Clydebank radio ham helped to win back the Falklands

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ARMED with a shortwave radio in a room in his Clydebank home, he was Britain’s secret weapon in the Falklands war.

Les Hamilton was the amateur radio operator who told the British government the islands had been invaded and the only person in Britain to be in regular radio contact with islanders during the Argentinian occupation.

He was the vital link through which details of enemy troop movements and the success of RAF bombing raids were fed back to the Ministry of Defence.

The information he provided was considered so important to the success of the war that within minutes his information was relayed to the task force in the South Atlantic.

Yet until now Hamilton’s role has been a closely guarded secret, known only by senior British politicians, military intelligence officers and a select band of amateur radio enthusiasts.

With just weeks to go before he and his wife Pilar are due to fly out to the Falklands for the 20th anniversary celebrations of the liberation, Hamilton has told Scotland on Sunday of the excitement and fear of being the only outside link for islanders during the dark days of the 1982 occupation.

Hamilton is one of just 16 people to be invited by the Falkland Islands government.

He had been in contact with amateur radio operators on the islands for more than a decade when, on April 1, his Antarctic friends started becoming jumpy about a possible Argentinian invasion.

The following day he received a fateful radio message from his friend Bill McLeod at Goose Green - the Argentinian flag was now flying over the islands.

Hamilton was the first person outside the islands and Argentina to know that the invasion had taken place. He quickly phoned the MoD, who informed the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Within three days a naval task force had been assembled and was sailing for the southern seas. Britain was at war and Hamilton and his network of Falkland Island radio hams were now the only link between the Falklands and the British government.

But the Argentinians were already aware of the threat that the radio hams posed and started seizing radio equipment from isolated settlements across the islands.

They visited Tony Pole-Evans - a farmer living on tiny Saunders Island, about 80 miles north-west of Port Stanley and took down his antenna.

But they were unaware Pole-Evans had another, smaller, radio system which had enough power to travel the 7,000 miles to Hamilton’s Clydebank radio station.

Despite the threat to Pole-Evans’ life if he was caught, the two friends stayed in daily radio contact throughout the war - a crucial source of information for British military intelligence.

"At the start, when the conflict broke out, I was excited, thrilled even at being at the centre of these amazing events, in the right place at the right time," Hamilton said.

"About 24 hours before April 2, friends on the Falklands were very jumpy, so when the message came through from Bill McLeod, a friend from Goose Green, about the Argentinian flag now flying over the islands I passed it straight on to the Ministry of Defence.

"But towards the end we were warned by a military intelligence officer that Tony would be taken outside and shot if he was caught, so I was very frightened for him."

Just before the invasion, the pair had devised a special code which allowed them to stay in contact and avoid Argentinian attempts to monitor radio communications from the islands. Each daily contact began with Hamilton announcing a number, which referred to a personal code known only by Hamilton and Pole-Evans and led both to retune to a specific radio frequency.

Once both were at the new frequency, Hamilton would take Pole-Evans through a list of questions supplied by the MoD about Argentinian troop movements and the success of British bombing raids.

Pole-Evans would answer as briefly as possible to avoid his transmissions being detected by the Argentinian military.

The occupying forces tried to enforce radio silence on the two main islands but did not have the manpower to occupy all of the 200 islands which make up the Falklands.

Outlying settlements were able to use radio to communicate with each other and doctors based in Port Stanley.

Pole-Evans would listen in and work out which settlements were free of Argentinian troops and then pass on the information to Hamilton, who had a huge map of the islands on his wall. Hamilton would then phone the MoD.

The former printer told Scotland on Sunday: "Tony was able to get information on troop movements, the location of minefields, and how well British bombing missions by Harriers had gone. When I was debriefed after the war, I was told our information was beamed out to the British Task Force within minutes of my call because it was so useful."

Using their 35-foot antenna connected to 1,000 of radio equipment, the Hamiltons also managed to intercept Argentinian military communications which Pilar - a lecturer in Spanish at Strathclyde University - translated for the MoD.

After the war Hamilton received letters from both Margaret Thatcher and a senior Army official in charge of military intelligence thanking him for his efforts.

Hamilton’s visit to the Falkland Island’s for the anniversary on June 14 will be the first time he and Pole-Evans have met. Pole-Evans, now 82, told Scotland on Sunday: "I am looking forward to meeting Les for the first time. It was a very frightening time but we did our bit."

Sam Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Falkland Islands government, said they would be delighted to welcome the Hamiltons to the islands.

Hamilton will find himself with figures from the war including Brigadier David Chaundler, who commanded 2 Para after the death of its commander H Jones at the battle of Goose Green, and Rear Admiral Sam Salt, who was in command of the vessel HMS Sheffield when it was struck by an Argentinian Exocet missile.

Hamilton said he regarded the invite as "a reward" for the work he and his contacts in the islands had done during the conflict. More importantly it was an opportunity to meet them.

"I am absolutely delighted to be going out to see friends in the flesh whom I have been speaking to via radio for years," he said.