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RAF cyclists make donation for Darwin Monument

Monday, December 2nd 2002 - 20:00 UTC
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Four serving members of the Royal Air Force yesterday presented a cheque for 2.500 pounds to the Argentine Families Commission responsible for raising the funds needed to build the monument to the war dead at the Argentine Cemetery at Darwin.

The donation was made by Squadron Leader Jon Hough who handed over the cheque to Families Commission treasurer Leandro de la Colina at a ceremony held on midday on Sunday at the Buenos Aires City Military Base. The funds were collected as sponsorship for a bicycle ride carried out by a four person RAF team headed by Hough, two fellow RAF pilots and a ground crew servicewoman who cycled from Viña del Mar, Chile to Buenos Aires on a 1.000 mile trip linking the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans. Hough, a C-130 Hercules pilot, together with fellow pilots Flight Lieutenants Ken Mac Leman and Adam Twidell and Senior Aircraft Woman Kristy Spalding completed the trip from Viña del Mar, Chile to Buenos Aires in 12 days.

Hector Cisneros, president of the Families Commission - the organisation representing the next of kin of all 649 war dead - thanked the RAF team for their contribution saying that it marked a new highlight in the improving relations between the former opponents of the 1982 war.

During the 1982 war Flight Lieutenant Mac Leman was part of the RAF Lyneham Transport Wing flying a Hercules C-130 on refuelling missions out of Ascension Island. "I was never attacked, but and Argentine plane similar to mine was shot down during the conflict." Mac Leman, who is an experienced long distance cyclist, is also a veteran of several other trouble spots stretching from Zimbabwe in the 1970 s to the Gulf War in the 90's.

In turn Flight Lieutenant Twidell age 30 was too young to have been part of the 1982 campaign but visited the islands for two months in 1999 and recalls, "I went to the Argentine cemetery at Darwin: it was very sad to see the loss of lives by both countries. I cam imagine how the monument will look when it finally is constructed."

Hough age 30, who headed the team, said, "We thought it was a nice gesture for the reconciliation between both countries. Argentina and Britain are now good friends. It was also a physical challenge, something we pilots enjoy and that the RAF promotes. We see the war as something that never should have happened."

The RAF team, who slept at Argentine Air Force bases along the road, thanked their hosts for the warm reception they were granted. "Once again we were able to confirm that Air Force personnel all round the world share the same sort of attitude to flying as we do." While nobody is too sure how the idea of cycling from ocean to ocean was first conceived the general consensus is that it was first "concocted in a RAF Lyneham mess room" and then just carried on developing with one thing leading to another. All four used their annual holidays for the trip which was one third financed by themselves, one third by the RAF and one third by bicycle and sports industries.

The construction of a monument at Darwin Cemetery was agreed as part of the 1999 Argentine - British Agreement signed by the late Argentine Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella and his then British counterpart Robin Cook. The project, which was earlier this year approved by the Falklands Islands Planning and Building Committee, is a scaled down version of the original application submitted by the Families Commission's architects Monica Berraz and Carlos D'Aprile in 1999. The monument itself is simple and austere with the names of the 649 Argentines fallen during the conflict engraved on granite plaques. The monument represents two outstretched arms embracing the existing cemetery. Its centrepiece is a cross and on one side there is the image of the patron saint of Argentina, Our Lady of Luján, and on the other a plaque in the name of the Argentine people.

De la Colina explains that the fund raising collection "will be carried out in the most transparent way. Every cent we collect will be duly audited." He explains that donations "will be accepted from people of any nationality and background - including British or Islanders. We will gratefully accept all donations made by people who sympathise with the object of honouring those fallen in combat, irrespective of their nationality, background or beliefs."

Nicholas Tozer ? Buenos Aires

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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