TV project to dig up Falklands battle sites

A TV archaeologist has revealed controversial plans to excavate the battlefields of the Falklands War even though the conflict only took place 30 years ago.

Veteran groups have warned that such an exploration would be inappropriate after such a short time, with many combatants and friends and relatives of the dead still alive.

Glasgow University academic Dr Tony Pollard is preparing the major project to unearth secrets of the 1982 campaign by British forces to seize back the South Atlantic island chain from Argentinian invaders.

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The presenter of the BBC series, Two Men In A Trench, believes the war is in danger of being forgotten and insists his expedition would be a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary of the islands’ liberation.

In a move which is certain to prove contentious Pollard plans to invite a team of Argentinian archaeologists to take part in the venture, which, if approved, will be televised. Famous battle sites to be targeted include Mount Tumbledown, Mount Harriet and Goose Green and both British and Argentinian positions will be explored.

The proposals have divided veterans, with some branding the project inappropriate while others have welcomed it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the conflict and its legacy.

Simon Weston, the war hero and charity campaigner, warned that the Argentinian academics would not receive a warm welcome and urged Pollard to proceed with utmost caution.

But the director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, who recently discovered the tunnel used by British prisoners of war in a Nazi prison-camp breakout immortalised in the Second World War film The Great Escape, is convinced the full story of the Falklands has not yet been told. The war began on 2 April, 1982, when Argentinian troops invaded the British territory. After 74 days of conflict, in which 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen died, UK control over the archipelago was re-established.

Pollard said: “I believe the Falklands have the potential to be an important laboratory for the practice of battlefield archaeology.

“It was fought in the late 20th century, but with mid 20th century technology and will possibly be the last conventional war that the British army will ever fight.

“If done properly, a project there could tell us a whole lot about how the archaeological record compares with the many accounts we have.

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“Because of its isolated location the remains on the Falkland Islands are incredibly well preserved. That, in conjunction with the fact that the combatants, in many cases, are still with us gives an ideal opportunity to complete a project looking at the archaeology, the history and the anthropology.”

Pollard will travel to Buenos Aires in the spring with the intention of securing the cooperation of his Argentinian counterparts.

He said: “Obviously, there are potential difficulties, in terms of perception, in taking Argentinian archaeologists on to the islands. But, I think it is important that we get both sides of the story.”

The broadcaster acknowledged that his proposals would generate strong feelings, stating: “One of the worries will be that we will be over there to look for controversy, but it is certainly not on my agenda.

Weston, the former Welsh Guard who suffered 46 per cent burns to his body when the Royal Fleet Auxiliary troop carrier Sir Galahad was bombed during the conflict, said: “I don’t have a problem with it, but it’s not the sort of programme I would stop a runaway horse to watch. What I would say to Dr Pollard is, ‘Go, but be very careful’.”

He added: “The Argentinians might get a different welcome. The islanders are still very sensitive.”

Veterans’ organisation the South Atlantic Medal Association 1982, is opposed to the project. Chairman Mike Bowles said: “I do not believe that it would be appropriate to excavate Falklands Conflict battlefields so comparatively soon after the event and particularly not in 2012, the 30th anniversary year, when many veterans and some next of kin of those who died will be going back to the islands to remember and to pay respects to fallen colleagues and family members.”