Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Day 5

I woke early with the South Atlantic dawn streaming through my window at something like 5.30am. I lay there for a few minutes gathering my thoughts reflecting on the events of the day and wondering what the day had to offer. I dosed and eventually rose when I heard the clatter of cutlery coming from the kitchen which signalled that Teen was up and about and that breakfast would soon be served.

I was a little too long lingering over my cup of tea so I arrived a few minutes late but luckily I was able to get a lift with Alex Allender and a naval chap from HMS Plymouth. As we were due to go to the Governor’s house this evening we had to leave first so with a couple of Landrovers we left. Our driver Ken Allbridge was brilliant and proved to be a superb guide. It turned out that he was a 5th generation islander and that he did guide tours as a living.

Leaving Stanley we took the “Northern” route to San Carlos go behind Mount Kent towards Teal Inlet. In 1982 this road didn’t exist, in fact there were basically NO roads in the Falklands 25 years ago and to get around you used either boat, plane or made your own road using a 4x4. To drive to San Carlos would basically take 1 to 2 days depending on how many times you got bogged and needed to dig yourself out. One of the first things that Ken pointed out was the remains of 2 Argentine helicopters that were caught by Harriers. The outlying garrison of troops of course needed re-supply and this was done by using choppers. Both of these had been spotted on the ground trying to hide from the harriers that by this time were prowling looking for targets. No idea if the crews had abandoned the choppers while they were on the ground but the burnt out wrecks of a Chinook and a Puma could be made out. Apparently there was a wrecked Huey a bit further from the road over a ridge.

We then proceeded to Teal Inlet passing a family standing by the road outside Lower Malo House that waved to various cars carrying other veterans as we passed by. Teal Inlet was where 45 Commando and 3 Para passed through on their epic yomp from San Carlos to Stanley. There was a small memorial to 3 Para here as this is where they buried there dead after the battle for Mount Longdon. From here we drove to San Carlos where we arrived at around midday. We got a very striking view of the bay where we landed from the ridge above and could easily pick out the jetty where we landed and the area where we dug in for the first 2 nights.

After arriving in the settlement itself we looked around the small museum they had there before walking around to the cemetery where the British laid to rest all those killed in the fighting. Of course most of the bodies have repatriated to the UK which is the first time in history that the British government have done this for its forces. Before now all soldiers were buried in the place they were killed and no bodies were sent home. We had a very poignant ceremony which was followed by a wreath laying ceremony. One of the guys next to me was having a hard time and was visibly upset so I made an extra effort to help him through what was obliviously a very hard experience. It seemed proper as I lost no friends in the Falklands. Though the battalion lost 8 men I didn’t know any of them personally so my grief has always been for the men of both sides.

Treesa Mitchell the widow of Clarke Mitchell summed up the whole war when she remarked to Alex what a terrible waste of young lives the war was. I couldn’t agree more. Looking around at the men, all in their mid to late forties and seeing the grief for friends lost 25 years ago you can see the huge impact that this war has had on all of us. My grief has always been for my lost innocence and the tragedy of what had occurred here all those years ago. When the service came to an end we retreated to get some food that the RAF had supplied for us. It then started to hail and rain so I missed the low flying helicopter that flew over and saluted us.

We left the reception fairly early as we wanted to visit Ajax Bay which was clearly visible across the bay. The farmer whose land we had to traverse to get to the old plant was more than happy to let us go there. He invited us over to his house for tea but as we were very pressed for time we had to decline. Old Jerry was quite a character, a real farmer, dressed as he was in his blue over clothes and the fact he had half a cow hanging up outside.

Seeing Ajax Bay bought memories flooding back and I was able to point out all the buildings and described to those who were interested what we used them for. The condition of the buildings was very dilapidated and they were falling down. However I was able to find the dining hall, the kitchen, pantry, our sleeping area plus all the rooms we used to hold the prisoners. I even found the wash rooms though they had almost completely vanished. Amazingly I found the 2 oil drums that we had used to make our hot water system that supplied us hot water for our showers. The only thing that was missing was our mural that had been removed and apparently moved to the museum. There was a colony of penguins outside the main entrance who seemed a bit perturbed that we were there.

We drove back to Stanley and changed then made our way down to the Governor’s house for the official reception. Finger food, drinks and polite conversation was the order of the day for about 85 of us. Most of the Scots Guards had elected to stay up on Tumbledown so only a few of us were there. It was an enjoyable enough occasion and after I was able to get a lift back to the house with the Brigadier in charge of the garrison. He and his very wife were very nice to talk to and we got a little lost trying too find our way to where I was staying.

I had something to eat with Teen before popping down to Teena’s to do some email and attempt to call Susie on Skype. Sadly that didn’t work so well so instead we chatted using text. Was nice to talk as communications here are not easy and there is a 4 hour time difference which means that it’s normally very late for Susie. This is not made easier by the fact I have lost my phone.

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