Sir Rex Hunt

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Sir Rex Hunt

Rex Hunt was the most well-known governor of the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies (which included the island of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). He led the Islanders during the Argentine invasion of April 1982 and returned after liberation to supervise post war reconstruction.

Rex Hunt was a Yorkshire man, born on 29 June 1926 and educated at Coatham School. In 1944 he joined the RAF and trained as a fighter pilot. He remained deeply proud of his time in the RAF. When he left the air force he went to St Peter’s College Oxford and from there entered the colonial service. For ten years he served in Uganda, before independence obliged him to seek a new career. He joined the Commonwealth Relations Office, later to be merged with the Foreign Office, and was posted to a succession of small south-east Asian posts, going on to larger diplomatic missions in Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

When he was sent as governor to the Falkland Islands in 1980, Rex Hunt also assumed responsibility for the island of South Georgia and the other British Dependencies in Antarctica. In December 1981 he sailed for South Georgia on HMS Endurance accompanied by his wife Mavis. ‘It is difficult to convey the thrill of one’s first sighting of this magnificent island’, wrote Rex later in his memoires My Falkland Days.

This was to be a tour of inspection of the various scientific stations of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on the Island; but it proved eventful. On a visit to two film-makers, Cindy Buxton and Annie Price, the naval Wasp helicopter in which Rex and Mavis were travelling, was forced to crash land by a ferocious wind. The crew and passengers were safe, but the Wasp was a write-off. The party laid a wreath on the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton at Grytviken and visited other abandoned whaling stations at Stromness and Husvik.

Rex and Mavis were back in Stanley for Christmas 1981. In the new year developments in and around South Georgia precipitated the crisis which induced the Argentine military government to bring forward their plans to invade the Falklands. An Argentine scrap metal merchant refused to abide by the conditions which Rex Hunt had imposed for permission to work in South Georgia. Argentine naval support ships visited South Georgia without permission. Finally the Falklands were invaded and one day later, on 3 April 1982, an Argentine flotilla attacked the small Marine force at King Edward Point. Although the Marines inflicted damage on the attackers, they were obliged to surrender. The Argentine occupation of South Georgia lasted only three weeks. On 25 April a British force compelled the invaders to surrender after a brief and bloodless encounter.

Rex Hunt had been expelled from the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion and spent the conflict in the United Kingdom where the spirited defence of Government House had made him the hero of the hour. He returned to Stanley after the Argentine surrender and was awarded a knighthood.

South Georgia was protected by a small British garrison at King Edward Point from 1982 to 1999. In April 1985 the constitution of the Falklands was revised and the Government of South Georgia was separated from that of the Falklands. However the administration was conducted from Government house in Stanley and Rex Hunt was appointed the first Commissioner for South Georgia.

Rex with Mavis made a further tour of the Antarctic in HMS Endurance in February 1985. They visited several of the South Sandwich Islands and went on to South Georgia to call on the recently established garrison and visit the BAS research stations.

Rex Hunt retired from Stanley in October 1985 and returned to England. He continued to follow events in the Falklands and South Georgia closely and on several occasions went south as a lecturer on cruise liners. Sir Rex Hunt died on 11 November 2012 and was buried at Hutton Rudby churchyard in Yorkshire.     

Text by David Tatham, Editor of The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (2008) and former Commissioner for South Georgia (1992-5).

65p Sir Rex in front of a crashed Wasp helicopter at St. Andrews Bay South Georgia.  The helicopter had airlifted Rex and Mavis from the flight deck of HMS Endurance during a visit to South Georgia and then was due to take them both down to the Antarctic to visit the British stations.  However, due to an error, the helicopter on approach to flat ground near the hut that served as Annie Price and Cindy Buxton’s accommodation tipped nose down and did a somersault.  Cindy and Annie looked on in horror and then rushed over with fire extinguishers in case they were needed, but luckily no fire broke out and Rex and Mavis climbed out unharmed albeit somewhat shaken. 

75p  Sir Rex in front of Government House, Falkland Islands – December 1982.

£1 Sir Rex visits Pobjoy Mint with Baroness Thatcher in May 2007 to launch the first coins in the series produced to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

£1.20 A recent family portrait of Sir Rex Hunt.

FDC Sir Rex and Lady Hunt outside Annie and Cindy’s hut at St. Andrews Bay, along with Captain Nick Barker, Captain of HMS. Endurance, the lst Lt and Ships Doctor with Cindy Buxton. Annie recalls that “It was always such excitement for Cindy and I to have a visit from HMS Endurance along with Rex and Mavis, and we spent many a happy night on board. Happy memories.”

Technical details:
Designer                         Andrew Robinson
Printer                            BDT International
Process                          Stochastic Lithography
Perforation                      14 per 2cms
Stamp size                     28.45 x 42.58mm
Sheet Layout                  10
Release date                  11 June, 2013
Production Co-ordination  Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd

Photographs:
65p            Annie Price
75p            Rex Features   
£1              Pobjoy Mint
£1.20         Antony Hunt
FDC           Annie Price