This film is held by the BFI (ID: 125458) and Imperial War Museum (ID: ADM 4098).


(Reel One) The morning of the invasion (the troops had landed before 5.30 am), angry Anguillans surround the office of the British Commissioner, Anthony Lee. London policemen from the Special Patrol Group try to pacify the crowd, but the arrival of the Commissioner in a Volkswagen sparks off a disturbance. In the ensuing mle Lee is roughly handled and two policemen receive slight injuries - one policeman can be seen afterwards with his shirt torn at the shoulder. Lee leaves the scene in the Volkswagen, which has been dented on the hood and roof, a policeman holding a loud hailer riding on the outside of the car. After Lee has departed, the police talk with the crowd which is volatile but without real violent intent. Notable among the policemen is the substantial figure of their commander, Assistant Commissioner Way, wearing his blue serge uniform despite the Caribbean heat (his lightweight clothes had been lost when the case containing them had fallen out of a Naval helicopter). Locals hold up a placard inscribed GO HOME TONY LEE, WE DON'T WANT YOU, YOU MUST GO, FREEDOM IS OUR AIM. Many carry the Anguillan flag. Sequence shot on the beach - Royal Marines and a RN shore party rest in the shade provided by the hull of a derelict sailing boat. Two ratings patrol the beach carrying FNs and wearing steel helmets and ammunition pouches - the inevitable result of this exertion is that they have to stop to refresh themselves with cold Heinekens. The film then reverts to crowd scenes - standing on a roof, the local leader Ronald Webster is waving the Anguillan flag for the benefit of a crouching cameraman. CU of a file of paratroopers standing watching a passing crowd of demonstrators - the soldiers appear amused, and one takes a photograph. At the airfield RAF Air Support Command Andovers are being unloaded by paratroopers, who have set up a temporary communications centre. At the beach there is a conversation, probably contrived for the camera, between three officers - a Royal Marine, a paratrooper and a Lieutenant-Commander of the RN shore party. A Land Rover passes with Tony Lee onboard.

(Reel Two) Sequence showing two Andover transports embarking paratroopers - the cameraman films from the cockpit as one of the aircraft takes off. Mr Lee chats with reporters. Sequence shot from a ship's launch showing the two frigates HMS Minerva (F.45) and HMS Rothesay (F.107) at anchor off the coast. Beach scenes. Mr Lee has an open-air press conference for the world's press and television. One of the frigate's Wasp helicopters delivers cargo nets of rations and kit to waiting troops - a local cricket match is underway in the background. More crowd scenes - one placard reads SHAME ON BRITAIN - Webster holds up a Bible (no doubt to indicate from whom he is receiving instructions). Webster meets the RM commander (?), Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Dawnay. More miscellaneous beach scenes - a RN Gemini inflatable delivers what appears to be a milk churn to the island. LS over soldier's tents pitched by the airstrip, and the piles of stores. MS of an Andover transport and CU of its Royal Air Force Air Support Command logo. Aerial views of the island - bay crowded with boats, waterfront buildings and lush palms, the island's arid interior. A demonstration led by Webster - placards includes ANGUILLANS DON'T WANT ST KITTS, NOR MR LEE, and BRUTISH BRITISH GO HOME. A file of smiling paratroopers stands outside the Community Centre watching the crowd go past - the soldiers are relaxed but still retain their rifles. CUs of more placards.

(Reel Three) Lee and two other civilians sitting at a table outside tents with two officers, one possibly a Major of the Royal Engineers. A flag with ‘33’ on a red field with black bars. Views from a Parachute Regiment camp with men cleaning weapons, packing kitbags and receiving pay. A Para company on parade being addressed by a naval officer, probably a Commodore. At a small church the clergy process in and after the service local people and some servicemen leave. Beach with soldiers and locals men swimming. Wooden jetty. Servicemen play cricket complete with pads and whites. Lee at an airfield (Wallblake?); an Andover takes off. Aircraft taxiing; Paras board the aircraft with their kit. British and Anguillan flags. A painted sign: 'Welcome to Anguilla'. Met police officers. Para capbadge. Lee. Andover taxiing and Paras with kit. Emplaning. Protestors with British flag and below 'Britain is Lee'. Police with the crowd. Webster standing on car with megaphone. Aircraft. Lee with another (more senior?) British official. A banner reads 'WE WANT WEBSTER / LEE MUST GO / HE MUST GO / WE WANT WEBSTER / AND WE MUST GET HIM' and another reads 'SHAME! SHAME! BRITAIN HAS RAPED HER OWN SUCKING DAUGHTER ANGUILLA'. Scenes at the airfield with two squaddies, one of whom flaps his shirt in the heat.

Scenes on the Caribbean island of Anguilla after the British landing of 19 March, 1969.



Operation Sheepskin, which took place in Anguilla in March 1969, was the result of what The Times described as ‘one of the many troubles in dismantling the remains of empire in the West Indies’ (The Times, 12 December 1968). Anguilla had been administered directly from Britain until 1967, at which point power was devolved to the ‘associated state’ of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. This new formation was independent of Britain ‘in all but defence and foreign policy’, with the main basis of power residing in the larger island of St Kitts (Times Higher Education, 7 January 2000). Anguillans, separated from these other territories by a distance of 70 miles and by a ‘mutual antipathy’, objected to this new formation (The Times, 12 December 1968). In July 1967 the chief executive Ronald Webster led the islanders in a vote for secession. Meanwhile the Prime Minister of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Robert Bradshaw, wished to enforce his rule over Anguilla. The British government, for its part, neither wished to grant full autonomy to Bradshaw’s parliament nor to resume its administration of Anguilla (see The Times 12 December 1968).

An agreed period of mediation, led by the British minister Tony Lee, failed. In early 1969 Bradshaw enforced Lee’s departure from Anguilla and imposed sanctions on the island. Receiving no further support from the British government, the islanders voted for complete independence. On March 11 the British junior minister William Whitlock arrived on Anguilla with a returning Tony Lee and tried to negotiate a settlement. Their initial reception was friendly, but a failure to recognise Ronald Webster as the president of the new republic aroused hostility (Webster, 1987, 98-100). Whitlock’s party was eventually forced from the island at gunpoint. He reported that Webster was under the control of a ‘Mafia-type organization’ who wished to exploit the island for gambling purposes and that he ‘seemed a frightened man’ (The Times 13 March 1969 and 14 March 1969).

Within 72 hours the British government had decided to send troops to the island. The results were somewhat farcical. One hundred members of the elite Red Devils led the invasion, to be followed by further paratroopers and members of the British police. They met no armed resistance and their investigations failed to uncover any evidence of Mafia involvement in the island’s affairs (Brisk, 1969, 28). Tony Lee had been chosen as Her Majesty’s Commissioner for the island. However, arriving with the invaders and given emergency powers, he was perceived as an enemy (Westlake, 1972, 223). A series of protests were held against him (including a mock funeral). Meanwhile, Webster fled the island and pleaded the Anguillans’ case at the United Nations. Lord Caradon, the senior British Minister at the UN, agreed to come to Anguilla to try to find a workable solution.

The British intervention was derided both at home and abroad.  The invasion was variously labelled ‘Britain’s Bay of Piglets’ (Time) and the ‘War of Whitlock’s Ear’ (Spectator). The world’s press had been alerted to the situation. Landing at dawn the Red Devils found themselves facing ‘a barrage of flashes which officers thought was the opening of a gun battle’ (The Times, 20 March 1969). They were in fact camera bulbs going off. There was widespread criticism that the British government had quickly intervened against the uprising of the black population of Anguilla, but in four years had failed to do anything against the white uprising in Rhodesia (The Times, 20 March 1969)

The military were aware of their media representation. On the one hand, the main thrust of their operation was on a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign (www.paradata.org.uk). On the other hand, they made sure that they documented events. Operation Sheepskin, the rushes under discussion here, were shot by Sergeant P. Hump for the Department of Public Relations, Ministry of Defence.

The British government eventually recognised that Anguilla would never agree to association with their neighbouring islands. Faced with this alternative many Anguillans actually desired a return to Colonial rule. This proposition was accepted by the British government in 1971 and, while St Kitts and Nevis achieved full independence in 1983, Anguilla remains a British dependency. 



The rushes that comprise Operation Sheepskin have much to say about media representations of the military intervention in Anguilla. Although it was the farcical nature of the operation that was emphasised in the press, here we get to witness some of the genuine unrest that was caused. Both elements are in fact present in the opening scenes, which cover the protests outside the offices of Tony Lee. There is the comical nature of the police commander Andrew Way trying to retain his dignity as he wears his heavy police uniform in the searing heat, but there is also the genuine threat of the crowd as they attack Lee’s Volkswagen Beetle.

What is also notable in the footage of protests is the fact the islanders are, by and large, not addressing the camera. Although they carry placards, banners and flags, these are not being brandished for the military cameraman; the protests are instead addressed directly to the intervening British authorities. This is reflected in the way these scenes are filmed. They are not carefully composed; instead we witness short fragments of film and the cameraman is frequently caught up in the middle of the events themselves. He has to shoot over the heads of the protestors and the police, and captures them gesticulating at one another.

In comparison, the cameraman has much more time to frame his footage of the military’s ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. There are several long takes in which we see the military ‘interacting’ with locals. This footage could be interpreted or inflected in a number of ways. In comparison with the altercations between the police and the protesters, these scenes are composed so that they show the military and locals at ease in one another’s presence; whether this be under the hull of a derelict boat, on a jetty, or even during a later protest march. However, although the two parties are witnessed side-by-side, they are rarely in dialogue with one another. This relationship is echoed in another factor of Anguillan life captured by the cameraman. He films two cricket matches: one played by the locals, the other by the military. The two parties have parallel but separate lives.

There is also footage that has been shot with its future editing in mind. We witness a conversation between a Royal Marine, a paratrooper and a Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Navy shore party. It is shot from several angles and it features head shots of each of the individuals. And there are further elements that could be used for narrative purposes: the cameraman films the outline of the island from on board a military plane; he also films both British and Anguillan flags, images that could be usefully inserted into a story of the events. Similarly, the cameraman focuses on paratroopers’ stripes and on the badges pinned to their berets. Elsewhere, items are documented for military purposes. For example, the cameraman carefully details the navy vessels that were involved in the operation.

The cameraman also captures the media coverage of Operation Sheepskin. He films another filmmaker focussing on Ronald Webster during one of the protests. A news conference held by Tony Lee is also documented. On both occasions the cameraman is as concerned with filming the reporters as he is with capturing the political rivals. He does nevertheless gain good access to Webster and Lee, as well as to the main public demonstrations following the invasion. We witness crowds attacking Lee’s car, marching on what could be the mock funeral, surrounding Webster on his return to the island after visiting the United Nations, and protesting both for and against the British during Lord Caradon’s reception. Lee’s and Webster’s images reappear at various times in the footage. Whereas it is difficult to gauge Tony Lee’s emotions (particularly as he is hidden behind sunglasses for much of the time), the film does bear testament to something that he said about Ronald Webster. Lee informed a Times reporter that ‘Mr. Webster is a kind of messiah for them [the islanders]’, adding that ‘Whatever he says they take as gospel’ (The Times, 20 March 1969). In this film we witness the twin sources of Webster’s authority: in some of the scenes he holds a bible, in others the Anguillan flag. 

Richard Osborne


Works Cited

‘Anguillans “Dominated by Gangsters”’, The Times (14 March 1969), 5.

‘Anguillans “Ruled by Fear”’, The Times (13 March 1969), 1.

‘Bay of Piglets Revisited’, Time (26 July 1971) <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,877024,00.html>.

Brisk, William, J., The Dilemma of a Ministate: Anguilla (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1969).

‘How the Army Planed Operation Sheepskin’, The Times (20 March 1969), 10.

‘It was 30 Years Ago Today’, Times Higher Education (7 January 2000), <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=149506&sectioncode=26>.

‘Mistakes in Foreign Policy’, The Times (20 March 1969), 11.

‘More Islands in Trouble’, The Times, 12 December 1968), 11.

Paradata Editor, Anguilla (Operation Sheepskin) <http://www.paradata.org.uk/events/anguilla-operation-sheepskin>.

‘Troops to Leave in Few Days After Anguilla Leaflet Invasion’, The Times (20 March 1969), 1

Webster, Ronald, Scrapbook of Anguilla’s Revolution (Anguilla: Seabreakers, 1987).

Westlake, Donald, E., Under an English Heaven (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972).



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
31 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
683 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Department of Public Relations, Ministry of Defence [Royal Navy]
Hamp, P (S/Sergeant)







Production Organisations