me, it’s feeling the cold, the wind and the icy rocks on my hand. 

“While I’m climbing to the mountain tops I think about what happened and the sacrifices they made for us.”

‘Dodged landmines as a child’

Sara Halford playing among wreckage from the Falklands conflict as as child

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Sara Halford playing among wreckage from the Falklands conflict as as childCredit: Sara Halford
Sara Halford serves in the British Army

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Sara Halford serves in the British ArmyCredit: Sara Halford

While growing up in Stanley, the Falklands conflict was never far from Sara Halford’s mind. 

She was just three months old when the invasion happened and during her childhood, she regularly played in helicopter wreckages and Argentine bunkers. 

Sara once found 10 unexploded cluster bombs in a garden, and says she always had to be “very mindful” to avoid certain wildlife spots where mines had been laid.

During her formative years, she remembered British forces’ sacrifice to liberate her islands and the “incalculable debt” she felt they owed.

Sara knew she wanted to repay that at 10 years old, after “watching a massive military demonstration in awe” in her school gym.

Seven years later she travelled to the UK alone to enlist in the army. 

Now 40, Sara, who’s based in Colchester, Essex, tells The Sun: “I felt like I wanted to give something back and for me, that was joining the army, even though I was only 17 and travelled alone.

“I left school and started working as a lifeguard at the Stanley swimming pool for a year to afford the flights, which cost around £2,000.

“I was taking a big risk, if I failed the medical exam I wouldn’t have had my flights reimbursed and have had to pay for a fly home.”

Sara passed and has spent nearly 23 years in the military in medical regiments, during which she’s been on tours in Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

She was able to serve alongside 2 Para, who were instrumental in the liberation of the Falklands, which filled her with “immense pride”.

“On quiet moments during operations I was able to sit and chat with the paratroopers about what they meant to me and our history,” Sara says.

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“Helping them allows me to feel like I’m giving back to them.

“I’ve been able to return home for the Liberation Day celebrations, which is an honour as it’s incorporating both sides of my life – my upbringing and my military career.”




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