The Falkland Islands are some 300 miles (or about 480 kilometers) off the coast of Argentina and have been a British-owned territory since the nineteenth century; in 1982 Argentina and Britain fought a war over ownership of the islands. Here, Matt Austin considers civilian casualties during the Falklands War in the wider context of the decline of the British Empire.

Argentine prisoners of war during the 1982 Falklands War. Source: Ken Griffiths, available  here .

Argentine prisoners of war during the 1982 Falklands War. Source: Ken Griffiths, available here.


Beginning on the second of April and lasting until the fourteenth of July 1982, Britain was engaged in a seventy-two day war to retain one of its few remaining commonwealth territories. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges refers to the Falklands War as “two bald men fighting over a comb,” a comparison that strongly outlines the sheer needlessness of the conflict in the eyes of many historians and writers.[1]It is therefore possible to suggest that the casualties endured during the Falklands War, an estimated eight hundred and seventy eight in total, with the inclusion of Argentine prisoners of war, numbering over eleven thousand, were themselves needless.[2]Ultimately, the motivations behind the Falklands War and the nature of how it was fought have led it to be considered one of the most unique conflicts in British military history.


The Decline of the British Empire

Following the Second World War, Britain underwent a period of decline. Due to the heavy economic losses endured during the conflict, the nation was unable to effectively fund its Empire and granted independence to a number of its former colonies from the 1940s onwards. The first of the major colonies to gain independence following the Second World War was India. With warring political groups and a lack of ‘safeguards’ for British business and trade interests, UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee decided Britain was to ‘abandon control’ of India in 1947.[3]

This was followed by the loss of numerous territories in the following decades, such as Ghana in 1957, Uganda in 1962, and Kenya in 1963. Consequently, the loss of Southern Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, as the newly independent state became known, in 1980, was the last of the British territories in Africa. The loss of Southern Rhodesia represented the end of an era for the British Empire, following its inevitable decline in the decades after the Second World War.[4]This left the former international powerhouse of the British Empire with a severely reduced, sparsely scattered group of commonwealth territories, so threatening the nation’s global influence. With the threat of the Empire being completely lost, a concept that had become gradually apparent throughout the past several decades, Britain would therefore rigorously attempt to retain and protect any of its remaining territories against invasion. 


The Falklands War

The origins of the Falklands Warcan be attributed to the militant Argentine government’s decision to invade and occupy the neighboring islands in an attempt to encourage positive public opinion. Despite having a severely weakened economy and dealing with increasing demand for the introduction a democratic voting system, the government, under the control of their military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri, received an outpouring of public support in favor of the invasion of the islands, as Argentine feelings of nationalism surged.[5]This reinforced the decision to defend their newly captured territory against the prospect of a British invasion.

Following news of the Argentine invasion and take over of the Falkland Islands, Britain responded by sending a naval taskforce on April 5, 1982 to defend the islands from the invading forces. Ultimately, the conflict was short lived, as Britain was successful in its attempt to regain the Falkland Islands through the use of more advanced military technology and superior combat training. US president Ronald Reagan was initially skeptical of Britain’s decision to win back the Falklands, suggesting that it was not worth an invasion. However, in an attempt to avoid any political tension between the United States, and the United Kingdom, under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he eventually decided to support the effort, providing Britain with weaponry and munitions, which aided the victory and shortened the conflict.


Military Casualties

The Argentine casualties during the Falklands War numbered up to six hundred and forty nine, around four hundred more than those of the British. The majority of the casualties of the Falklands War occurred during the attacks on naval ships carrying large numbers of troops. The specific case of the British attack on the Argentine ship, the General Belgrano, resulted in almost half of all Argentine casualties, with three hundred and twenty one of the ship’s one thousand one hundred crew being killed.[6]This has since been considered a highly controversial moment of the Falklands War, sparking the debate over a possible war crime, as the Belgrano was attacked thirty six miles away from the British exclusion zone that had been set up around the islands.[7]

Nevertheless, despite a vast majority of the casualties originating from naval attacks, friendly fire was a larger issue for British troops in the Falklands than the majority of its other twentieth century conflicts, relative to the scale and nature of the war. The majority of incidents of British friendly fire occurred at night. The reason for this can be attributed to the result of misinterpretation of the identity of British troops, among the ‘monotonous, featureless terrain’ of the Falkland Islands.[8]Furthermore, it was not simply British troops that fell victim to friendly fire, as the only civilian casualties of the Falklands War are attributed to this.


Civilian Casualties

The decisive British victory, however, was underpinned by the regularly overlooked deaths of three civilians.[9]Whilst civilian casualties are unfortunately rarely unique during wartime, the case of the death of three Falkland Islanders is in itself a rare occurrence, as these deaths were caused by friendly fire. The three civilian deaths of the Falklands War hold great significance, as they demonstrate the contradictory nature and moral considerations that embodied this conflict. As the islands had been under British rule for centuries, those living there were British citizens and being predominantly farmers, had little to no means of preventing the unexpected Argentine invasion. Consequently, there must have been a sense of relief when news that the British would launch an invasion to secure back the islands reached those living there.[10]However, this was not to be the case for three Falkland Islanders living in the capital, Port Stanley, as Susan Whitley, Doreen Bonner, and Mary Goodwin unfortunately lost their lives during the British bombing of the capital.[11]Whilst these deaths are often overlooked in what is a considerably neglected conflict in itself, they have come to somewhat represent British international relations in the latter half of the twentieth century.

What is therefore so intriguing about these deaths are the wider moral implications that surround them. Britain, in an attempt to recapture the islands, supposedly for the safety of the Falklanders and the right to retain their British identity, contributed to the only incidents of civilian casualties of the war. This represents the contradictory nature of this conflict and creates a wider moral question of whether the unrealistic perception of the ‘Empire’ and the lengths that Britain would go to ensure its survival was worth more to the government and foreign policy makers than the people they were trying to protect. 



The Imperial undertones of the Falklands War are highlighted by these deaths; this article therefore concludes by posing the question of British morality and whether this conflict was simply an overreaction to the post war decades characterized by the decline of the once powerful Empire that built up and bubbled over, culminating in one of the most unnecessary, frustrating conflicts in the nation’s history.


What do you think of the author’s arguments? Let us know below.

[1]Miles Kington, “What did you do in the Falklands War, Daddy?” The Independent, October 28, 1998,

[2]“Falkland Islands War. Cost and Consequences,” Britannica, accessed 17/11/2018,

[3]Nicholas Owen, “The Conservative Party and Indian Independence, 1945-1947,” The Historical Journal 46, no. 2 (June 2003): 404.

[4]Hevina S. Dashwood, “Inequality, Leadership and the Crisis in Zimbabwe,” International Journal57, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 209.

[5]Paola Ehrmantruat, “Aftermath of Violence: Coming to Terms with the Legacy of the Malvinas/Falklands War (1982),” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 15 (2011): 95-96.

[6]“Is Maggie Thatcher a War Criminal?” Belgrano Enquiry, accessed 10/12/2018,

[7]“Is Maggie Thatcher a War Criminal?”

[8]Beck, “How Are You Enjoying the Day?”

[9]Lucy Beck, “How Are You Enjoying the Day? Remembering the victims of the Falklands War,” April 2007.

[10]David Saunders, Hugh Ward, David Marsh and Tony Fletcher, “Government Popularity and the Falklands War: A Reassessment,” British Journal of Political Science 17, no. 3 (July 1987): 281-282.

[11]Beck, “How Are You Enjoying the Day?”

Our image of the week is from a rather gruesome colonial episode.


The Ashanti Wars occurred between the 1820s and the start of the twentieth century. They took place in the Ashanti Empire, a territory in modern-day Ghana, West Africa, and were fought between the British Empire and the Ashanti Empire

The above image is a scene from a battle early in these wars, in July 1824 to be precise. It shows the British in their red coats overcoming the Ashantis. But what can we take from it? The fact that European technology was superior to the Ashanti’s more traditional weapons? Or that this was a victory for ‘civilization’?

Or merely that it was just a futile battle in a war that ultimately damaged the territory and in which nearly everybody was a loser?



Now, have you heard about History is Now magazine? It has a range of fascinating articles related to modern history! In the latest issue there is even a piece related to the Ashanti Wars.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Our image of the week shows an impact of British colonial rule in India, the use of Indian soldiers as British forces.


The British ran India – or at least parts of it – for hundreds of years. This led to a number of, shall we say, interesting outcomes. From bizarre social customs to ‘White Mughals’, there were a number of fascinating results.

Another of these interesting outcomes is shown below in our image of the week.

The image shows us a group of redcoats, British soldiers, but with a twist. Rather than coming from Britain, these soldiers were Indian. Known as sepoys these troops were very important to British rule in India. Indeed, without them it would have been nearly impossible to run a country the size - and with the population - of India.

In the painting we can see troops in a variety of different-colored clothing, turbans, flags in their hands, and a variety of facial hair! Behind them are troops high-up on camels. A fascinating scene.


You can find more about the British in India in the new issue of History Is Now Magazine. The magazine is free now for one month or more on both Android and the iOS store.

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Image source

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

This week’s image of the week is from the time when the British Empire was dominant.


It has been a few weeks since we shared an image of the week, so it is time for this majestic image…

The Great Exhibition, a type of World’s Fair, took place in London in 1851. Opened by Queen Victoria, it was a majestic event that happened at a time when the British Empire was at its peak. It was also well-attended and extremely popular among many of the local population, not least because it had exhibits from over 25 countries, so allowing people to marvel at wonders from the world over, as well as exhibits from closer to home.

The image above shows the main hall with flags from a variety of countries and well-dressed people visiting the different stands from all over the world. At the top we can see the roof, a glass structure known as the Crystal Palace, situated in Hyde Park, London. Light also fills the exhibition hall.

The second image shows a poster advertising trips to the Great Exhibition from Abergavenny in Wales. People traveled from very far to come to what was an unprecedented spectacle and a rare opportunity to see much of the world under one roof.


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George Levrier-Jones

Elizabeth Yates (1845–1918) was the mayor of Onehunga in New Zealand in 1894, just two months after women gained the right to vote in New Zealand. This made her the first woman to be a mayor anywhere in the British Empire.

Elizabeth Yates

Elizabeth Yates

Born Elizabeth Onan in Scotland, she was the older of two daughters. She moved with her parents and sister to Auckland, New Zealand in 1853, where her father worked as a laborer. Onehunga, which is now a suburb of Auckland, was an important harbor at the time. Most shipping in the 19th century came to Onehunga via South Africa and Australia from Great Britain.

Elizabeth was married to master mariner Captain Michael Yates in 1875. He became mayor of Onehunga from 1888 to 1892 until he had to retire due to ill health.

By the time of her husband’s retirement, Elizabeth had already been involved in politics. She strongly supported women’s suffrage, and participated in debates at the Auckland Union Parliament. Also, Elizabeth was the first woman to record her vote in 1893 when women were first legally allowed to vote in New Zealand in parliamentary elections.

When her husband stepped down as mayor, she accepted the nomination for the office. Only a few months after New Zealand women led the world by voting in a general election, Elizabeth Yates defeated her opponent Frederick Court at the poll. The race was very close, decided by only 13 votes. She was sworn in on January 16, 1894.

Manukau Harbour and Onehunga from Mangere Bridge, before the urbanization of Onehunga.   

Manukau Harbour and Onehunga from Mangere Bridge, before the urbanization of Onehunga.


Her appointment as the first female mayor in the British Empire was news around the world. Queen Victoria even congratulated her on her election.

“Women’s enfranchisement proceeds apace. Early this morning I read of the election of the new mayor of Onehunga, Mrs. Elizabeth Yates! She defeated a male candidate. If we Britishers have a queen, why not a lady mayor?” (Letter To the Editor. Wellington, December 30, 1893. The Inland Printer, Volume 12. Maclean-Hunter Publishing Corporation, 1894.)

Along with her appointment as mayor she also automatically became a Justice of the Peace. She occasionally officiated as magistrate in cases involving women.

Elizabeth Yates was an able and effective administrator. During her tenure as mayor, she liquidated the borough debt, established a sinking fund, reorganized the fire brigade, and upgraded roads, footpaths, and sanitation.

Despite all her accomplishments, she met stubborn opposition in her role as mayor. When she was elected, four councilors and the town clerk resigned immediately in protest. A group of three councilors organized against her, opposing her every proposal. Even members of the town joined in, cramming the council chamber to hoot and jeer at her at every meeting. Critics blamed her for bringing it on herself by being “tactless” and “dictatorial” and disregarding established rules of procedure.

All of her achievements were accomplished with only one year as mayor: Elizabeth was defeated in the polls in November of the same year, 1894. Afterwards, she served on the Borough Council for two years from 1899 to 1901.

In 1909, Elizabeth was admitted to Auckland Mental Hospital for reasons unknown. She died while still in the hospital on September 6, 1918, and now rests beside her husband in St. Peter’s churchyard in Onehunga.


First country to grant women suffrage?

Of all the countries which still exist independently today, New Zealand was the very first to grant women the right to vote on September 19, 1893. The Corsican Republic, Pitcairn Island, the Isle of Man, and the Cook Islands, along with various American states and territories, granted women suffrage before New Zealand.


This article by KeriLynn Engel was originally published on, a website about all the kick-ass women the history books left out. Article here.


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