The Queen has been presented by the South Atlantic Medal Association with a unique Golden Jubilee gift of a pair of specially made gold medallions which accompanied the recent pilgrimage of 200 SAMA veterans to the Falkland Islands.
There, they were taken to several of the battle sites and also on a routine sortie by a Royal Air Force Tornado. So, when they were handed to the Queen at an audience in Buckingham Palace (on Wednesday, November 27th), they had already travelled nearly 20,000 miles.
SAMA's gift is "to honour the Queen as a South Atlantic Force mother during her Golden Jubilee year, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the restoration of her sovereignty to the inhabitants and territory of the Falkland Islands".
Her son, the Duke of York, who served as a front-line Royal Navy helicopter pilot during the Falklands War, was one of the veterans who returned there recently.
The medallions, which bear the obverse and reverse images of the 1982 South Atlantic Medal struck by the Royal Mint, were given to the Queen by three leaders of SAMA ? the Chairman and founder member, Doctor Rick Jolly, whose medical teams saved many lives, both British and Argentine; SAMA Secretary, Denzil Connick, severely wounded on Mount Longdon; and Lieutenant Colonel Tony Davies, treasurer and formerly of the Welsh Guards; accompanied by the Falkland Islands Government Representative, Miss Sukey Cameron.
Islander-veteran bonds strengthened The Queen was also presented with a picture album of the pilgrimage, including photographs of the Duke of York. She was clearly delighted with the gifts, showing such great interest that the audience lasted twice as long as they normally do. She was amused when Dr Jolly jocularly told her the Task Force went to the Falklands in 1982 to restore to their rightful place the many portraits of the Queen taken down by the Argentine invaders at gunpoint from the homes and other buildings of the intensely patriotic Islanders. "I never thought of it that way", the Queen remarked.
Miss Cameron told her of the close bond between Islanders and the men who liberated them ? a bond strengthened even more by the recent visit. The Queen was again assured she would receive a wonderful welcome if she could visit the Falklands. Sukey Cameron told her that Air 2000 which flew the veterans to the Islands also has a 90-seat executive jet!
The Queen's gold medallions match the silver SAMA medallions presented during the pilgrimage by SAMA to the Islanders to acknowledge their fortitude, courage and resistance to invasion.
This remarkable rapport between Islander and serviceman was emphasised by Rick Jolly and Denzil Connick at the Falklands Government Office in London before they went to the Palace. Dr Jolly said:"SAMA is tied in forever with the Islands, where we have our own branch. It is our mission to create and maintain strong links with the Islands, and the pilgrimage has just shown that".
Denzil Connick said: "Those links are now much stronger because of the pilgrimage. Lots of new friendships were made and old friendships renewed".
Miss Cameron said: "From the Islanders' point of view, the importance of the pilgrimage was that many felt guilt about what happened in 1982 when servicemen lost their lives, so these friendships have helped the Islanders as much as the veterans".
Many of the veterans had not previously known of the Islanders' passive and active resistance to their invaders, a few of them fighting alongside the soldiers and others driving ammunition and other supplies to the front line and bringing back wounded. SAMA says many new personal stories of the war which are only now emerging are to be collected and published in a commemorative book.
Rick Jolly revealed that while the veterans took many gifts to the Islanders, they brought back much heavier luggage ? mostly stones and pieces of Falklands' earth from the battlefields where they fought 20 years ago.
Harold Briley, (MP) London