The Falkland Islands have lost one of their most formidable and indefatigable champions in their resistance to Argentina's sovereignty claims.
Velma Malcolm died (on August 2nd) in hospital (Clinica Alemana) in Santiago, Chile, where she had been recovering from an operation. She was 74. She was the driving force for many years of the Falkland Islands Association Stanley Committee and also a Vice President of the Association, for which she was a superb fund-raiser. She was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 1976. She was universally known in the Falklands, and a pillar of social life, as she and her parents before her owned the popular Rose Hotel in Stanley for more than 40 years, having previously had the Stanley Arms pub. Her tough and uncompromising personality in her antipathy to Argentina masked a generous-hearted woman whose legendary hospitality won her many friends and much respect around the world, myself included.
Imprisoned in Argentine Invasion Having for so long been in the forefront of opposition to Argentina, she was a prime target for harassment during the 1982 invasion. She was one of dozens of Islanders rounded up at gunpoint and incarcerated under house arrest in crowded conditions in Fox Bay for more than 50 days. She describes how she answered a knock on the door, to be confronted by an aggressive soldier. "A big, burly, bumptious bugger said: ?You're going to Camp, you and your husband'". As they searched her house, the soldier drew a pistol and held it to her back, "not a nice situation, knowing how trigger happy that gang were. He went on to say: ?We know all about you. We know you don't like Argentines'". Knowing Spanish, she heard one Argentine say: "I'd like to shoot them all". Hustled into a helicopter, they did not know whether they were going to be thrown out over the sea. She and her fellow prisoners spent much of the next few traumatic weeks, sheltering under floorboards in Councillor Richard Cockwell's house. They tracked the course of the conflict by listening to BBC World Service on clandestine radios. After the surrender, I was delighted as a BBC Correspondent to receive a letter appointing me an honorary member of the Falklands Islands Local Committee, of which she was secretary. She wrote, "Your Newsletters were a source of great comfort to us in our darkest days of the Argentine occupation". Ever since, she and her husband, George Malcolm, could not have been kinder or more helpful. Velma was born on February 28th, 1930, into one of the oldest Falklands families, the daughter of Beatrice Reive and Axel Pettersson, son of a shipwrecked Swedish seaman. Her great, great grandfather on her mother's side had arrived in the Falklands as a shepherd around about 1870. She attended Saint Mary's School and remembers how her parents looked after several wounded from the Royal Navy cruiser Exeter badly damaged in the 1939 Battle of the River Plate. They were the first of many people to whom she and her family gave hospitality, including British servicemen and members of the British Antarctic Survey, many of whom became her life-long friends.
True Patriot and Fighter for Falklands' Rights As a child she had horses on which she would ride long distances cross country when there were virtually no roads. She began work in the Government secretariat, served on the newly-formed Civil Servants' Association and ran the Girls Brigade as its Captain. She turned down an invitation from the Governor to be the first woman member of the Executive Council. In 1954 she married George Malcolm, who arrived in the Falklands as a shepherd. Their daughter, Ailsa, and her husband Tony Heathman, were among Islanders who gave great help to the 1982 Task Force, at their farm Estancia, the start line for crucial battles for the capture of Stanley. George died in 1996. Velma Malcolm was a highly intelligent and energetic lady who closely monitored and ceaselessly helped to counter the Foreign Office campaign to accommodate Argentina's sovereignty claim, aided by a prodigious memory and comprehensive records. Until her final illness, she was still actively liaising with the London Committee's Ted Clapp to frustrate Argentina's campaign. She has left a fascinating account of that struggle and of life in the Falklands in a book she dedicated to her granddaughters, Nyree and Tara Heathman, entitled "As Ignorant as Sheep" which was how she felt the Foreign Office and the outside world viewed the Islanders. The Association and her many friends will miss her greatly. She was a true Falklands patriot and a courageous fighter for Islanders' rights to self-determination. The Falkland Islands Association has sent a wreath with the inscription: "With affection and respect to a true Falkland Islander and one of our most active Vice-Presidents".
Harold Briley - London