London held a funeral on Wednesday for Margaret Thatcher, the divisive and influential British prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Although not an official state funeral, there was a strong military presence and her escort was linked to the Falklands War, an event credited with securing her victory in the 1983 general election and what she considers one of her greatest accomplishments.
In April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, claiming rightful ownership of the British colony in the South Atlantic. Prime Minister Thatcher sent a military force to reclaim the colony and the ensuing battle killed 655 Argentines, 255 British, and three Falkland Islanders. The Argentinians surrendered in June of the same year. Diplomatic relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom resumed in 1990, though Argentina still maintains a passive, peaceful claim to the Falkland Islands, whose 2,955 inhabitants are self-supporting, working mostly in fishing, farming, and tourism.
More than 800 military personnel participated in the ceremony, lining the streets of the funeral route. Her coffin was escorted through the streets of London by 10 pallbearers, who were selected from units that served in the Falklands War, including the Royal Artillery, the Welsh Guards, the Scots Guards, the Gurkhas, the Royal Marines, and the Parachute Regiment. None of the pallbearers were involved in the conflict, though they were commanded by Major Nick Mott and brother Garrison Sergeant Major Bill Mott, who both survived the attack on the Sir Galahad.
The funeral service itself was simple and, by Thatcher’s request, had no eulogies. When it ended, a hearse carried the coffin to Mortlake Crematorium in south-west London for a private cremation. Many international politicians and dignitaries attended the service, including serving prime ministers Stephen Harper (Canada), Mario Monti (Italy), and Donald Tusk (Poland). The United States chose a more subtle representation, officially sending former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz, but no members of the Obama administration. The Republican Party sent three House members: Marsha Blackburn, Michele Bachmann, and George Holding. Other notable attendees included Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dick Cheney.
During the service, the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, a friend of Thatcher’s, delivered an address that began, “After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm.” His statement summed up the procession well, since even critics of Thatcher maintained a calm presence.
Around 300 protesters gathered at Ludgate Circus and turned their backs to the coffin as it passed. While mostly a silent protest, some did shout “Tory scum” and “waste of money,” referring to Thatcher’s legacy among many of England’s poor and estimates that the state spent £10 million on the funeral. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, in charge of government preparations for the event, claims that the cost will be “much, much less” than £10 million, though no official number has been released.
It seems fitting that even in death, Margaret Thatcher remains a controversial figure, sparking debate about colonialism and austerity.