No excuses for desecration of Argentines' Falklands cemetery
It is a matter of honour to ensure the dead from both sides are remembered with care and respect
THE statue of the Virgin Mary of Lujan, which stands inside the Argentine War Cemetery on East Falkland, where 237 of the Argentine servicemen who fell in the Falklands War are buried, has been vandalised; the glass case protecting the statue smashed and shattered. The Virgin figure dressed in the blue and white colours of Argentina's flag has been removed until the shrine is repaired.
The cemetery was constructed under British military supervision in 1983 after Mrs Thatcher's humane and well-meant offer to repatriate the bodies to Argentina was refused by the Argentine government. Argentina's fallen were buried with full military honours and the graves are immaculately maintained by the authorities.
I am appalled at the desecration 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”.
I visited the cemetery in 2002 having been despatched south by my regiment, the Welsh Guards, to take part in the 20th anniversary commemorations of that year.
On a hill outside Darwin (very near Goose Green), it is a bleak and forbidding place partly redeemed by a kind of wild beauty and its dramatic setting. It is not just the final resting place of Argentina's soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in action on the Falklands themselves, but also a memorial to the 323 Argentine sailors lost at sea in the sinking of the Belgrano.
Two photographs are pasted side by side in my album of the visit from those pre-digital days: laying a wreath at the Welsh Guards memorial at Bluff Cove and later a large bouquet of flowers at the Argentine War Cemetery where a British Army regimental wreath seemed inappropriate.
I wanted flowers in the Argentine national colours but there wasn't a big selection available in the teeth of the Austral winter so we did the best we could. The inscription was in Welsh. The wind in the Falklands is strong – particularly strong on the hills - and we had to weigh the flowers down with rocks.
That is as it should be and the sentiment would be shared by all veterans, from whichever side. 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. Those young Argentine soldiers and marines were doing their duty just as we were doing ours.
My guess is that the Falklands police will quickly find the culprit. While it's a big place – at 4,700 square miles, about half the size of Wales - the population is only 3,000, the same as a large-ish British village. There is an RAF police detachment on the islands that could help if necessary. The senior magistrate, a British lawyer resident on the islands on a three-year tour, will then deal with the matter – as harshly as possible, I hope.
The Argentines refused to apologise when they used the British War Memorial in Port Stanley as the backdrop to a tasteless pre-Olympic stunt in May. However, there are no excuses for this desecration. If he hasn't already done so already, a telephone call from David Cameron to Cristina Kirchner with a properly expressed apology would be the most civilised way forward.