With personal links to the Falklands conflict of 1982, Tim Thornton reflects on its lasting impact and the Islands as they are today
The Falkland Islands are approximately 8,000 miles away from the UK. It takes about 19 hours travelling in a Voyager plane with a night-time stop in Cape Verde (the Ascension Island runway is broken). There are around 2,500 people living on the Islands and about 2,000 UK service people based at one end of the East Island, an hour’s drive from Stanley.
I had the privilege of being the Commissary for Archbishop Justin until last year. Not surprisingly, since the Falklands War, the Anglican church on the Falklands have been under direct archiepiscopal authority rather than being part of the church in South America. There is a cathedral which is the only Anglican place of worship on the Islands. There is also a Roman Catholic priest and a small church, and a non-denominational place of worship.
The brother of my sister’s husband was killed during the Falklands war. He was a naval officer on board HMS Glamorgan, so it was a further privilege for me to go and pay my respects on behalf of all his family at the memorial that has been bult near the airport at Stanley looking out over where the Glamorgan sank.
This 40th anniversary year will see the focus once again being put on the events of 1982. They now seem a long way away both in time and geographically. For us in the UK, that may be true but I was struck on each of my trips to the Falklands how immediate the conflict still seems to people there. I was taken on a tour of some of the sites of battle and climbed up Munt Tumbledown and saw various artefacts of the soldiers from both sides still littering the ground. On each of my visits I met veterans who were themselves remembering. One of the Welsh Guards I met was visiting for the first time after 37 years and was very emotional as he stood at the memorial at Fitzroy.
It is true for the people of the Falkland Islands that the events of 1982 are still very real. It is also sad to note that reconciliation is not something that is discussed as much as it should be. There is a cemetery at Fish Creek near Darwin for the Argentinian service people who were killed. Sadly this cemetery is still subject to some vandalism. The resumption of flights to Argentina from the Falklands is a contested issue still on the Islands.
The role of the priest in Stanley and the forces chaplain at Mount Pleasant is very busy during the season of anniversaries and events that remember the various battles and tragedies of the war. They will be even busier this year as more veterans will be visiting and a number of high-profile visitors will also be going to commemorate and remember.
I found the Falkland Islands a fascinating place and it does focus my mind on what remembering means and what is the purpose of anniversaries such as the one, 40 years on from the conflict. There is a tension between of course, and rightly, remembering sacrifices and lives lost and damaged for ever, on the one hand, and the proper place of reconciliation and attempting to make some sense of what God wants for us today – to live our lives in a way that allows us to value every fellow human.
The situation in our world is once again fragile and insecure in a way that many of us hoped it would not be in our lifetime. The events in Ukraine have changed our thinking in so many ways. So yes, anniversaries are crucial and remembering is vital. The Falklands War affected many and have left deep scars and wounds. These wounds are naturally most obvious on the Islands themselves and how we minster to that and speak into a situation that often seems to want to hold onto conflict and division, rather than in any way learn form it or live beyond it, is hard, very hard.
Visiting the Falkland Islands left me with a deep sense of unease at my own inability to listen to others and to know how to respond when faced with a deep-seated sense of unhappiness and division. The Falklands War happened four decades ago. History tells us that we won but tragically many people lost their lives from both sides and many on both sides have had their lives changed forever. 40 years on, for many in this country I fear the Falklands will again be a strange place far away about which little is known.
There will be a focus again on the Islands and no doubt we will see and hear something of the special services and events taking place to commemorate and help us remember. It focuses yet again what remembrance is and what it is for. For clergy and others involved in leading such services there is always a potential conflict about the message we preach and the priorities we want to stress. Are we focussing on peace and reconciliation, or are we focussing on the pain and sacrifice of war and its consequences?
The Rt Revd Tim Thornton was the Bishop of Truro (2009-2017) then Bishop at Lambeth, Bishop to the Forces, and Bishop for the Falkland Islands (2017-2021).