There was nothing obviously impressive or aesthetically pleasing about the heap of stones outside the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel yesterday. Yet each stone – rough or smooth, large or small – signified a life lost.
In the middle lay a small rock representing Chief Petty Officer David Strickland, who had been married for just over a year when HMS Coventry was sunk on 25 May 1982.
Yesterday, at a service to mark the 20th anniversary of the Argentinian invasion, Cindy Strickland placed a stone from Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, where her husband spent his childhood summers, beside other equally poignant reminders of those who perished in the conflict.
With any others delivered to the chapel at Pangbourne College, Berkshire, over the next few months they will be built into a cairn as a symbol of remembrance.
Despite the Government's insistence that the main remembrance services should be saved for the 25th anniversary, many of the wounded and bereaved felt it was important yesterday to mark two decades since a war in which 255 British servicemen and three Falkland Islanders, as well as 635 Argentinians, lost their lives.
Mrs Strickland, 47, said: "If he had survived, he would have felt it was important to mark those occasions. Each stone represents one person or something special to the person who laid it. There are a lot of feelings and emotions wrapped up in all the stones."
Her husband's stone will lie near one placed in memory of Colonel "H'' Jones VC who was killed commanding 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, at Goose Green. Colonel Jones's stone was chosen by his widow, Sara, from the beach at Kingswear, Devon, where he lived and played as a child.
Like the commemorative wall in the chapel, which bears only names, there will be no hierarchy of ranks to the assembled stones.
Centuries ago Celtic warriors placed stones in a pile before heading into battle. Each survivor removed one afterwards, leaving the remainder as a tribute to the fallen.
It was a tradition that was taken up by the servicemen who fought in the Falklands War, where makeshift memorials of stones still lie scattered across the hills and shores.
The Rev David Cooper, chaplain to 2 Para, explained: "At the end of the war we built a cairn to our dead at Goose Green ... as a reminder to all of what the price of a peaceful society might be. We also placed it overlooking the sea, from whence we had come.
"To have a similar cairn built from stones donated by all who were affected by the Falklands War, is entirely appropriate, and to my mind, a permanent reminder of human values so easily lost in the business of living.''
Yesterday Robbie Dent, who was only six months old when his father, Captain Chris Dent, was killed, placed the first stone on behalf of the Queen. Chosen by the Falklands Governor, Donald Lamont, from the gardens at Government House in Port Stanley, it was flown over specially by the RAF.
Amid the simple modern surroundings of the chapel with its stained glass windows depicting the stormy South Atlantic seas, Mr Dent, 20, a university student, read the Queen's message.
It said: "The events of 1982 remain clear in my mind, not least as the mother of a serviceman who fought during the Falklands War.
"I hope that it will be joined by many others to form a cairn that will stand as a memorial to the many lives lost in the South Atlantic 20 years ago.''
The assembled crowd then listened to the haunting sounds of the Last Post before observing a two-minute silence. Upon the sounding of the reveille, a procession that included Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, Commander of the Falklands Battle Group, Admiral Sir Michael Layard, Senior Naval Officer on the Atlantic Conveyor, which was sunk by Exocet missiles, and Brigadier Johnny Rickett, who commanded the Welsh Guards, made their way to the cairn and placed their stones.
Denzil Connick, a lance corporal who lost a leg at the battle of Mount Longdon, had to be helped as he laid a rock from the Pen-y-Fan mountain with a piece of the old Cardiff Arms Park on behalf of the South Atlantic Medal Association. He said: "These stones contain a little piece of the person's history, the people they were before they were killed."
For the chaplain, the widows' tributes were the most poignant symbols. Mr Cooper said: "They are going to carry the cost of the Falklands with them for the rest of their lives. There was a cost to the country but what it boils down to is the individual.''
The Falklands War lasted a total of 72 days. Britain sent a task force to the South Atlantic, retaking the island of South Georgia on 25 April and putting ashore a Falklands invasion force nearly a month later on 21 May. Troops fought their way across East Falkland, winning the battles of Goose Green on 28 May and Mount Longdon, overlooking Port Stanley, on 12 June. On 14 June the Argentinians surrendered.
Tributes were also paid to victims of the war in Argentina yesterday. The country's recently installed President, Eduardo Duhalde, attended a ceremony in the southern city of Ushuaia. Relatives of Argentinian servicemen who died paid their respects at a memorial wall in the capital, Buenos Aires.
Events were further commemorated at a polo match in Buenos Aires. The England team travelled to Argentina to play the national side in the first meeting of the two teams for more than 35 years. A minute's silence was observed before the match began at the Palermo Polo Club, owned by the Argentine military. England won the match by 13 and a half goals to 13.Reuse content