Rex Hunt, British governor at time of Falklands war, dies at 86


British diplomat Sir Rex Hunt, who was governor of the Falkland Islands at the time of the Argentine invasion in 1982, died Nov. 11 at the age of 86. He is seen here with his wife, Mavis, after his investiture at Buckingham Palace in London on July 20, 1983. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty IMages)
November 12, 2012

Rex Hunt, who was governor of the Falkland Islands at the time of the Argentine invasion in 1982, died Nov. 11 at a hospital in England. He was 86.

The British government announced his death but did not disclose the cause.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Mr. Hunt “should be a hero to everyone in Britain” for his service during the war, in which Britain successfully reclaimed the contested islands, called the Malvinas by the Argentines.

“He gave years of dedicated service to this country and to the Falkland Islands,” Cameron said. “Faced with invading forces in Port Stanley in April 1982, his courage, resolve and judgment fired the spirit of the islanders and the British people to stand up to aggression and to defend the rights and freedom of the islanders.”

Rex Masterman Hunt was a Cambridge-educated veteran British envoy who arrived in the Falklands in 1980 after a career that included service in Uganda, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Vietnam. He was in Saigon in 1975 at the time of its fall to Communist forces.

The Falkland Islands had been a British possession for more than 150 years, and most of the 1,800 inhabitants had no interest in being ruled by the Argentine government, then a military junta.

Under Mr. Hunt’s leadership, a small contingent of British marines tried to hold off the overwhelming Argentine invading force on April 2, 1982. Two British officers later told The Washington Post that the marines killed at least five Argentine soldiers and wounded many more. Mr. Hunt told The Post they made their “last stand” at the governor’s house in Port Stanley.

“It was quite a firefight for half an hour,” he said. “We all ended up on the floor.”

The British surrendered to an Argentine admiral to avoid further casualties to the civilian population; no marine was killed.

Mr. Hunt said he refused to shake the officer’s outstretched hand. “The general looked very angry and told me, ‘I think it’s ungentlemanly not to shake hands,’ ” Mr. Hunt recalled. “I told him, ‘I think it’s very uncivilized to invade British territory. You are here illegally.’ I instructed him to leave forthwith.”

Instead, Mr. Hunt left. He donned a flamboyant ceremonial uniform that included a hat topped with ostrich plumes and a sword hanging by his side. As he and his wife boarded a plane at the airport, he declared, “We’ll be back.”

He was expelled to Uruguay but returned to the islands after British forces defeated the Argentine military that June. About 650 Argentine and 250 British servicemen were killed in the war. The defeat of the Argentine forces led to the collapse of the junta.

Mr. Hunt resumed serving as governor until 1985. He also served for many years as chairman of the Falkland Islands Association and as president of the United Kingdom Falkland Islands Trust.

Mr. Hunt retired to Stockton-on-Tees in England and wrote a memoir, “My Falkland Days” (1992), which was a bestseller in England.

Survivors include his wife, the former Mavis Buckland, and two children.

Staff and wire reports