In the first of what I plan to be a series of interviews, I have been lucky enough to interview the military historian, Ricky Philips, about his latest project, a history of the invasion of the Falkland Islands titled THE FIRST CASUALTY.
The project interested me as soon as I heard of it. I was a young boy at the time of the Falklands War and I clearly remember following the daily updates in the newspaper and on the news. I have read a few books about the campaign since and so when Ricky told me he had discovered the real story behind the defence of the island by the Royal Marines stationed there then I had to learn more.
THE FIRST CASUALTY is being funded via Kickstarter and you can find out about how you can take part it funding this exciting project, as well as finding out more about the story itself, by clicking the following link:
Tell us what you are working on at the moment?
My new book is entitled “The First Casualty – The untold story of the Falklands War”. Essentially it is the story of the day that Argentina invaded the Falklands, April 2nd 1982 – however it is an entirely different story from what we have been led to believe for the last 35 years. The history we see now is the story of a walk-over and of a shameful surrender by sixty Royal Marines who stood no chance anyway against an armada of thousands… The truth is entirely different; it was a pitched battle, the ‘Rorke’s Drift of the South Atlantic’ – and yet it is a battle which, we are told, never even happened! I suppose a similar case would be the siege of Jadotville in 1961 which was denied for just over 40 years as politically inconvenient until finally the powers that be admitted it. So this is a whole new battle – a complete brawl in which Argentina certainly was given a drubbing from the Royal Marines – and it is told from the perspectives of the men themselves. In essence I could say it’s 550 pages, 36 pictures and 9 maps of pure adrenaline!
How did you go about researching a battle that has escaped the pages of the official history of the invasion? Perhaps you should start by saying how you even found out about it in the first place?
Actually, the story of how “The First Casualty” came into being is almost as strange as the story itself – it was a complete fluke! In fact, I’d say it was a series of happy accidents. I was working on a new book on Hannibal (and another battle the world doesn’t know about) when a book on the Falklands War got wrongly addressed and delivered to my house. I read the book and it had a piece on the first day of the war with some interesting excerpts given by the guys who were there – I loved it! However I wanted to know more, I thought there was more and I started to look into it. The biggest problem was actually the sheer lack of information out there, something which I call “The dog that didn’t bark” (to borrow from Sherlock Holmes) – I actually wrote a blog post on my blog ‘Making History’ in the hope that someone might take all of the things I had found and would turn it into a book. Then a message popped up; |”Hey, that’s us! I was there! Wow, somebody finally believes us!” – Straight away, I knew I was onto something and really hoped that someone would pick this u and make it into the true story. Within a few days there were seven or eight of these guys, the real heroes of the story, the actual men themselves (I was so honoured, I was gobsmacked!) all saying “Please you HAVE to write this for us!” – I had never considered that I would be the guy for the job, in fact I said no three times. If you get to know these guys as well as I have though, you’ll they’re stubborn and highly persuasive!!
As to how you go about researching it, first I had to read up and understand the history as we know it now and then I started to talk to all of the guys and gather their stories. Initially I tried to fit them in to the existing story, but it couldn’t be done – it’s too different. The best thing I ever did was throw away the current history and start it again from scratch…all of a sudden, the story started working!
When writing a history like TFC how do you avoid bias? It must be a challenge when writing about people you have come to know.
I am actually quite lucky in this regard – for two reasons. I had an amazing history teacher at school and his main lesson was on avoiding bias. Bias is the enemy of history. I actually wrote to him and thanked him for that last year! The second reason is that yes, I know the men involved, however I know the men from BOTH sides who were involved and so many of them are now great personal friends. This is actually the first two-sided first person interview-based narrative history book ever attempted (actually three-sided as the Falkland Islanders also give their perspective from being stuck in the middle of it!) – it is a piece of history in itself! Ultimately though, I have been working with friends and amazing men (and women) whatever their nationality. I have had to stop to consider what people from all three countries would make of many things I have written and how a bad reaction from them would make me feel. It’s a good reality check!
How long did the project take?
From start to finish, about a year. I happen to know that it began on March 3rd last year. I never knew how long it would take though; nobody has ever done a history of this type, so there’s no rule book or road map, you just have to commit to the history and do the best job you can.
What inspired you to become a historian, and more specifically a military historian?
I really kind of grew up with history. As a kid it seemed that ‘The World at War’ was always on amongst hundreds of other war movies! My Mum was actually a very keen amateur military history buff too. Her favourite film was ‘Zulu’ and she introduced me to the ‘Sharpe’ novels… I think it all started with Sharpe. I started to write in 2003 when my Mum was terminally ill, it was kind of cathartic to just make things fit at a time when things weren’t making much sense. I used to sit at her bedside when she was in an induced coma reading her what I had written. One day, just for a moment, she woke up, told me she had heard every word, how good I was at it and told me to do it for a living. It’s one of the last things she ever said to me. That’s the most powerful motivator I’ve ever had. That’s how the reader knows my history is good, accurate and unbiased…I always feel like she is reading over my shoulder!
As a military historian, what one battle has most grabbed your attention?
Oh wow, that’s a tough one! There are so many and I’ve written about so many as well! For me, the single greatest battle ever fought was Jena-Auerstadt in 1806 – it was the day where everything in Napoleon’s playbook just worked. It is perfection to me and more so because of how much went wrong that simply didn’t matter. That’s the ultimate for me; the battle which is won even though everything goes wrong because the plan is that good.
What’s next for you after The First Casualty?
I have a massive back-catalogue already written and ready to come out after this. The First Casualty will be thought of as my first book – it’s actually my tenth! I just held the others back until the ‘one day’ I struck a true best seller. There’s a seven-volume history of Napoleon, I have a book on Caesar, another on Hannibal, plus a few other projects including an unpublished WW2 memoir I have been asked to edit which is in the ‘pending’ pile. As you see, I’m not a Falklands War historian by intent! The next year or two (probably or three or four) is going to be spent getting those into print. That said, when the guys of the Royal Marines asked me what was next and I mentioned other projects they were all like, “You’re leaving us? You can’t, you’re one of us now!” – So being as they all went back to the Falklands I think I might journey back with them for a follow-up book. They’re so much fun to work with, it’s like I’m part of a whole new family and, as I say, they’re a persuasive bunch!
I am always a fascinated by the weapons Jack gets to use. Do you have a favourite weapon?
Absolutely! I’m a massive fan of antique militaria and also (little known fact) I’m a qualified engineer, so I love how things work. I was always fascinated most by the early repeating firearms. For me the best was the very first, the 1680 Lorenzoni gun. It held powder and ball in two separate tubes in the butt of the gun and it was operated by turning a lever on the side. That moved a rolling breach which collected both powder and ball, skimmed some of the powder off into the flash pan, cocked the hammer and closed the frizzen ready for striking – all in one quick turn! The earliest versions had 6-10 shots in them but I have heard of versions which went up to about 24 shots – and this in 1680! Really the Lorenzoni is the grandfather of weapons like the Henry repeater, the Winchester and other weapons still used today. For me that’s the Daddy of them all!
Every novel should have a good cast of characters. If you were in a novel what sort of character would you be?
Wow, that’s a tough one!!I usually write a lot about great Generals so I would probably like to be cast as one of those; a sort of thinking man’s hero like Hannibal or Turenne. As just a regular character, I would definitely be the guy who talked too much, was unorthodox and mildly crazy but who came up with a brilliant plan to save the day. Pretty much like Doctor Who or something!
What is your favourite novel that you have read in the last few years? (and it doesn’t have to be a Jack Lark novel!)
Haha! Well I’m a huge Jack Lark fan, as you know! However (and sorry for this, Paul!) I’d say it has to be Flashman. I have the whole set and pretty much read them on rotation; it’s great history and laugh-out-loud funny. The only fiction I read is military fiction and for me, nothing tops Flashman. I have some favourite books amongst the collection but I’ve read them all about ten times over. The amazing thing is that each time, the twists in the plot catch you in the same way as they did before.
As you know, I am rather fond of imposters. If you were able to sneak your way into a single historical event which would one would you choose?
Wow, these get harder! I would have loved to have seen Gustavus Adolphus at work and witnessed either Breitnfeld or Lutzen. However then the mind starts to race and how could you miss events such as the battles of Gaugamela, Cannae, Austerlitz or Waterloo? Right now, I would actually go to White City on the outskirts of Stanley on April 2nd 1982 and see for myself the one action of the battle of Stanley which remains the most controversial in the whole book. That way I could know for sure. After that though, I would probably lament all of those great events I could have chosen! Could anyone choose just one??