Kettering Falklands 'survivor' thinks about the war every day

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the Falklands War between British and Argentine forces

Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 6:00 am

A Kettering man held captive by Argentine forces for 29 days with 115 hostages has said the experience has shaped his whole life – thinking about the traumatic events daily.

At the age of 18, Duncan Bain signed up for the adventure of a lifetime – to work on a farm in the Falkland Islands after seeing a job advert and article in a newspaper.

He wanted to get away from the inevitable prospect of working at the local power station like his dad, so in 1977 he applied for a job as a general farm hand.

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Duncan Bain is a former Mayor of Kettering

After a successful interview, he left his then home in Essex and travelled 8,000 miles around the world to the remote islands near Argentina. Little did he know, he was travelling into a what would become a war zone.

Duncan, now 63 and a grandfather, said: “I had left school with little in the way of qualifications. There was an article in the Sunday Express about a British family who moved out there and I liked the sound of it.

“I few months later I found myself with a one-way ticket to the Falklands.

“I flew to Buenos Aires – I’d never flown before – then on to the islands. It felt like stepping back in time 50 years. It was a backwater.”

The community hall where 115 residents were held by Argentine troops

Duncan’s job was at a sheep farm in Goose Green and his accommodation was basic, in a bunkhouse shared by the farm staff.

There was a dance hall nearby where people would go and there was plenty to do if you liked shooting and fishing.

He said: “You either loved it or hated it. The food was mostly mutton and potatoes and some cabbage. It was very basic and it could drive people mad.”

When Duncan signed up for the job, he knew there were tensions between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

In 2019 Duncan Bain re-visited the Falkland Islands and the memorial to those lost on the Atlantic Conveyor during the Falklands War at Cape Pembroke

He said: “There had been a lot of publicity around the time I went. There was certainly a lot of diplomatic stuff going on, but no-one ever thought it would turn out as it did.”

Four years after Duncan’s arrival, on April 1, 1982, the Governor of the Falklands made a radio announcement to say there had been intelligence received that an Argentine fleet was travelling towards the islands. If the ships did not turn back, the assumption was that their intention was to invade.

There was running commentary on the local radio station throughout the night.

Duncan said: “Everyone heard a blow-by-blow account of what was happening. The Governor brought in military law overnight. No-one was to do anything stupid and we were to just sit and wait to see what would happen.”

A portrait of Duncan when he was living on the Falkland Islands

On April 3, a helicopter landed at Goose Green carrying an Argentine commando unit who asked to speak to the farm manager.

They wanted somewhere to stay and they were directed to an old boarding school.

Duncan said: “For the next month everyone studiously ignored them.

“They flew their aircraft in and enforced a strict black-out but nothing really changed.

“There were a lot of veiled threats and if you didn’t do what they said, you knew there would be consequences. All firearms had to be handed in and all amateur radio equipment.

“We knew by then that a British task force was assembled and we were thinking, are they going to find out?

Duncan Bain during his time working in the Falkland Islands

“It is worth remembering it was a bit of a shock for the Argentines who had been conditioned by years of brain-washing to think we were an oppressed minority waiting to be liberated. But they got there and found this wasn’t so. People lived in nice houses and drove around in Land Rovers. They were not welcomed with open arms.”

At 8am on the morning of April 29, Duncan was frying an egg for his breakfast at a friend’s farmhouse near Goose Green.

He said: “Three RAF Harriers flew down the harbour there were explosions and screams from the airfield. Within the hour we were all marched out at gunpoint. They thought someone had been feeding information about the soldiers’ whereabouts.”

Argentine soldiers went house to house, herding residents into a community hall where they would be kept prisoner for the next 29 days.

In total 114 people were held under armed guard in the hall, including some islanders who had come from the capital Port Stanley thinking it would be safer.

There were two toilets and one tiny sink for the men, women and children. Over 1,200 Argentine troops occupied the settlement and nearby Darwin.

Duncan said: “That first day the soldiers were very excited, very unpredictable and very aggressive. People could have got hurt. As it happens, no-one did, but there was definitely this undercurrent.”

The islanders used ‘good old British humour’ during the bleak situation, says Duncan.

He said: “It was absolutely terrifying and absolutely boring. What it must have been like for the people with small children I can’t imagine.”

All the ‘hostages’ had been searched by the soldiers on their way into the hall. The Brits could hear air strikes overhead but it was impossible to tell what was going on outside.

In the hall’s cupboards an old transistor radio was found and using batteries from a smuggled torch the set was coaxed into life. Away from the guards they listened to the BBC World Service but the first news they heard was bad news – the HMS Sheffield had been sunk.

On May 29, the Parachute Regiment launched an assault on Goose Green. They attacked on foot and from the air, not knowing 114 islanders were inside the hall.

Duncan said: “You cannot imagine how frightened we were. The hall was tin but it was built on concrete foundations so we cut holes in the floor so people could get under and used the concrete foundations as protection.

“I cannot describe the noise. It was only a couple of minutes but they were being shot at by the Argentines while Harriers were dropping munitions at low level. You could hear the spent rounds dropping on the roof. We were at their mercy.

“We listened to the World Service and they said that the Argentines had surrendered. They were still strolling around with guns.

“Then we looked out through the curtains and saw an Argentine walking up the street with a dirty white flag. We also saw a party of red berets coming down the hill to take the Argentines prisoner and then these helicopter blades started appearing over the horizon.”

Members of 2 Para had entered Goose Green and freed the people.

On June 14, a ceasefire was agreed between the forces on the island.

The war lasted just 74 days but cost the lives of 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen.

After the war Duncan stayed in the Falklands for two more years and has been back three times, most recently in 2019.

He said: “It has changed incredibly. There are proper roads, the internet has changed everything.

“I have huge admiration for 2 Para.

"All of us who were there at the time have empathy with the people of the Ukraine, and how your whole world can be turned upside down literally overnight.”

He added: “To be liberated – it’s not an experience that many people have had.

"I don’t think people realise that it has had a life-long effect. I think about it every day. We are a band of brothers and sisters. We are all survivors.”