British Army officer who never forgot fallen Argentinian soldiers
For the 36 years since the Falklands War ended the identities of the servicemen interred there have remained a mystery.
But later this month, largely thanks to the remarkable efforts of a British Army officer, no fewer than 90 of them will finally be named and 180 of their relatives will be able to put flowers on the graves of their loved ones for the first time.
Geoffrey Cardozo was a 32-year-old captain when he was posted to the windswept islands in the South Atlantic to deal with “post-combat discipline”.
Soldiers made euphoric by victory, with adrenaline – and testosterone – coursing through their bodies, make for a high-octane management challenge but it soon became apparent that there was another big problem.
“The guys who were clearing the minefields around Stanley started finding bodies of Argentinian soldiers,” says Cardozo, who went on to reach the rank of colonel before becoming secretary of servicemen’s charity Veterans Aid.
“My general said, ‘Leave the discipline to somebody else and take on this body business. It’s very important and we’ve got to get it right.’”
The dangers presented by mines meant that travelling by foot was out of the question and so every time a body was discovered Cardozo would jump into a helicopter and head out to pick it up.
“I abseiled down these ropes, prodded the ground first to make sure my foot wouldn’t land on something I shouldn’t be landing on next to the body and then I searched the bodies for identification.”
But many of the corpses he came across were of 18 or 19-year-old conscripts who, unlike their professional comrades, wore no identity tags.
“I felt a huge responsibility to the parents when I thought about my own mum who gave me a huge hug when I left for the Falklands,” he says.
In a bid to assist any future identification process he collected together each dead serviceman’s personal effects including photographs and letters before wrapping it in PVC bodybags and putting it into a coffin.
It became apparent that the Argentinian government under General Galtieri had no intention of repatriating its war dead on the basis that “the Malvinas” were Argentinian and therefore they had died on home soil.
And so the decision was made to build a cemetery for the enemy troops who had been killed in action and Cardozo ensured that they were laid to rest with appropriate solemnity.
A Roman Catholic chaplain prayed over the body, a piper from the Gordon Highlanders or a bugler from the Royal Hampshire Regiment played a lament and a 10-man firing party fired a volley of shots over the graves.
That might have been that if Cardozo had not be press-ganged into hosting a trio of Argentine veterans on a trip to London 10 years ago.
As he recalls: “One of them, Julio Aro, said, ‘It’s a terrible thing but we just don’t know where our boys are. There are rumours in Argentina that you dug a huge hole and chucked them in.’ “He didn’t know he was speaking to the guy who had buried them and I said, ‘No Julio this is absolutely shocking to me.’
“So the next day I handed over the report – which I had written straight after the operation back in 1983 – with every location of every single body in the cemetery and how I’d dealt with it. When they got it translated after they got back home they were gobsmacked.”
Cociffi believed that if anyone could break the logjam it was Waters. In early 2011, he was in Buenos Aires on the Argentinian leg of his The Wall Live tour and due to meet the country’s then president Cristina Kirchner.
Cociffi persuaded him to take up the issue with Kirchner and to general astonishment Waters managed to convince her it was time to cooperate with the British over the nameless dead.
In 2016, London and Buenos Aires finally signed a deal splitting the £1million cost.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was brought in as an honest broker to supervise the identification process and by the end of the year DNA samples had been obtained from 107 families of men missing in action.
In July of last year the task of exhuming 122 corpses got under way with forensic teams drawn from Argentina, Spain and the UK.
By the time they had completed their matching process, no fewer than 90 of the bodies had been identified.
And so on March 26, 180 Argentinian relatives – two family members of each dead serviceman – will take early morning flights from Buenos Aires to Port Stanley.
Once there they will visit the resting place of their missing loved ones for the first time, 36 years after the conflict that claimed their lives e