Feature

Rex Hunt, 1926–2012

The British governor who defied Argentina

Rex Hunt will be remembered as an embodiment of British defiance for refusing to shake hands with the leader of the Argentine forces after they invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. As governor of the bleak archipelago in the South Atlantic, Hunt had to face the invasion of 600 Argentine troops with just 68 Royal Marines.

Hunt had “served his country for many years” before becoming governor of the Falklands, said The Guardian (U.K.). He served as a diplomat in colonial Uganda, Malaysia, and Vietnam, where he was the “last diplomat to leave the British Embassy in Saigon as the Vietcong poured in.” In 1980, he was sent to govern the Falklands, a British territory since 1833, amid gathering Argentine frustration at the British presence there. The island’s 1,800 residents staunchly opposed Argentine rule, and so did the government in London.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands, said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.), ignoring appeals from Ronald Reagan to turn back. Hunt’s official residence came under “ferocious fire” from Argentine forces. But the outnumbered Royal Marines ably defended the governor’s house, killing five invaders without taking a single casualty. Meanwhile Hunt, “sitting in his study gripping an Italian pistol and determined to shoot the first Argentine bursting through the door,” called the Argentine air force to negotiate a surrender and avoid further bloodshed.

Argentina demanded that Hunt leave the islands, said BBC.com, so he “put on his full ceremonial uniform”—complete with ostrich plumes, tailored tunic, and cutlass—to make a proper departure as throngs of islanders bid him farewell. When invading commander Gen. Oswald Garcia attempted to shake his hand, he refused. “He was twitching like mad,” Hunt later recalled. “He said it was very ungentlemanly not to shake hands. I said it was uncivilized to invade our country.” Britain recaptured the islands in June 1982, and Hunt later returned to govern them until his retirement in 1985.

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