Manna interview: A symbol of reconciliation

1st November 2023

Revd Martin Kirkbride with his Falklands stole

The Revd Martin Kirkbride, who served in the Royal Navy for 16 years, has received a special stole from the Falkland Islands, where he served in the 1982 conflict.

Can you tell us what is special about your new stole?

The stole was made for me by the charity Scarves for Falklands Veterans in recognition of my service both in the conflict and my work since then with veterans. Like the scarves, it is made from 100% Falklands wool and is the exact colour and pattern of the South Atlantic medal.

What support do you offer veterans?

I became a Christian after leaving the navy, I then became Chaplain to HMS Coventry – sunk in 1982 with the loss of 20 lives and coincidentally was also a minister at Coventry Cathedral. I am proud to wear the Coventry Cross of Nails, which was also carried by HMS Coventry.

You’ve also made connections with Argentinian veterans, how did that come about?

That started in 2013, when a representative of the pilot responsible for the sinking of HMS Coventry came over to meet me at Coventry Cathedral to present a letter from him, as he couldn’t attend for political reasons. They specifically wanted it presented in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral.

Have you had any other involvement in peace and reconciliation between the two countries?

From 2013 onwards I started to develop more contacts in Argentina and that came to a wonderful focus in December 2020 when the University of Buenos Aires ran a half-day conference on the Falklands/Malvinas Conflict. I was asked to be a speaker and a chaplain for it. 

How did you find that as a former veteran?

It was gut-wrenchingly honest, it was probably more painful emotionally than the conflict itself for me. It was such an incredible privilege to witness two very honest men, one a good colleague of mine who was severely injured in the attack and saw crew mates killed instantly, and the Argentine pilot. They talked to each other at length about their feelings and what had happened. And it was just incredible time to listen to that.

What was your involvement?

I was asked to close the whole conference with the Coventry Prayer of Reconciliation, in both languages, which was incredible. But what I found most moving was the reading that preceded that, which was the poem by Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Lopez and John Ward, which he wrote following the conflict.

They lived in a strange age.
The planet had been partitioned into different countries, each armed with loyalties, cherished memories, and an unquestionably heroic past; with laws, grievances, and their own peculiar mythologies; with bronze busts of great men, anniversaries, demagogues, and symbols. This division, the labor of cartographers, was good for starting wars.
Lopez was born in the city by the motionless river; Ward, in the outskirts of the city once walked by Father Brown. He had studied Spanish in order to read Don Quixote.
The other professed a love of Conrad, who had been revealed to him in a classroom on Viamonte Avenue.
They might have been friends, but they only saw each other once, face-to-face, somewhere down in those too-famous islands, and each of them was Cain, each Abel.
They were buried together, decayed in the snow. These events took place in an age we cannot understand.

The line, each of them was Cain, each was Abel, I find profoundly moving. It takes all the triumphalism away.

Is there anything we can learn from this conflict?

In my talks on peace and reconciliation I talk about the practicalities, what is needed, and what reconciliation means. In all of them, no matter whether they are to church or military audiences, I do refer to the fact that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself and that He has given us this message in reconciliation. It is my absolute privilege to work with Falklands Veterans and we as church have a lot to learn from them about reconciliation. We are good at forgiveness, but reconciliation is different. It is about truth and justice and there is a price to pay and of course that is difficult, especially as that price is often paid for by the innocent.

Have you found reconciliation difficult?

At times. I did meet with the pilot, Roberto, in person in the Falklands and after having a discussion we went to the memorial there. I explained to him that we have a tradition – separate from the memorial service – of before getting booted up and medalled, we used to gather at the memorial and pour a glass of rum and drink a toast to the fallen. Roberto wanted to be the same and being a Naval Chaplain I had a hipflask of rum with me and poured two glasses. He raised his and said to ‘all those who lost their lives in the Falklands’. Argentinians do not use the words, Falklands, and I thought I am going to have to raise a glass and say the words. To those who lost their lives in the Malvinas. I did it, but I’m not going to lie, I found it very difficult to do.

How have others felt about you building a relationship with the pilot?

I cannot give or receive forgiveness on behalf of the other crew members, or on behalf of the loved ones of those who did not come home. It is an individual thing. Not every British veteran would be happy with my relationship with the Argentinians and equally many would.

Do you continue to share this message of reconciliation about the conflict?

Yes. Somehow during Covid the lectionary Bible of St John’s got lost. We commissioned a new one and the dedication in the new bible is dedicated to all those of the UK and Argentina who died in the 1982 conflict and features the Coventry Prayer of Reconcilation – in both languages. The first person to read from it was a retired Commodore from the parish whose ship was very damaged in the conflict and lost two crew. Now I have retired I continue to act as chaplain for HMS Coventry (1982 veterans) and for the South Atlantic Medal Association.

The Scarfs for Veterans charity would like to send a free scarf to all who served in the South Atlantic in 1982, or to members of their family. To find out more email:

This article featured in the November 2023 edition of the Manna mailing.

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