Falklands 40 years on – the day a press officer swapped his pen for a gun

Roger Goodwin was a pen-pusher when he went to war 40 years ago this weekend.

By Brian Ellis
Monday, 4th April 2022, 3:11 pm

But, even though his job as a Ministry of Defence press officer was to look after the media during the conflict, he admits there was a time he picked up a gun and was ready to fire on the Argentinians.

Tasked with keeping reporters fed with information, a ship they were on came under air attack in San Carlos Water and Roger thought he would "have a pop back" if he got the chance of a clear shot.

It didn't happen, his finger didn't pull the trigger - fortunate really as the civil servant learned later he could have been prosecuted for taking up arms.

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Roger with a pile of captured Argentine weapons.

"I'd been transmitting something back to London when I heard this funny 'dagga-dagga-dagga' sound. I realised it was a machine gun and we were under air attack, so I shouted to the radio officer to 'hit the deck,'" said Roger who is now retired and living in Preston.

"The master of the ship had given instructions that in the event of an air attack we - me and the journalists - had to remain below decks.

"When someone is shooting at you for the first time in your life it's very scary. But then, I said to myself 'no I'm not.' I was pretty naive, so I went and got my camera and went up on deck.

"I watched a couple of air attacks coming in. There were some rifles on board for people to have a pop off at anything that was passing. I decided I was going to have a go, so I spent a couple of hours on the bridge wing with my loaded gun waiting for my chance.

Roger and other MOD staff in Port Stanley with an Argentinian Army jeep they 'liberated' for their own use.

"I didn't fire it in the end, which is perhaps as well for everyone in the vicinity. Later a lawyer told me I could have been prosecuted, even though I was in a war zone."

Roger was on the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible on the journey to the Falklands. He had five journalists to look after who seemed more interested in one helicopter pilot on board - a certain Prince Andrew - than the war they were travelling to.

"To be fair he was just another member of the ship's company," recalled Roger. "He wasn't given any special privileges apart from one which was to be able to ring his mum.

"I got introduced to him and I suggested that he might like to come over and introduce himself to the journalists, which he did, and they seemed to get on quite well.

A map of the Falklands hangs in Roger's study at home in Fulwood.

"We were sailing through the Bay of Biscay in a storm and the ship was pitching and tossing. The reporters were getting messages from their news desks back home asking about Andrew.

"One was asked to ask him what he did on his time off to relax and he told the reporter, from The Sun, that down in the bilges they had a gyro-stabilised pool table and he liked to go down there for a few games when he was not on duty. The reporter fell for it and the paper used the story."

Because of Prince Andrew's presence on board, HMS Invincible became a special target for the Argentinians. But the Queen's second son survived, did his duty and was finally welcomed to Port Stanley by Roger.

"We set up a press office in government buildings in Stanley after it was liberated," said Roger. "We also 'liberated' an Argentinian Army Jeep as our personal transport.

Roger relaxing in Port Stanley after the Argentine surrender.

"One day a helicopter came in from Invincible and I noticed someone waving at me from it. I realised it was Andrew, or Aitch as everyone called him. When he got off he said: 'Any chance of a quick trip around Stanley?' So we gave him a tour of the place.

"There was a satellite telephone line set up on a ship alongside and troops were queuing up to make calls. He asked me: 'Do you think I might be able to...?'

"When the soldiers realised who he was they moved him to the head of the queue and, presumably, he was able to ring his mum to tell her he was OK."

Roger remembers clearly the night he was told he was on his way to war – he was in his pyjamas when the call came.

"I was one of two press officers on the Navy desk at the MOD and I was on the overnight duty rota the night Argentina invaded,” he explained.

"It had been fairly quiet that night, although I’d had a couple of strange phone calls from journalists in the United States asking ‘is anything happening?’

Roger Goodwin with his Falklands medal.

"Anyway I turned in for the night until I got a call to get up to the Navy Ops room. There was Admiral Sir Henry Leach in his dinner jacket and bow tie having presumably come in from some function.

"The Falklands had gone silent, radio communications with the UK had been lost. The suggestion was it had been invaded, but it hadn’t been confirmed.

"The general feeling was that with it being 8,000 miles away we couldn’t do anything about it. But Sir Henry stood up and said ‘the Navy can do it.’ And of course they did.

"Once it was confirmed the requests from the media for places on the Task Force went crazy. The BBC wanted 100 places, even Pebble Mill at One asked for five.

"In the end I took five newspapers reporters with me on HMS Invincible and the TV crews went on HMS Hermes. That was it.

"At one point the captain of the Invincible said he spent five minutes a day dealing with the problems of 2,000 crew and the rest of the day dealing with the problems of the five from the media.”