Falkland Islands – Sir Rex Hunt

May 3rd, 2013

Rex Hunt was the most well-known governor of the Falkland Islands: he led the Islanders during the Argentine invasion of April 1982 and returned after Liberation to supervise post war reconstruction.

Rex Hunt was a Yorkshire man, born on 29 June 1926 and educated at Coatham School. In 1944 he joined the RAF and trained as a fighter pilot. He remained deeply proud of his time in the RAF. When he left the service he went to St Peter’s College Oxford and from there entered the colonial service. For ten years he served in Uganda before independence obliged him to seek a new career. He joined the Commonwealth Relations Office, later to be merged with the Foreign Office, and was posted to a succession of small south-east Asian posts, going on to larger missions in Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

When he was sent as governor to the Falkland Islands in 1980, Rex Hunt was accompanied by his wife Mavis, his son Tony and his daughter Diana. They were delighted by the Islanders and their way of life, by the unspoilt landscape and by the plentiful wildlife. As governor Rex appreciated the comfort of Government House, resembling a Yorkshire vicarage, as he later wrote, the smart formal uniform and the red London taxi which was his official transport. He and his wife Mavis enjoyed their visits by Land Rover or the light aircraft of the government air service to remote settlements and outlying islands. But the political scene was darkening as Argentine pressure on the British Government to give up the Islands increased. Even so, when the invasion came on 2 April 1982, it was unexpected.

Rex was alone in command with a handful of Royal Marines and the local Falkland Islands Defence Force. He was without guidance from London, yet he came through the invasion with flying colours. The small garrison repelled the first assault on Government House but when Argentine armoured vehicles landed, Rex reluctantly ordered the marines to lay down their arms. He handled the invaders with dignity and a sense of rightful outrage, refusing to shake hands with the Argentine admiral in charge. In a broadcast on the night of the invasion, Rex warned "rest assured, the British will be back".

And so it proved. When he returned to London Rex found himself the hero of the hour. He was received by the Queen and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. While the South Atlantic Task Force was mobilised, sailed south, landed and compelled the surrender of the invaders, Rex was the rallying point for Falkland Islanders in London. He returned to the Islands shortly after liberation travelling in an RAF C130 transport and received a knighthood in the post-conflict honours.

The Islands were in a battered state after the Argentine surrender. Services and housing were damaged; the new enlarged garrison needed their share of both. Rex had to listen, comfort and encourage Islanders while working with the military to clear up and rebuild. There was a constant flow of political and military visitors, but the most memorable was the Prime Minister herself who came down in January 1983 to see the Islands which she had saved, to receive Islanders’ thanks and the 'Freedom of the Falkland Islands'.

In his memoirs, My Falkland Days, Rex describes the decision to construct an international airport and military base at Mount Pleasant and its opening in May 1985; the introduction of a new constitution, also in 1985; the decision to build the new hospital after a disastrous fire. Before he retired he made a strong plea to London for the imposition of a fisheries zone and when this was implemented in 1986 the income which resulted transformed the economy of the Islands.

Upon his retirement to England in October 1985 Rex was granted the 'Freedom of Stanley', which he considered a great honour. He kept up his connection with the Falklands becoming chairman of the Falkland Islands Association, of the UK/Falkland Islands Trust, of the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and Vice President of Falklands Conservation.

He was present when Queen Elizabeth opened the Falklands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College in 2000 and in 2007 he helped launch a new set of commemorative coins at Pobjoy Mint to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falklands and of South Georgia. He revisited the Falklands on seven occasions after his retirement and was greatly encouraged by the new prosperity and growing self-confidence of Islanders.

Sir Rex Hunt died on 11 November 2012 and was buried at Hutton Rudby churchyard in Yorkshire. The Falkland Islands had found in him a champion in time of war and an enthusiastic guide and supporter when peace returned.

Text by David Tatham, Editor of The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (2008) and former Governor of the Falkland Islands (1992-5).

30p  Rex Hunt Civil Commissioner for theFalkland Islands photographed in his office circa 1982.

75p  Sir Rex Hunt (Governor) in full uniform prior to the Battle Day ceremony taken with the official Governor's car (a London Taxi) outside  Government House.

£1 Sir Rex Hunt - Governor of the Falkland Islands - March 1992 with Falkland's flag.

£1.20 Queen Elizabeth II speaks with Sir Rex Hunt at Pangbourne College 9 March 2000. The Queen was atPangbourneCollege for the official opening of the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel.

FDC Sir Rex and Lady Hunt on Carcass Island 1981. This image is a relaxing photo of Rex and Mavis, whilst they watched Cindy Buxton filming the huge variety of wildlife around the island.  Rex was a keen photographer and often had a camera around his neck.

This set of stamps is due for release on 11th June 2013 to coincide with the Memorial Service for Sir Rex Hunt to be held at St. Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, London on the same day.