Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I voted against Rex Hunt's request for Whitby to twin with Port Stanley

A reference in the Evening Gazette today about reporter Mike Morgan's telephone conversation with Sir Rex Hunt shortly before the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands brought back memories of my own involvement in what I think were the events which led to Mike Morgan making the call.

Mike (pictured right) was then a reporter on the Whitby Gazette and I was a member of Whitby Town Council.

I think Mike was prompted to make the call to His Excellency Mr Rex Hunt, the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Falkland Islands and dependencies in response to a letter Mr Hunt (who had yet to be knighted) had sent to Whitby Town Council expressing his concern about the Tory Government's cost cutting measure to remove the British warship that was protecting the islands. He suggested a town twinning arrangement between Whitby and Falkland Islands capital Port Stanley due to the fact that both towns had whale bone arches. He felt it would help to maintain links with Great Britain.

All the members of the Town Council were delighted to form a twinning arrangement with Port Stanley except for me. I felt it was a pointless exercise as it was so far away and it was not possible for exchange visits to take place. 

The twinning arrangement went ahead and a ceremony took place in the Pannett Art Gallery in Whitby in August 1981. I am pretty sure that Rex Hunt himself actually attended this. Whitby Town Council could always do a good ceremony and the food was always nice.

Little did I know that some months after voting against the twinning arrangement Argentina would invade the Falklands, Rex Hunt would become a hero and pictures of the sign Port Stanley twinned with Whitby would be seen all over the world.

The decision to twin with Port Stanley turned out to be a very astute decision indeed and one that I got wrong. It did as Sir Rex Hunt said it would. It helped to strengthen the links between Great Britain and the Falkland Islands.

Whitby went on to twin with a number of faraway towns which had links with Captain Cook:

Anchorage, Alaska, USA 
Cooktown, Australia 
East Fremantle, Australia 
Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii, USA 
Nuku’alofa, Tonga 
Porirua, Whitby, New Zealand 
Port Stanley, Falkland Islands 
West Wylong, Australia 
Whitby, Ontario, Canada 
Whitilanga, New Zealand 

I remember one Town Councillor piping up in support of twinning with Nuku'alofa: "The Queen of Tonga looked so lovely at the Coronation in 1953." 

I wanted the town to twin with a European town where exchange visits could take place. An editorial in the Whitby Gazette actually supported this too. I still think the town should have gone in for a different type of arrangement with these places so that those who like meeting people could enjoy the benefits that town twinning brings. It became quite a curiosity that Whitby was twinned with such faraway places and that in itself has earned the town a lot of publicity. 

Sir Rex Hunt who was born in Redcar and attended Sir William Turner's School, flew Spitfires in the RAF before a career in the diplomatic service. He retired as Governor of the Falkland Islands in 1985 and settled in Stockton, where he died aged 86.

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