Thatcher insists on joining Falklands pilgrimage

By James Morrison
Saturday 07 December 2013 06:07
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Baroness Thatcher, who has been told to desist from public speaking on grounds of ill health, is planning an 8,000-mile journey to the Falkland Islands to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its liberation from Argentina.

The former Prime Minister has told friends she is determined to join 230 veterans of the 1982 conflict on a six-day "pilgrimage" to the South Atlantic this November.

The trip, which will coincide with Remembrance Sunday, represents the realisation of a long-held ambition for the servicemen involved, many of whom are still scarred by memories of the conflict. It has been organised by the South Atlantic Medal Association with help from the comedian Jim Davidson.

Davidson, who ran a campaign to raise the £238,000 needed to buy fuel for the veterans' flight from London to Port Stanley, said Lady Thatcher was "desperate" to go with them.

"Margaret Thatcher is chomping at the bit to go," he said. "They're going to have to nail her to the tarmac to stop her getting on board."

Mark Worthington, Lady Thatcher's aide, confirmed that she would "love to go" on the flight, which leaves Gatwick on 6 November. The only proviso, he said, was not Lady Thatcher's health but that of her husband Sir Dennis. At 87, he is 11 years her senior.

Lady Thatcher's participation could present some thorny matters of protocol. Dr Rick Jolly, a former surgeon commander in the Royal Marines, said one concern was the fact that the Duke of York is also due to visit the islands at the same time. "If she were to come, it would require diplomatic clearance at the highest level," he said. "The other embarrassment would be that the aircraft has no business or first-class seats, and, obviously, we would want her to be comfortable."

David Brown, a former paratrooper still haunted by the memory of a friend dying in his arms, said many of his colleagues have ambivalent feelings about Lady Thatcher.

Mr Brown, who has never yet been able to afford to return to the islands, said: "The MoD has been told over and over again that to enable us to return to the Falklands would be the best healer. They've consistently refused to do anything to help us get there.

"Maggie and others have all gone back on more than one occasion, and they haven't had to pay for it, but this project has had to be totally funded by the general public.

"I know some people who still think she is God, but there's a lot of lads who won't give her the time of day. If she wants to go, that's fine, but I wouldn't be happy for her to come this time, because it's for the boys."

The flight is being offered free by Air 2000, following British Airways' insistence that the veterans would have to pay more than £500,000 to charter a plane.

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