Britain on Tuesday remembered its fallen troops on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War with Argentina, as London reasserted its territorial claim to the islands.
Veterans gathered for a remembrance ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in central England, alongside bereaved family members and civilian support staff.
The Act of Remembrance included a live link to a similar event at the 1982 Cemetery in the Falklands’ capital, Port Stanley, where Argentine forces surrendered on June 14, 1982.
At the arboretum, Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to troops who fought “to vindicate the principle that the people of the Falkland Islands — like people everywhere — have a right to decide their own future and live peacefully in their own land”.
British veterans of the conflict — the first since World War II to involve all branches of the armed forces — are grouped under the South Atlantic Medal Association.
Holders of the medal were on Tuesday awarded the Freedom of the Falkland Islands during a solemn ceremony in honour of their “achievements and sacrifice”, Johnson said.
Argentine forces invaded the islands on April 2, 1982, beginning a war which claimed the lives of 255 British servicemen, three women who lived on the island and 649 Argentinian soldiers.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said earlier that the UK “will always remember their efforts and their sacrifice to liberate the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
“Today the Falklands are thriving as part of the British family. They’re a shining beacon of freedom and democracy as a self-governing overseas territory,” she said.
British government support for the Falklands since the conflict has been unwavering, despite Argentina’s steadfast claims to what it calls Las Malvinas.
Truss said Britain “will never hesitate” to defend the islands and drew comparisons between the military junta in Buenos Aires’s landgrab four decades ago with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The assumption that peace and stability were inevitable has been shattered by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.
– ‘Psychological wounds’ –
Margaret Thatcher, one of Johnson’s Conservative party predecessors, announced the victory to parliament on the morning of June 14, 1982, vindicating for many her high-risk decision to send nearly 30,000 troops half-way round the world to retake the islands.
The task force sailed home, greeted by crowds on the docks waving a sea of Union Jacks upon their return from the self-governing British overseas territory nearly 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) away.
The victory gave a patriotic boost to a declining Britain hit by strikes and civil unrest, and ensured Thatcher a landslide re-election in 1983.
In Britain and the Falklands, the anniversary of the start of the conflict on April 2 was muted. Islanders in particular see Argentina’s invasion as nothing to celebrate.
But a year-long series of events has been taking place to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falkands War, including those on June 14 to mark Liberation Day — a public holiday on the islands, which are home to just 3,500 people.
Nigel McNeilly, now 61, was a private in the machine gun platoon of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment and described the anniversary as a “double-edged sword”.
“I’ve been getting flashbacks and weird nightmarish sort of things,” he said.
“But I felt it was important to come here to commemorate comrades who lost their lives and those who got injured.”
Carol Betteridge, of veterans’ charity Help for Heroes, said many of those involved still bore the physical and mental scars from the conflict.
“The lack of proper support for mental health means that many Falklands veterans buried their issues and ‘soldiered on’ as they were expected to,” said Betteridge, the charity’s head of clinical and medical services.
“This is why, 40 years on, we still have Falklands veterans coming to us for help for psychological wounds that they have struggled with for so long.”