top of page

The Language of Heaven by Nigel Roth

In 1982, a month after Queen Elizabeth put her teeth back in long enough to open the Barbican Centre in London, her primary residence, the United Kingdom, went off to fight a war with Argentina.

It couldn’t really have been a less important war, the prize being a tiny group of islands due east from Isla Grand del Tierra Fuego in Patagonia, called Islas Malvinas, though was certainly not the shortest, because that medal goes to the Anglo-Zanzibar War.

That war, unlike the Guerra de las Malvinas, lasted just thirty-eight minutes.

It began on August 25, 1896, when the Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini died, and his twenty-nine year old nephew, Khalid bin Barghash, tried to stem the impending chaos by declaring himself Sultan. Unfortunately for Zanzibar, Khalid, and anyone eating breakfast in the palace cafeteria that morning, Britain, who had decided they owned that piece of humanity in 1890, as bloodthirsty abusive bigots tend to do, didn’t agree.

So they asked him to leave, which he refused to do because it was, after all, his country. And so, at 9.02am on August 27, just as the eggs were coming out sunny-side-up, the Royal Navy began bombarding the palace from the harbor, setting it on fire, and generally ruining the sausages.

Proudly reporting that they dispatched five-hundred innocent Zanzibaris while incurring one single injury to one single soldier, they watched Khalid escape with his life, and quickly installed Sultan Hamud as the head of their government.

By 9:40am, the war had finished, and breakfast resumed, with the toast slightly burnt.

Well done, Britain, for ruining the most important meal of the day, forever.

The Guerra de las Malvinas, by contrast, took a much longer seventy-four days to conclude, and ended the lives of over nine-hundred people, after which the islands remained as they were, under British control, and everyone left alive shouted hip-hip hooray and waved their little flags in the freezing wind.

At the end of that war, though, a very strange thing happened.

As the Argentine soldiers and sailors still living were being shipped back to their homes and families, and the British were preparing to leave the barren, useless rocks to the Falklanders who desperately wanted to live there, a Welsh Guardsmen, longing to once more experience Myfanwy and Cwm Rhondda, and drink tea with a slice of bara brith and a stack of crempogs, met face-to-face with one of the men he’d been trying to kill earlier that week.

The Welsh Guard greeted the Argentine soldier with a passing ‘Bore da’, or good morning, to which the Argentine replied with ‘Bore da, sut wyt ti’, good morning, and how are you.

To the Welshman’s surprise the Argentine also spoke Welsh, and, after a further exchange, they found a kinship in not only language, but in ancestry too. Because this man was descended from the Welsh people who first arrived in Patagonia in 1865, running as fast as they could away from a Wales that was being subsumed into Britain, and where they feared the loss of their culture and language, along with their livelihood which was anchored in the rural heartland of the old country, was imminent.