Soldiers Who Fought Each Other in the Falklands War Are Now Sharing a Stage
In a new play, 'MINEFIELD,' Falklands War veteran Lou Armour shares war stories with his former Argentinian enemies.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
In 1982, Corporal Lou Armour had just arrived on the Falkland Islands when the Argentines invaded. A photograph that was taken as he led his unit out of government house became an iconic image of the conflict in Argentina.
Thirty-four years later and 8,000 miles away from the battlefield on which he fought, Lou Armour is performing alongside men who were once his enemies, in a play devised by Argentinian artist Lola Arias. MINEFIELD merges documentary theater, film, and reenactment, while bringing together veterans who fought on opposite sides of the Falklands War and having them share firsthand experiences with one another.
I talked to Armour—now a special needs teacher—about life on and off the battlefield, and what it's like to share war stories with the very people he fought against.
VICE: When and why did you join the Royal Marines?
Lou Armour: I was sixteen and a half when I first joined the Marines in 1974. I wanted to escape from the place I lived in Warwickshire, and the Marines seemed like a good idea at the time. I was a young lad, and I was pretty bright, but I was in trouble a lot because I was running away from school. I wasn't doing things like smoking or going down the shops—the truant officers would usually find me in the library or at an art gallery.
How did you come to be in the Falklands when the Argentines invaded?
I was supposed to be there for a year as part of a detachment. I like a bit of painting and stuff like that, so I fancied going out there and seeing a bit of wilderness. But I got there, and, four days later, the Argentines invaded and tried to kill me.
To cut a long story short, I had a running battle with a bunch of Argentines in armored vehicles who were chasing me and my section back toward Stanley. When we eventually got to government house, we were taking fire from three directions: the Argentines who were attacking the house, both behind and in front, and our own guys, who were in the house and thought we were another Argentine snatch squad trying to get in. So that was a bit hairy. An Argentine was killed that day and a few more wounded.
Tell me about that iconic photograph you're in.
We were in the house, and it was totally surrounded by armored vehicles. The governor said, "Well done, lads, good effort, but we're stopping." As I led my section out of the house, a Times reporter stepped forward and took that photograph. But I don't remember it being taken.
Why did you want to return to the Falklands to fight the war?
Well, first of all, they asked for volunteers. And, you know, I was a young man, and my friends were going back. I wanted to be with my friends.
What did you and your friends make of the politics behind the war?
On the way down, we knew that Galtieri had been in trouble at home, and that's why he invaded the Falklands. We knew Thatcher wanted to kick back because, politically, it was the right move for her to make. She'd also been in trouble at home, and it was her chance to stand up and show the world that she was a strong leader. We weren't interested in Maggie, the queen, or any of that—we just knew that we were going back to have a fight with some guys who had once tried to kill us.
"We tried to kill you, and we did, we killed lots of you. You started a war. We finished it by killing more of you than you killed of us."
What was it like when you returned the Falklands?
I landed on May 21 at San Carlos, which at the time was nicknamed Bomb Alley, and we were bombed day in, day out for five days until we started to gain air superiority. I was watching ships being bombed and ships firing missiles at aircrafts—it was like watching a Second World War movie.
Then I went to Goose Green on May 28, where a lot of people had been killed and wounded that day. The rest of the troop and I were flown in to replace them. I didn't actually have to fight there, because they surrendered the next day. Because of the weather and lack of equipment, we just had to carry all our heavy equipment back to Mount Kent, instead of being flown there. That was psychologically the toughest thing I'd ever done. You're walking and falling, walking and falling—some of the lads carrying up to a hundred pounds—and if you fell over, it took two guys to lift you back up. Then there was the lack of sleep, the wet, the cold, the diarrhea. At the end, I took part in a nighttime battle on Mount Harriet. There were four hundred British and Argentines dead and wounded that night. Two days later, I was back in Stanley putting the flag back up, right back at government house where I'd started.
How did you feel when the war ended?
I think I went a bit kind of daft, to be honest with you. I stayed until '86, and I tried to join Special Forces. Some of it was a bit demanding—that's about all I'm going to say. I didn't make it, for various reasons, and sometimes I do think to myself, Why did I do that?
So I bought myself out by selling my medals. I had my rucksack on my back and some money in my hand, and I walked into a pub and met a couple of teachers who were playing pool, and I moved into their place that night. After that, I did an access course and then went to Lancaster University. I studied politics, sociology, and art history, and ended up writing a PhD on the logical grammar of color concepts. I now teach boys with ESBD—emotional, social, and behavioral difficulties.
Did you find it difficult to adjust to civilian life?
I kind of buried it all. Certainly when I came back I didn't want to take part in any of the celebrations. I just thought the sense of pride was misplaced. I'd just been to war, and people had been killed on both sides—that's nothing to cheer about. I don't think any soldier would celebrate that.
Has it been difficult to revisit some of those buried memories for this play?
This whole process has been quite emotional, and I'm not frightened to admit it. It's been a kind of gradual release, I think, and a gradual telling of stories. When I heard the stories of the Argentine lads, I thought, Shit, why did they choose to have me in the show? Because their stories are truly terrible. I mean, what they have to say is heartbreaking. My experiences have not been like that. To be honest with you, I've felt like a bit of a fraud, and I still do.
What's it like sharing stories with people who were once your enemies?
Sometimes I can compartmentalize their experiences. So when Rubén [Otero, one of the other veterans] was talking about the sinking of the Belgrano—even though it's a terrible story, I could view it from a distance because I wasn't on a ship when it was being bombed. Marcelo [Vallejo] and Gabriel [Sagastume] were infantry guys, so their experiences—on the ground, in the mud, in that weather—I can empathize with those because I experienced the same things.
Just occasionally, when the script changes and something new is introduced, suddenly the elephant in the room appears. There are a couple of elephants: one of them is politics, which I'm not really interested in. But the other is: "We tried to kill you, and we did; we killed lots of you. You started a war. We finished it by killing more of you than you killed of us." It only lasts for a moment, but there's that recognition.
Has this process made you think differently about war?
I've always known that wars are fought by human beings. And I knew that the Argentine foot soldiers were going to be pretty much like me. Intellectually, I knew that we were the same. When I saw them dead and wounded on Mount Harriet, I knew that. I definitely know it now that I've had meals with them, been to their houses, been to their schools, spoken to them about their experiences in the war.
What do you hope your audience takes away from the production?
I hope that it gives them a better understanding of how ordinary people can face one another as fighters, but overcome that to become friends. I also hope the British Forces forgive me for having to use the "I" word a lot of the time. Sometimes I've felt like saying, "I didn't win this war on my own, you know." We're all trying to speak on behalf of whoever was in the war—especially those who didn't return. But it's theater.
How is MINEFIELD relevant to younger people who have no memory of the Falklands conflict?
Growing up, I used to think wars happened either in faraway places or a long time ago. But when you think of the turmoil in the Middle East and some of the wars that have been going on in Eastern Europe—they're impacting on all societies in all kinds of ways. And they are close to home because the internet and media are bringing them into our homes. There's a lot of barbarity going on in the world at the moment, and we have a story about some guys' memories that overcome barbarity and refuse to engage in it.
Is there anything you would say to people today who are thinking of joining the army?
I'd say, "Don't go and fight people like the Argentine lads. Go and fight ISIS. Don't go and fight people who have been forced into war-like situations by politicians who are just working for short-term gain. Go and fight people who have no respect for humanity."
MINEFIELD runs at the Royal Court Theatre from June 2 to 11 as part of LIFT Festival.