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My Falkland Days.

Sir Rex Hunt, ex-RAF pilot and member of that almost extinct species, the dedicated Colonial Governor, gives an account of his stewardship of the islands, before, during and after the 1982 war with Argentina. It makes riveting reading, though the Foreign Office, as hesitant as usual, delayed publication by many months for detailed scrutiny and final excisions. Judging by facts they could not exclude, these cannot have been very creditable.

Perceived wisdom at the Foreign Office was that the islands were expendable and indefensible militarily (and, some lib-lefters thought, morally, although few reached the absurdities of the UN Committee of 24's complaint of colonialism against a non-existent Spanish speaking native population). This being so, FO policy was to shunt the Falklands as quickly and unobtrusively on to Argentina as possible. The present writer in private conversation with Nicholas Ridley heard him say flatly, 'nobody will lift a finger to save the Islands'. And but for Margaret Thatcher, maybe nobody would have done so.

The Islanders, determinedly British by blood, culture and choice, despite discouragement and outrageously dirty tricks, were not to be so easily shrugged off. They were dismayed at the Communications Agreement of 1971 which was presented as fait accompli. It gave Argentina air control of their only link to the outside world, replacing the Falkland Island ship contact to Montevideo; they found it unreasonable that a few extra yards could not be added to the air strip at Stanley so that British planes could land, and at so little cost. They were dismayed when the Ministry of Defence decided to withdraw HMS Endurance, the local survey ship and the only protection for the Islands and Antarctic dependencies. They were upset at the final insult of the British Nationality Act which removed their automatic citizenship and right of entry to the UK. Even the Governor began to notice the evasions and blatant lack of information he received from the FO. In the same way that the Islands were declared indefensible and not defended, they were also declared unviable and not given aid. But while the FO declared that it was the dispute with Argentina which led to economic stagnation, the dead hand was that of the FO trying to blackmail the Islanders into accepting Argentinian rule. Unfortunately, most of the Islanders knew Argentina much better than the FO, which continued to appease Argentina by turning a blind eye to her illegal invasions of Southern Thule and South Georgia and they appeared to be much more aware of approaching war than Whitehall.

Sir Rex gives a telling blow by blow description of those fraught weeks of war, including the story of the Belgrano which should settle doubts.

Since June 1982 much has been done to develop the Falklands, but too much of a grudging attitude still remains, when it comes to aid for civilians, such as delay in setting up a 150 mile economic zone for fishery. By this time the local government revenue has soared: it is able to do so much needlessly refused before. Yet, once again, the FO without any information or consultation has announced a new constitution for the Islands, hiving off the Antarctic possessions and raising the inevitable suspicion that the FO can more easily pass the Islands to Argentina (according to an unpublished FO Report, the mandarins still think their pre-war attitudes were right). It is just possible that the value of Antarctic possessions will be realised in time. Britain still has a unique role in relation to strategy, communications, research and minerals in the only unspoilt part of the world.

Sir Rex's very personal account of the Islands and the islanders makes one want to know more about this tough and loyal people. Angela Wigglesworth exactly meets this need. Her book contains pictures and vivid thumbnail sketches of many 'cheys', islanders whether of fourth generation or newly come with the war; some town bred, one even from the similar Isles of Scilly. One only has to step out of the plane at Stanley to enter an already known community. Reading about this brave and independent people who only want to stay British, brings a feeling of humble gratitude; but not alas, at the Foreign Office.
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Author:Mortimer, Molly
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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