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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 April 2005, 03:32 GMT 04:32 UK
How Argentines helped British win war
by Martha Buckley
BBC News

Think of relations between Britain and Argentina and images of the Falklands conflict, jingoistic tabloid headlines and Diego Maradona's "hand of God" goal at the 1986 World Cup, might come to mind.

But the British and the Argentines have not always been enemies.

Argentinians burn a union flag in Buenos Aires in 1994
Argentinians burn a union flag in Buenos Aires

During World War II, Argentina's ambassador, Miguel Angel Carcano, refused to leave London during the blitz, saying: "As long as the King and Queen stay in London, I will too."

Hundreds of his countrymen volunteered to travel thousands of miles to Britain to join the fight against Hitler.

Their contribution is recalled in a book, Wings of Thunder (Alas de Trueno in Spanish), launched this week with a special remembrance service for ex-servicemen at the RAF church of St Clement Danes in London.

Though Argentina was officially neutral, nearly 4,000 of her young men left the safety of South America to fight - many never to return.

Among them was Jack Miles, an Argentine of British descent, who contacted the British consulate in 1940 to join up.

So many joined the RAF that a special Argentine squadron was set up.

Though Argentina was a very neutral country and very far away, we knew if Britain caved in then we would be next, or we would be on the list
Jack Miles

He told the BBC News Website: "We were very much aware of the strength and power of Germany and we had to stop this huge war machine.

"I didn't care what I did, I wanted to contribute to the war effort.

"Though Argentina was a very neutral country and very far away, we knew if Britain caved in then we would be next, or we would be on the list."

Jack, now 87, sailed for Britain the following year, aged 22, arriving in London in October 1941.

He said: "I arrived at Euston station at about 10pm. There was an air raid going on, it was completely black and there was a tremendous racket.

"I was all alone, I had never been out of Argentina before and it made me wonder if I was doing the right thing."

Jack Miles
Jack Miles left Argentina to help Britain fight Hitler

Jack soon found his bearings and met up with younger brother, Eric, then 19, who had arrived a week earlier.

Eventually Jack joined the RAF and became a pilot and Eric joined the army, becoming a tank commander in the 25th Dragoons, fighting in the jungles of Burma.

Jack was sent to Canada where he spent 18 months as a flying instructor before he too was sent to Burma in 1944.

As the war with Japan was ending, his main task was evacuating prisoners of war from Saigon, in modern-day Vietnam, and Thailand.

Many of the freed Japanese POWs were also in a terrible state.

He said: "They were in an awful state, poor chaps. They were thin, they had jungle sores, they had been through hell."

One trip, transporting a group of 31 POWs, almost ended in disaster.

Belly landing

He said: "It was awful weather, raining with the windscreen wipers going like mad and I lost both engines.

"We made a belly landing in a rice field about three or four miles from the runway in Rangoon.

"So we had to walk, crawling waist or shoulder deep in a river. We were all just covered in leeches.

"What affected me very much was all the POWs came and thanked me for them not having been hurt."

Anybody who invades another country is wrong, I think
Jack Miles

Jack's brother Eric also survived the war, despite being "pretty badly shot up", as did another brother.

But two of his Argentine cousins died in action, one brother killed the day after the other in 1941.

Several of his school friends were also killed.

Football

After the war Jack continued his flying career in Argentina.

But he disagreed with the regime of dictator Juan Peron and emigrated to Canada in the 1950s. Jack later became vice-president of one of the country's biggest airlines.

Jack stresses the links between Argentina and Britain rather than the divisions which existed after the Falklands conflict.

Action from 1982 Falklands conflict
The Falklands conflict poisoned Anglo-Argentine relations
He said a large expat British presence in Argentina had left its mark in many ways, including introducing Argentina's national passion - football.

He blames Argentina's former military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, for the 1982 war.

Jack said: "General Galtieri, in order to divert the Argentine people from how badly he was running the country economically, invaded the Falkland Islands.

"Anybody who invades another country is wrong."




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Argentina
11 Mar 05 |  Country profiles
The Falklands War: an exile's view
03 Apr 02 |  Breakfast

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