Trumpet's return will herald peace between Falkland foes

THEY last met as young soldiers on opposite sides in the bloody conflict over the Falkland Islands.

• Care home owner and former Scottish paratrooper Tony Banks with the trumpet he is to hand back this week. Picture: Complimentary/Gilson Pereira

Tony Banks was a Scottish paratrooper ordered to dispossess Argentine troops of everything except their clothes after the fierce battle for Goose Green, and Omar Tabarez was an army musician who was forced to hand over the trumpet he was carrying.

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Now the man probably best known for his role in the TV series Secret Millionaire will return to the scene of the conflict. In an extraordinary reunion, the multi-millionaire care home owner will this week meet Tabarez to hand back the instrument he seized 28 years ago and which has been in his possession ever since.

The two veterans will come face to face again in Buenos Aires on Wednesday when Banks, 48, will hand back the trumpet in a ceremony endorsed by the Argentine government. It said it would honour the entrepreneur for his gesture and his "good attitude" for returning to the country with the instrument.

Speaking from the Argentine capital Banks, a nursing home tycoon from Kirriemuir, Angus, said he was excited but anxious about the meeting. "But I have been looking at the trumpet over the past few years and thinking: this is not mine, I should give it back."

The two soldiers came fleetingly into contact when Banks, then 20, was working as a prisoner handler. "I had to put the Argentines on to their boats, making sure they left with nothing more than their clothes," he said.

"One chap standing in line was holding a strange-looking box and I asked him what it was. When he told me it was his trumpet I was taken aback.

"I felt bad, but I couldn't let him take this away so I held on to it. There was all these other guys (from his regiment] standing around with swords and bayonets. I had a trumpet and I've had it sitting in my office ever since."

The pair would now come together as men, not soldiers, he added. "I often wondered what happened to that guy. It's a way for me to grieve a little and I'll probably say I'm sorry and hope you've had a good life."

Tabarez said Banks' gesture went beyond politics and national pride and he had no animosity towards Banks.

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"He is very brave to come here to Argentina and do this and to return something that belongs to a soldier," said the father of two, who is about to become a professor of history. "He didn't take the decision to confront me – Maggie Thatcher did."

Tabarez said he had been "jumping for joy" since a former army colleague phoned him in recent weeks to say the British ex-serviceman was looking to reunite him with the instrument.

"I couldn't believe it. I'm still only putting my feet back on the ground," said Tabarez, who was part of an artillery crew defending a landing strip during the two-month military campaign.

Banks says he too holds nothing personal against the country that seized the islands, a British territory in the South Atlantic, in 1982, provoking a bloody conflict that left 255 British servicemen dead and killed 649 Argentine soldiers.

"I have no animosity to Argentina. I was sent there to do a job and that was that," said Banks. "I'm not here to change history. I'm just here to give something back that's not mine."

Major Dario Ochoa, who is coordinating the ceremony to be attended by army officials, said: "Us soldiers have more in common than government: we understand each other.

"Mr Banks has a nice attitude towards this and the army is happy the veteran will get the trumpet back."

Banks, who is worth an estimated 60 million, travelled back to the Falklands this year to retrace his steps on the battlefield and raise awareness for Combat Stress, a charity aiding ex-servicemen. He became interested in helping traumatised veterans after appearing in the TV series in which wealthy individuals go undercover to identify people they can help financially.

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In Liverpool he met 29-year-old Lee Sanger, a veteran of the Iraq war, who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He donated 30,000 to Combat Stress, Sanger's choice of charity, and has since donated another 100,000.

Banks said meeting Tabarez would help him overcome his memories of the Falklands conflict – he lost several of his friends from the regiment in the fighting – and a traumatic period after the war.

"When I came back from the Falklands there was death all around me. I was an angry young man for a long time," he said. "This is like the final piece of the jigsaw – like drawing a line through it all."

Tabarez says he has suffered from anxiety and depression since the battle.

"The war didn't stop in 1982," says Tabarez, who retired from the army in 1994. "It goes on for the whole life. It's an internal struggle. The suffering goes on."

He recalls the day when British forces swooped on Goose Green, where Argentine forces were entrenched in a bloody battle that lasted two days before they surrendered.

"When I saw the British guy (Banks], he was observing me. He saw I had something," he said of the black case he was carrying with the trumpet.

"He went to his boss and said something. Then he came back and took the trumpet.

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"It has a lot of meaning for me. It's symbolic. It's like therapy. It accompanied me through the war. It was like my brother. It doesn't have a price."