Rex HuntCivil Commissioner
Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen
This is a great moment in the history of the Falkland islands. For me personally it is probably the greatest moment of my life. It was here in Stanley Town Hall on the second of April that I told General Garcia that he had landed illegally on British territory and [end p46] I ordered him and his troops to remove themselves forthwith. In reply General Garcia said that they were taking back what was rightfully theirs, and that they would be here for ever. But for our distinguished guest they might well have been. (cheers) thank [words missing] we sent out a task force. It landed here after coming 8,000 miles at San Carlos, yomped across from San Carlos to Stanley and defeated the Argentines in ten and a half weeks. (cheers). To do all that in ten and a half weeks was an incredible achievement. I know that for those of you who were here throughout that period it seemed like a lifetime, and I should like to hand over now to one of you who was here through all that time, a senior member of the Falkland islands government, your financial secretary who has a few words to say for all of you islanders.—Harold Rowlands.
The hon Harold Rowlands, OBE, financial secretary
Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen it is the greatest moment of my life here today. I am very pleased to be able to thank Mrs. Thatcher in person for the liberation of the Falkland islands. Not only the liberation but also the rehabilitation and now the development of the islands. We look forward to the development of these islands, that the battle was not wasted, that the men whose lives were lost will be remembered. We will make sure that it was worthwhile. I am sure that the majority of people will be looking forward to a great future, and to start it off in 1983. I think it's fantastic that we start our 150th celebrations in advance (cheers).
Prime Minister, I have now the pleasure and the honour to present the freedom of the Falkland islands. (cheers). I would like to mention that it was not planned. The councillors did not know of Mrs. Thatcher's arrival here. Spontaneously, yesterday all councillors unanimously agreed on your behalf, the people of the Falklands. The people that are in this hall tonight, the people that are on duty. That are sick, unable to attend the meeting tonight, also the people [line missing] [end p47] on behalf of them with great pleasure. I should like to read you what is in it, and we must congratulate our Attorney General on having guided us on this matter, and also to our printer who did a marvellous bit of printing at the last moment. It says: “freedom of the Falkland islands. Whereas we the people of the Falkland islands have recently suffered armed invasion of our beloved islands, and whereas but for the support and aid given to us by the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland we would still be under foreign domination today, now we the undersigned representatives of the people of the Falkland islands, in acknowledgement of our humble and sincere gratitude and appreciation of the courageous steadfast and unyielding leadership of Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, throughout the campaign for our freedom of stanley and all townships and settlements throughout the Falkland islands” . (cheers)
Mr. Rowlands, that's the most marvellous honour you could have conferred upon me, and I am deeply happy to accept it. Each of us has our own memories of the period through which we've lived. Somehow history is something that happens to other people, and then all of a sudden we found ourselves making history here in these islands. I will never forget, and nor will the Rex HuntGovernor—forgive me if I still use the old name (cheers)—the night that information came through that there was a fleet that looked as if it was heading for the invasion of Port Stanley. We had to contact the governor, we contacted the Ronald ReaganPresident of the United States hoping that he would be able to stop it. It was not to be. For two days we carried a few of us that knowledge that maybe the Falklands were going to be invaded, and help was a very very long way away. You know what happened, and I am very happy to report as you know that the whole British people were outraged that such an invasion should have occurred, and promptly set about remedying the situation of throwing the invader off the islands. And as I said in the House of Commons, restoring British sovereignty and British administration [end p48] to a people of British stock who were British, were loyal British, and wished to remain British in a British island. (cheers). And so with the total support of the British people the task force sailed. It must have been an agonising time for you. It was for us as the campaign was shaped and planned, and we faced the worry of more and more Argentine soldiers being put upon these islands, a worry which you saw in practical terms at this end. Then we were able in a magnificent campaign to retake South Georgia, and that of itself was a very famously fought battle. And we learned the difficulties of the weather in this part of the world, because I will tell you what happened when those forces arrived in South Georgia. They arrived to a force 11 gale. You can imagine the worries that that gave us. You have I understand experienced many force 11 gales. In spite of that they took South Georgia, and I understand that that was a tremendous boost to morale on these islands. It was then you realised we really were coming to regain the Falklands for British sovereignty and British administration.
We wondered how precisely it would come about, and there was so much planning going on, and we didn't know the precise shape of the campaign. We knew we had the finest professional forces devoted and dedicated to the cause of freedom and justice the world over. (cheers). In them we put our faith and our trust. Then one dark winter's night a silent armada put ashore British forces on what was then a hostile enemy coast, but full of loyal devoted British citizens, that was in San Carlos. I remember I was in my own constituency that day. I knew the night it was going to happen. I was worried stiff as you may imagine, but I had a full day's engagements in my own constituency of Finchley near London, and I knew if I didn't go and carry out the lot someone would know something was up. So I went and smiled my way through the day. I'm not quite sure to this moment what I said except that somehow I had a speech to make, and I said please would they understand that [end p49] my mind wasn't wholly on the party politics of Britain, it was really 8000 miles away which was a long way geographically but at that moment it was only a heartbeat away. And at the end of that day in my constituency I was able to say that the Union Jack was once again flying on the Falkland islands. (cheers). To a reception like this, as they too rose and cheered like that.
There were many difficult worrying days to follow, and many difficult battles to fight, and it is one thing that troubles us all that at times of national danger it is always the young people who have to bear the brunt of the fighting and make great sacrifices, and I have today been paying our tribute to those who gave their lives in battle that we might live in freedom. (applause). But it was a tremendous inspiration to the youth, British youth everywhere, to know that when the call came their generation was not found wanting but on the contrary added lustre to the battles which Britons have fought the world over. (applause). And we owe it to them to build our lives remembering the sacrifices that they made for us. And therefore I am confident that you in this famous city of Port Stanley, and many others in the famous townships throughout these islands, will strive again and again to build a better life for your families for the future, the better because of the sacrifices that have been made for us because we are a people that cannot live without breathing the air of freedom and justice. (cheers).
You will understand that perhaps the most emotional night of my life was when the news came in that the Argentine troops were retreating from Tumbledown mountain past Mount William into Port Stanley. We weren't quite sure. And I waited until ten o'clock in the evening London time—rather differently your time—to go down to the House of Commons, to stand at the despatch box and say the reports are that white flags are flying over Port Stanley. (cheers).
Today again the Union Jack flies over Port Stanley, and may it ever fly there (cheers). So we in the Falkland islands and in Great Britain re-dedicate our lives to the cause of freedom and justice of people here and everywhere. We have given an example to the world, and hope to many of those who do not enjoy these great qualities. May we also act as a beacon of hope to them, that so long as we defend that which is ours now, they too one day may enjoy these great things. [end p50]
The hon. H. T. Rowlands
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to call for three cheers for the incomparable Margaret Thatcher. (three cheers). (more cheers).