No reminder of the blow British pride has suffered so far away was as vivid as the return here of the deposed British colonial governor of the Falkland Islands and most of the 80 Royal Marines who he said fought fiercely against overwhelming odds Friday morning.
At a packed press conference here, Rex Hunt, a short, dapper man with an easy smile, insisted that he was still governor of the Falklands and would return--after the Argentine forces were driven off--to celebrate next year the islands' 150th anniversary under the British flag.
Angrily denouncing initial sketchy British reports that there was little resistance to the Argentine invasion, he described in detail the "very serious" fighting when the Marines under his command tried to repel the invaders. Hunt said they fired 6,450 rounds of small arms ammunition and 14 rockets at Argentine troops who stormed Port Stanley from several directions.
Flanking him, two majors, Gareth Noot and Mike Norman, said the small Marine force they commanded defending Port Stanley had killed at least five Argentine soldiers, wounded 17 others, destroyed an armored car with 10 more soldiers inside "who never resurfaced" and took three prisoners.
They acknowledged that this was much higher than the latest Argentine government figures of three dead and five wounded, but Noot said he was told by doctors at the island hospital that "a lot of people" had been airlifted directly from the fighting zone to the Argentine ships.
Hunt described how they made their "last stand" at the governor's house on the edge of Port Stanley, repulsing Argentine invaders who got within 10 yards before retreating under fire from the British Marines. "It was quite a fire fight for half an hour," he said. "We all ended up on the floor."
But after Argentine reinforcements arrived and took "a commanding position" on a hill overlooking the governor's house, hiding behind "the only trees on the island," Hunt said he decided he had better negotiate with the Argentine commanding officer. He sent emissaries with white flags made from torn curtains searching through town for a responsible officer.
Finally, after talking with an Argentine admiral--"I never did get his name"--Hunt decided to give the order to cease fire to avoid civilian casualties and damage to the city. But several hours went by before he agreed to leave governor's house to go to the town hall to surrender to the Argentine commanding general. And then, Hunt said, he refused to shake his outstretched hand.
"The general looked very angry, and told me, 'I think it's ungentlemanly not to shake hands,' " Hunt said.
"I told him, 'I think it's very uncivilized to invade British territory. You are here illegally,' " Hunt related. "I instructed him to leave forthwith."
The general refused and said Hunt and his Marines would be leaving instead, on an Argentine military aircraft. "I said we hadn't packed or anything," Hunt recalled. "We didn't know they were coming."
"I elected to go to the airport in ceremonial uniform in the taxi," he recalled, referring to the distinctive English black cab that he used as his official car. His driver put a small British flag on it, as usual, "and said he would throttle any Argie who tried to take it off."
It stayed on, fluttering from its place of honor on the hood until Hunt and his wife reached the airport. He insisted on recording a farewell radio message to the islanders. Journalists who were removed from Port Stanley later said it was never broadcast.
"We let the islanders down," he said here somberly. "They felt let down when we left. I saw them crying. They thought we wouldn't be back. But I intend to return. I am still governor of the Falkland Islands."