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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
The Falklands get wired
Pilar and Les Hamilton
As radio hams, the Hamiltons helped the war effort

A Scottish printer played a crucial part in the fight for the Falklands - without leaving his cottage. Twenty years on, he has travelled to the islands and is discovering how the information revolution has changed things.
When news reached London that Argentina was claiming to have invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982, there was an unusual problem for Mrs Thatcher and her ministers.

It was more pressing even than arranging for the task force to set sail from Portsmouth.

Argentine veterans celebrate
Argentines mark 20 years on from the invasion
It was simply this: London did not know what had actually happened.

Celebrations were taking place in Buenos Aires, and the Argentine dictator General Galtieri was proclaiming that the will of his people had at last been fulfilled.

But the governor of the Falklands, Rex Hunt, had not been able to radio back to London to report his surrender because the Argentines had seized control of the phones and radio network. London had no independent verification of what Buenos Aires was saying.

Perched at the top of the stairs of his Clydebank cottage, Les Hamilton was about to move centre stage. A radio ham since he had been 15, Hamilton would sit for hours at a time, making minute alterations in wavelengths, trying to pick up crackly messages from other hams all over the world.

Hamilton in his studio
Les Hamilton: Radio ham since the 1960s
Two of his correspondents were from the Falklands. He had been keeping in touch with Tony Pole-Evans, a radio ham on Saunders Island, just off West Falkland, since the mid-1960s. Another friend was Bob McLeod, at Goose Green.

"For 10 or 15 years I'd be talking to Tony almost daily. As it came nearer to 2 April, we knew something was going to happen because of various reports of Argentine activity.

"But then I heard from Bob McLeod that the Argentine flag was flying over Government House in Stanley. When later we heard nothing more from McLeod, we knew they had reached Goose Green too."

British military intelligence was quick to find out about what Hamilton had heard, and asked him to keep in touch with the Falklands as much as he could.

Letter from Margaret Thatcher
Hamilton received this note from Mrs Thatcher

In the ensuing weeks, by maintaining contact with Tony Pole-Evans, Hamilton could relay to London details of the results of bombing raids, where Argentine radar was based, where minefields were being laid and where troops were being deployed.

His wife, Pilar, who is a Spanish lecturer, would listen to broadcasts from the Argentines and translate them.

"At the time we didn't think what we were doing was very important. But when we went down for a debrief, military intelligence told us that it had been extremely important. Mrs Thatcher even wrote to thank us."

Wired islands

The changes in communications are one of the most marked advances the Falklands has seen in the 20 years since the war.

Public phone
Away from home and need to call? Best use this
For a start, each home has its own phone number. In 1982, a single wire would connect as many as 40 houses, and people would only know the call was for them by listening for a specific number of rings.

Bob McLeod remembers: "You might know it was for you, for example, if you heard three long rings followed by three short rings. It was quite a system."

Now it takes fewer digits to dial any house on the Falklands from London than it does to dial Manchester.

Nearly two-thirds of the houses on the island have internet access. Activity on the ".fk" domain is flourishing; the islands has its own ISP, Horizon, and online news services, including the local newspaper Penguin News.

Sir Galahad
The islanders mark the end of the war this Friday
This week's celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of liberation will be webcast. The military base at Mount Pleasant, an hour's drive up a gravel road from Stanley which is home to 2,500 services personnel, has its own internet cafe.

(Mobile phones, however, are out. Hundreds of miles from the nearest phone mast, there seems in some parts almost a pride that the island has side-stepped the bane of so many people's lives.)

Satellite dish outside Government House
Keeping the islanders in touch with the world
Technology is meeting that need to keep in touch - which is felt just as keenly for people living in a wooden-walled house in Port Stanley, 8,000 miles from home, as it is for busy London office workers checking to see if their mate has texted them.

"People here are very worldly-wise," says Bob McLeod, "and they always have been. They are very well up on world affairs, and will be checking the news nearly every day."

Les Hamilton, who this week is making his first trip to the Falklands, is meeting his correspondents for the first time on their home soil.

Les Hamilton
Les Hamilton would do it all again if need be
His eyes light up when he talks of how technology has revolutionised his hobby and of how much easier it is now for anyone to keep in contact.

But he allows himself a smile and a wistful look when he considers what would happen if, as in 1982, all the everyday methods of communication were knocked out, and the radio hams were at the centre of things again.

"Aye, we'd still be there," he says.

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