by Nigel Price.
In Return to Tumbledown, Mike Seear gives the most comprehensive account of the battle to date. Indeed, short of additional personal testaments, it is hard to see how anyone else could ever produce a fuller overall account.
Firstly Seear was there, as Operations Officer of the 1/7th DEO Gurkha Rifles. He was involved throughout the battle. Secondly he has walked the battlefield and revisited the various locations where the action was fought and decided.
More importantly he has gathered an extraordinary number of detailed accounts from the participants on both sides, British and Argentine. He has made numerous visits to Argentina, contacted and cross-examined key players on the “opposing” side. Through several years of painstaking work, he has interwoven all the many accounts into a chronological narrative of the battle from start to finish. His achievement is breath-taking, and the end result is one of the most fascinating accounts of combat I have read.
Of course there are personal accounts from far larger and more bloody battles from other wars, but here in microcosm Seear presents the reader with most of the elements which make combat arguably the most extreme experience of the human condition.
The book falls into three main parts. The Scots Guards lead, and rightly so. Thereafter Seear turns the camera right around, so to speak, and shows the whole event from the Argentine perspective. Finally he looks at the battle from the point of view of the Gurkhas. In this latter stage he has achieved the remarkable feat of finding a wealth of additional material not included in his earlier War Journal, With the Gurkhas in the Falklands.
But the crown goes to the several personal testaments given to Seear by members of 2nd Bn Scots Guards. These are truly riveting. There are contributions from the Commanding Officer, as well as from the Company Commanders. Most fascinating however are the barely edited words of the young Guardsmen themselves. The men who have entrusted Seear with their personal stories have spoken with complete candour.
However, it is when we reach the second and central segment of the book that we encounter material equally as fascinating but possibly even more startling. For here the enemy speaks out. Here our picture of the battle becomes ever more complete as Seear interweaves the narratives, Scots Guards and Argentine marine. The fog of war lifts and we see the flow of events with increasing clarity. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Lastly the Gurkhas have their say. From extracts taken from the Commandant’s diary, to personal accounts from others, both British and Gurkha, the reader is given the fullest picture of the Gurkha contribution to the battle, their involvement, their frustrations and – being Gurkha – their humour.
Nor does Seear stop there. Towards the end of the book he has included extracts from the diary kept by a Stanley resident during the fighting, Rosemarie King. There are some wonderful anecdotes as she describes kneading dough in time to the gunfire outside, or mixing shortbread while the world around her is going mad. Her laconic, drily witty, often touching observations portray better than anything else, the British character under stress.
Indeed there are many incidents that linger in the mind long after the book has been put down, too many to quote here. Mostly the sheer guts of many of the Scots Guards, but also the doggedness of many of the Argentine defenders. It is tempting to mention names but that would do an injustice to those omitted for reasons of space.
In researching and writing this book, Seear has walked a tightrope between British and Argentine sentiments. Only by exercising the greatest delicacy and tact has he been able to make the connection with Argentine veterans, gain their trust, and thereby hear the story from their side. In doing so he will undoubtedly alienate some on his own British side. I understand that at least one Falkland islander has taken exception to Seear’s use in the title of the word Malvinas; there will probably be other similar or related objections.
It is likely that Seear has only been able to achieve such even-handedness due to his own catastrophic personal journey, a journey he described in his War Journal, but which he also revisits here towards the end of the book. Once again, with complete candour he lays before us the struggle with his inner demons, a struggle that resulted in eventual collapse. It has been during his long, hard climb out of that terrible place that he has acquired the sensitivity and – dare I say – the wisdom that has equipped him for this particular task.
This also answers the question that some might ask - Why bother? Why write about the battle of Tumbledown at all? Why rake over old coals? Why not simply file it away and move on?
Because for some, at least, it is necessary to understand. To understand the context of their lives, and nothing is more pivotal to a life than the experience of battle. This shines through the testaments of the young Scots Guardsmen, the young Argentine marines. It is why, as middle-aged men they traipse over soggy hillsides, revisiting the sites where they came closest to death. Where they did things of which they were proud, or perhaps ashamed. Possibly both.
Return to Tumbledown grasps the battle and presents it to the reader in as whole a state as I believe it is possible for a writer to do.
(Nigel Price is a 7th Gurkha Rifles Falklands-Malvinas War veteran and published novelist under the pen name of Anthony Conway).
The book, Return to Tumbledown: The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited, was published on 10 June 2012 by CCC Press, 80, Sherwin Road, Nottingham, NG7 2FB. It is priced at GBP 19.99 and can be purchased on-line by inserting the title Return to Tumbledown into Google and clicking on the link “New Ventures”:
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