St Helena Online

Tag: Falklands War

Ascension coin toasts The Iron Lady… in silver

thatcher-580x283Ascension Island has issued a special £2 coin to mark the passing of Baroness Thatcher, the former UK prime minister who sent a task force to the South Atlantic to wrest the Falklands from Argentine invaders.

ascension-island-thatcher-l-300x371Wideawake Airfield on Ascension briefly became the world’s busiest airport during the conflict, with aircraft parked wing-to-wing in every available space.

A set of four stamps was also issued on 14 June 2013 – Liberation Day in the Falklands, marking the 31st anniversary of the Argentinian surrender.

As Mrs Thatcher, she stopped over on Ascension and visited The Residency – home of the island’s administrator – en route to visit the Falklands after the victory.

The Coin Update website reports that 10,000 of the silver coins have been issued by Pobjoy Mint, along with an unlimited number of nickel coins.

Ascension Island coin remembers Lady Thatcher
Ascension Island – Lady Thatcher stamps

War papers reveal Thatcher’s fighting talk over Ascension

Newly-released secret papers have revealed how Margaret Thatcher had to stand her ground over Britain’s right to use Ascension Island as an air base during the Falklands War.

America’s senior diplomat planned to tell Argentina that UK use of the South Atlantic island had been “restricted” by the United States.

But the tough-speaking Prime Minister firmly insisted: “It’s our island.”

The US built one of the world’s longest runways on Ascension during World War Two, and in the late 1950s negotiated a lease to use the island as an American base.

The newly-disclosed British papers – released under a 30-year rule – record American negotiations with Argentina before and after the invasion of the Falklands in April, 1982.

Even as the British task force sailed to re-take the islands, US Secretary of State Alexander Haig flew back and forth across the Atlantic as a go-between, trying to avert a full-on military conflict.

Those talks depended on America appearing to be treating both sides equally. But press reports revealed how the US was supporting Britain behind the scenes, invoking fury in Buenos Airies.

Haig telephoned Thatcher to read a proposed statement designed to rescue the talks – with a specific reference to Ascension Island, which was then officially a dependency of St Helena.

A BBC radio programme, UK Confidential, used actors to show how Thatcher browbeat Mr Haig. The dialogue – recorded at the time – ran:

HAIG: “Now what we have done is put together a statement…”

THATCHER: “Yes, go ahead, read it to me.”

HAIG: “I would say that since the onset of the crisis, the US has not acceded to requests that would go beyond the scope of our customary patterns of co-operation. British use of US facilities on the United Kingdom island of Ascension has been restricted accordingly.”

THATCHER: “Oh, now that’s a bit devastating – ”

HAIG: “Now, we have looked very carefully at our agreement on this and we feel that that statement has been and remains justified -”

THATCHER: “Part of your statement would have an extremely adverse reaction here. It’s been said in the House of Commons, quite rightly, that I have done everything possible to   support President Reagan and the US government, on every single occasion that they have asked for help; and the moment we need your help you aren’t there. We just don’t receive it. I don’t like phrase, ‘you have not acceded to requests beyond the scope of the customary pattern’ … because it looks as if we have made them and you have turned them down.”

HAIG: “I told them that if they asked, we would turn them down; if you asked while this negotiation was under way, we would have to refrain as well.”

THATCHER: “…the suggestion that we are to be treated in the same way as a military junta… with a very bad record of human rights, I think will cause problems here. It will make it extremely difficult to continue the good relations that have hitherto existed.”

HAIG: “Well, I certainly understand that concern and that’s why I read this to you -”

THATCHER: “Well, let’s get Ascension out of it altogether, because it’s our island. I made myself clear, did I?”

HAIG: “Yes.”

Ascension was subsequently used as a major staging post for ships, troops and equipment en route to the conflict zone, as one point becoming the world’s busiest airport.

St Helenians who were based on the island at the time recall aircraft being parked up on every available piece of ground.

LISTEN: UK Confidential – BBC Radio 4 (available to UK listeners until 3 January 2012)

LINK: National Archives: newly-released Falklands papers

Maggie’s shock at Falklands Invasion – and how Britain nearly agreed to fly the Argentinian flag in Stanley

De-classified documents have revealed the British government’s shock when it realised Argentina was about to invade the Falkland Islands.

Only two days before troops walked through Stanley did Thatcher and her advisers realise what was about to happen.

In October 1982 she gave evidence behind closed doors to the Falkland Islands Review Committee, set up to analyse what happened.

The transcript is among the papers newly released by the National Archives office at Kew under a 30-year disclosure rule.

In it, Mrs Thatcher says: “I thought that they would be so absurd and ridiculous to invade the Falklands that I did not think it would happen.”

When she was shown raw intelligence suggestion an invasion was imminent, she said, it was “the worst, I think, moment of my life.”

She also said: “That night no-one could tell me whether we could retake the Falklands – no-one. We did not know – we did not know.”

The papers also show that Britain held secret talks near Geneva in the late 1970s. It suggested transferring the islands to Argentina, with the UK retaining sovereignty over the people who lived on them – “for, say, 200 years”.

Foreign minister Nicholas Ridley told an Argentinian military leader: “You would have increasing opportunities of influencing the islanders and opening their minds to cooperation.

“You could fly Argentinian flags on public buildings, and perhaps appoint a high commissioner.”

The Argentinian negotiator said his government had considered something similar, saying, “If Britain were to hand over the islands to Argentina, my government would not extend the same regulations to the islands as the mainland. They would have their own laws, civil service, etc, a bit like Tierre del Fuego.”

The “leaseback” idea was greeted with reluctance in the islands, and hostility in the UK parliament, according to UK Confidential, a special BBC radio programme broadcast on 28 December 2012, the day the papers were released.

On another occasion, Sir Roger Bannister – the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes – reported on meeting a US academic who’d suggested partitioning the islands, with Britain retaining West Falkland while Argentina kept the East – where most of the population lived.

The UK said dividing it the other way round “could be slightly less unattractive.”

The released archives also include a letter to Margaret Thatcher from Sir Rex Hunt, the British governor who stood up to the invaders, and returned to resume his post after the liberation. He wrote:

“I should like to extend my personal thanks and say how grateful I am to you for sending me back to Stanley to finish the job I started two and a half years ago.

“My wife and I were honoured and privileged to be invited to your box at the Trooping of the Colour [the Queen’s birthday ceremony].

“Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to return that hospitality by having you and Mr Thatcher to stay with us at Government House, Stanley.”

The offer was taken up.

Falklands mourn Sir Rex Hunt, hero of the ’82 invasion
I’m not surrendering: voice of the late Sir Rex Hunt


UK Confidential – BBC Radio 4 (available to UK listeners until 3 January 2012)

National Archives: newly-released Falklands papers
Thatcher was ready for Falkland Islands deal, papers show – Guardian website
Falklands invasion ‘surprised’ Thatcher – BBC News

‘I’m not surrendering’ – voice of the late Sir Rex Hunt

A recording of a broadcast by Falklands governor Sir Rex Hunt in the early stages of the Argentine invasion has been posted on the internet. In it, he tells presenter Patrick Watts he won’t surrender to “the bloody Argies”. Sir Rex died on Remembrance Sunday 2012, aged 82.

Listen to the recording here (duration: 1 min 24 secs).

Falklands mourn Sir Rex Hunt, hero of the ’82 invasion

Sir Rex Hunt, the governor of the Falkland Islands who told Argentine forces they were “very uncivilised to invade British territory,” has died, aged 86.

Flags were flown at half mast in Stanley, the islands’ capital, and a book of condolence has been opened at the cathedral.

Sir Rex died in hospital on Sunday night.

When Argentine forces landed on 2 April 1982, he ordered the small detachment of Royal Marines defending Government House to surrender, to avoid loss of life.

Then, wearing his full ceremonial uniform, he went out and told the invading commander: “You have landed unlawfully on British territory and I order you to remove yourself and your troops forthwith.”

He was expelled and removed to Uruguay, and then flew to the UK, where he became famous for his dignified stand and as an advocate for the islanders.

In speeches in the UK, he told the British public the fight for the islands was “worth it.”

He added: “I have never had a word back from any of the people who went there – no matter how badly injured – who said it wasn’t worth it – not one.”

After the liberation, he returned to Stanley and stayed in post until 1985.

Sir Rex had joined the Colonial Service in 1952 after service in the RAF.

Legislative councillor Roger Edwards said: “Sir Rex will forever be remembered in the islands for his years of service as governor, and particularly for his courage and dignity in facing the Argentine invasion in 1982.

“A loyal friend of the Falkland Islands, he served for many years as chairman of the Falkland Islands Association and as president of the UK Falkland Islands Trust.

“His passion and commitment to the Falkland Islands will be sorely missed. The thoughts and deepest sympathies of all Falkland Islanders are with his family and friends at this sad time.”

The Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “Like the islanders themselves, he demonstrated great courage and fortitude in the face of Argentine aggression during the Falklands conflict.

“After the conflict, he contributed to the transformation of the islands into a vibrant, modern and successful democracy.”


I’m feeling very sad at the death of Rex Hunt. He was the first governor I liked and respected. That was because he liked and respected us. He was remarkably brave in 82, and inspired a sense of fortitude among Islanders. We were so fond of him because he “went native” – probably to the horror of the Foreign Office. We had our disagreements over Penguin News stories, but I truly admired him. He will not be forgotten in the Falklands
Graham Bound, Falklands-born journalist, UK


Very sorry to hear that Sir Rex Hunt has died. A true friend to the Falklands. Courageous and inspirational gentleman
David Archer‏@davidarcherNI

Sir Rex Hunt—a modest, indomitable man. The peoples’ diplomat who was in the right place at the right time
Alasdair Pinkerton‏@AlPinkerton

HAVE YOUR SAY: Share your thoughts here.

READ MORE: Google News on Sir Rex Hunt

the face of the Virgin Mary looks out from shattered glass

Cameron must apologise for cemetery sacrilege, says writer

A call has been made for Britain’s prime minister to apologise to Argentina for a vandal’s act of “sacrilege” at its war cemetery on the Falkland Islands.

The glass case protecting a statue of the Virgin Mary of Lujan has been smashed at the cemetery, where 237 servicemen were buried with full military honours after the 1982 conflict.

The statue – dressed in the blue and white of Argentina’s flag – has been removed while repairs are made to the shrine in the cemetery on East Falkland.

Former soldier Crispin Black, who visited the site during the 20th anniversary commemorations of the conflict, writes about the vandalism on The Week website. “I am appalled at the desecration,” he says, “as no doubt is every single British veteran of that war and every single Falklander. The families of the Argentine war dead have rightly called the attack an act of sacrilege.

“No matter what happens in war, regardless of who wins and who loses, it is a matter of military honour to ensure that the dead from both sides are buried and then remembered with care and respect.

“If he hasn’t already done so already, a telephone call from David Cameron to Cristina Kirchner [president of Argentina] with a properly expressed apology would be the most civilised way forward.”

Black says he is confident the culprit will quickly be caught and dealt with – “as harshly as possible, I hope.”


I disagree. It wasn’t David Cameron that damaged the monument. It wasn’t done by a member of his government. Or even by any government, local or national. The damage was – as far as we can tell – the act of a lone idiot who doubtless thought his actions were some kind of stab against the Argentinians. But that’s hardly David Cameron’s fault. If the Prime Minister goes around apologising for every act of madness performed by his nearly 60m people, he’s going to be rather too busy to govern the country. David Cameron should NOT apologise.
– John Turner, St Helena
Random Thoughts from Offshore – blog

Picture that angered families of the fallen
War cemetery ‘sacrilege’ sparks anger in Argentina
Falklands government condemns cemetery desecration

No excuses for desecration of Argentines’ war cemetery – Crispin Black


Gays who served in Falklands War tell of their pride

Gay men weren’t allowed to serve in the Royal Navy back in 1982, but that didn’t stop some homosexuals sailing off to service in the Falklands War, reports the Pink News website.

It tells of Roy “Wendy” Gibson, who declined the chance to leave his ship when it was commandeered to join the British Task Force. Instead, he kept spirits up among the Paras by playing hits on his pink piano. Barbra Straisand went down a storm.

The site tells how openly gay stewards on civilian vessels worked under fire, gave blood, trained to operate guns, and volunteered in the ships’ hospitals.

Their presence has not been acknowledged in official histories, says Pink News, “but they value their campaign medals and feel proud that they didn’t turn back when offered the opportunity at Ascension Island.”

The Mirror website in the UK also tells of the bravery of Falkland Islanders who used their tractors to transport arms and equipment under the eyes of their Argentinain invaders, risking their lives.

Falkland Islanders gather in snow to mark 30 years of freedom

The Falklands invasion as it happened – 30 years on

Warning sign: Slow - Minefield
A Twitter stream is recalling the Falklands War as it happened, 30 years on (picture: World of Good/fotopedia)

2 April 1982, Government House, Stanley: “Stop fighting, Mr Hunt! Come out, Mr Hunt! Tell your marines to stop fighting!”

It is 30 years since an invasion force landed on the Falkland Islands, starting a brief but brutal war that left many dead and others scarred – but also woke Britain up to the existence of its overseas territories.

This website cannot possibly keep up with all that is being said about the 30th anniversary, though the significant roles of St Helenians, and Ascension Island, deserve to be commemorated. The site will give space to anyone who wishes to do that, within reason (click here to send a message).

Those who wish to look back at events as they happened in 1982 would do well to sign up to the Twitter messaging website, and follow @WarDiaryF82, which will chronicle events day by day, as each one reaches its 30th anniversary. For the same story from an Argentine perspective, in English, follow @MalvinasWar.

This is its account of the invasion, as detailed in a series of messages this morning:

  • 2300 hrs last night – 90 Arg’ commandos land Seal Point, S. of Stanley. 2 groups – one targets Moody Barracks, the other Govt. House.
  • 0530 sound of gunfire and explosions at Moody Barracks – which was empty. Leaves no doubt about Arg’ intentions re: peaceful insertion
  • Main Arg’ force landing at Yorke Bay, N. of Stanley. Beach defence abandoned. R. Marines retire to Govt. House, already under attack.
  • Govt. House defended by 30 under heavy fire.  Commando’s silencers and flash eliminators make it difficult to pinpoint targets in dark
  • Patrick Watts – DJ at Falkland Islands Broadcasting Service plays ‘Strangers in the Night’.  Stays on air even as Arg’ troops burst in.
  • Govt. House – “Stop fighting Mr Hunt! Come out Mr Hunt! Tell your marines to stop fighting!”
  • Govt. House – “Fuck off! We’re not going to surrender If you want us come and get us!’”
  • Govt. House – Arg’ commando casualties incl. 1 man dead. Amtracs from main landings arrive Stanley – engaged with anti-tank weapons.
  • 0925 (local) Admiral Busser arrives Govt. House. Gov. Hunt orders Maj Norman and marines to lay down their arms. The fight is over.
  • London 0945 BST (0645 Stanley) Admiral Fieldhouse informed that all comms with Stanley lost. Lunch time, Endurance confirms invasion.

Radio presenter Patrick Watts recalls his experiences as the Voice of the Falklands in a Sky News web article, here.

Apologies for the naughty word… as a record of what was said in the heat of that moment, it deserves to be there.

£60m a year to defend Falklands
Harrassment of Falklands is illegal, says UK
Malvinas anthem and rescue pictures go online

BBC News website, Falklands anniversary coverage
Falklands War in 50 pictures