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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

Sierra Leone and the Falklands War

Part view of the Agricultural Extension Workers Training Centre at Njala University

Sierra Leone and the Falklands War

I have mentioned the role that Sierra Leone played in the Falklands war in other posts but given the failure of British commentators and the media (including sadly, the BBC) in acknowledging this role when commemorating the 40th anniversary of the conflict last year, I thought that I would provide more detail of the role that the country played.

According to Wikipedia, the Falklands War was a ten-week undeclared war between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982 over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and its territorial dependencySouth Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The conflict began on 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by the invasion of South Georgia the next day. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control.

Again according to Wikipedia, two aircraft carriers, Invincible and Hermes and their escort vessels left Portsmouth on April 5 and on its return to Southampton from a world cruise on 7 April, the ocean liner SS Canberra was requisitioned and set sail two days later with 3 Commando Brigade aboard. The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 was also requisitioned, and left Southampton on 12 May with the 5th Infantry Brigade on board. The whole task force eventually comprised 127 ships: 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, and 62 merchant ships. 

What Wikipedia fails to mention is the role played by Sierra Leone in supporting the British efforts to regain control of the Falklands and the Wikipedia map showing the route of the task force does not show any of the ships stopping at Freetown, the main port of the country.

At the time of the conflict, I was living in a house overlooking the estuary of the Sierra Leone River and the entrance to the port of Freetown.  One morning in early April 1982, I woke to the sight of a North Sea ferry (with machine guns mounted on the prow; I think this shows how depleted the Royal Navy had become) and some other merchant navy vessels entering the estuary en-route to the port.  These were later followed by SS Canberra (and I think by Queen Elizabeth 2) and other Royal Navy vessels that came in to refuel and to take on supplies.

Freetown is the only deep-water port on the west coast of Africa and although it is over 4,000 miles from the Falklands, its use was invaluable in refuelling many of the task force ships and in providing other supplies such as foodstuffs, sand for sandbags and beer (beer became very scarce for the duration of the conflict!).  The international airport at Lunghi was also used by the Royal Air Force for refuelling their planes and for picking up other supplies and this is not mentioned either.

Why Sierra Leone’s role seems to have been written out of the history of the conflict is a mystery.  Margeret Thatcher later recognised the country’s assistance by funding two aid projects; one was the construction of mechanical workshops for the Ministry of Transport in Freetown and the other was the construction of an Agricultural Extension Workers Training Centre at Njala University (which I designed; see Sierra Leone projects for details) but since then, the country’s assistance to the British government seems to have been largely ignored or forgotten.

It has to be said however, that this omission is similar to what happened after the second world war (and the first world war come to that) when the services of the African troops (and pilots; a number of Sierra Leoneans served in the RAF) in the fight against the Axis powers was also largely ignored or forgotten in the aftermath of the war.  I think that it is time that the record is set straight!


Architecture in Developing Countries: A Resource

The design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health in rural areas of the developing world.

Nigel Wakeham is an architect who lived for 23 years in Southern and West Africa and the SW Pacific working on education, health and other projects. He has since worked for over 20 years as a consultant for national governments and agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, ADB and AfDB on the implementation of the construction components of education and health projects in many countries in the developing world.​

​The objective of this website will be to provide the benefit of more than 45 years of experience of working in developing countries to architects and other construction professionals involved in the design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health. It will provide reference material from the projects that Nigel has worked on and technical information on the design, construction and maintenance of educational and health facilities and other relevant topics and these will be added to from time to time.

I am happy to be contacted by anyone requiring further information on any of the projects or resources referred to in this website or by anyone wishing to discuss work possibilities.


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