Friday, 21 September 2012

Ajax Bay & Rick Jolly - a remarkable man

As the legendary Jim Reeves might have put it...."Welcome to my World"!

Continuing our tale of a couple of incoming Brits to the tiny community of the Falkland Islands, in the turbulent South Atlantic.  The census results published this week say there are 2,121 residents in Stanley and another 500 souls scattered around the rest of the islands, although this didn't include the 2,000 military and civilians based at Mount Pleasant.  Whatever the headcount - there is still a lot of space here!
Darwin sunset
What there isn't a lot of, is accommodation.  Many residents camp if they go away for the weekend, but with snow a possibility at any time of the year, and gales a probability, we prefer solid walls around us.....
Darwin Lodge
We choose to have a night in Darwin Lodge.  It has a lovely position, nestling on a sea inlet in the small settlement of Darwin, and about a mile from the neighbouring Goose Green.  These communities were established to house the farm-workers who worked on the vast sheep stations ("farms" doesn't convey the size).  With mechanisation and a more "self-starting" workforce, some accommodation has been converted into self-catering cottages, or, in the case of larger, former managers', homes, into small hotels.
For some reason, the car park is nor near the Lodge!
 Darwin is about 70 miles south-west of Stanley, and we arrived in time for afternoon tea, accompanied by delicious home-made cakes and scones.  After being shown our large room with picture windows facing north and west, we set off to explore the surroundings.  What struck us immediately was how quiet it was.  Now, Stanley is hardly a bustling metropolis, but here the nearest road was about a mile away and traffic infrequent.  We could faintly hear dogs barking, but couldn't see any.  We found out later, the dogs lived in kennels in Goose Green, but on still evenings, the sound carried.
We watched the sun set, and the stars come out, and saw herons and hares enjoy their last feed of the day....

Rockhopper penguins, enjoying the view
The Lodge had an honesty bar, and - I cannot tell a lie - we used it!  Our hosts served us (there were 10 guests staying that night) with delicious cream of tomato soup followed by chicken pie, washed down by a carafe or two of house Chilean red....
2 Para memorial
Next morning, like the weather, we were up bright and breezy for another traditional meal of Full English breakfast, before heading off to explore the area.  First stop was the poignant memorial to those British paratroopers who lost their lives in the first land battle of the Falklands War.  It is situated on a gorse-covered ridge which separates Darwin from Goose Green, and  it was here that some very fierce fighting took place during a battle that lasted about 14 hours.  The Commanding Officer, Col. H. Jones, frustrated at the lack of progress, decided to lead from the front and was killed attacking Argentine positions on this ridge.   He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Goose Green community hall
When the British  troops eventually reached Goose Green, and took the surrender of the 1200-strong Argentine force, they found that  every member of the settlement (about 100 people of all ages) had been locked in the Community Hall for over a month!  As the battle raged around them, they had been forced to cram into a hastily-constructed bunker under the floorboards.
Sheep shed, Goose Green, with "POW"  just visible.
 Leaving our car at the Hall, we walked south to what we'd been told was a local attraction.  It was a long walk of about 3 miles to Bodie Creek Bridge - the most southerly suspension bridge in the world!  But it was even longer coming back into the teeth of a gale.  Luckily, it was sunny, but I could feel my ears turning red with the combined action of sun and wind!
Bodie Creek Bridge
The bridge was built to shorten the journey of the vast flocks of sheep that were annually herded into Darwin for shearing.  It crosses a broad inlet, and saves about 40 miles of walking.  However, the bridge has fallen into disuse, and is no longer deemed safe.  We didn't fancy checking if it would take our weight, although we had been told several hundred sheep regularly used to be on it at the same time!
The Golden Gate of the Falklands....for sheep only. 
Lafonia - the south half of East Falkland.  Big horizons.
 After a refreshing lunch in the Galley cafe, Goose Green, we drove back towards Stanley for a few miles, then turned north towards San Carlos.  This was the inlet that was to be known as "Bomb Alley", where the British troops were landed and the Argentine aircraft tried to stifle the invasion at source.  There is an excellent museum, and a poignant cemetery, at San Carlos Water, which was one of the beaches used in the landings.
San Carlos Water.
Another beach was at Ajax Bay, directly opposite, across the inlet.  It had once housed a meat processing factory and it was felt the buildings could be used as a field hospital - dealing with casualties, before they were evacuated to hospital ships, out in the Atlantic.
Old meat factory, Ajax Bay, San Carlos Water
Royal Marine flag?
Even for the Falklands, Ajax Bay is a remote and sombre spot, with the roofless concrete buildings slowly crumbling into the beach.
"Operation Corporate" was the name for the British invasion of the  Falklands
 Only a few reminders remain to show a war was fought, and men died, here.

"If you are able to save them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go".

I've discovered that Lance Corporal McKay died, aged 19, on the 27th May 1982.  Reading the excellent and uplifting "Red and Green Life Machine",  by Rick Jolly, OBE, I find that the 27th was the first day that the field hospital was attacked by enemy bombers, leaving seven dead, and two unexploded bombs in the roof of the hospital.  The bombs remained there throughout the war.  Unfortunately, as much equipment, including ammunition, was stored beside the hospital, it meant a large red cross couldn't be painted on the hospital roof, as this was against the Geneva Convention.
Memorial to 44 victims of the War.
Rick Jolly is a remarkable man, and I recommend his book about the Falklands war.  It is a revelation about the logistics of war, and also man-management, as war, as in so much of life, is often about persuading someone else to do something against their will.   But there are many humourous episodes amongst the tension.  The tale of  the UN observers beggars belief - they arrived by helicopter to check that Argentine prisoners were being well-treated.  They were, so the observers then asked for a taxi to take them to a local hotel.  Rick explained that there were no taxis, and no roads, and the only hotels were in Stanley, and it might be a hairy ride arriving there in a British military helicopter!
Birdlife in the Bay
It is thought that Rick Jolly OBE, is the only person in history to have been awarded medals by BOTH sides in a conflict!   He is also proud of the fact that no British soldiers died after arriving at his hospital.  Sadly, some Argentine conscripts did die of infections, which were a result of very poor medical attention in the field, before they arrived at his hospital.
Climbing the hill. Two gentoo penguins.
"Are we nearly there, yet?"
 As we read the memorials to the fallen, we noticed a couple of penguins approaching us from the beach, about 100 feet below.   They headed straight for us, and I thought they were just being curious, but they kept walking right past us, on up the hill.
Well hidden colony
Apart from low bushes and rocks, I could see nothing that would attract penguins up a hill.  But suddenly, they arrived in the middle of a well-camouflaged colony, hidden among the foliage and stone runs.  Stone runs are a unique feature of the Falklands.  Charles Darwin called them, "rivers of stone", and they resemble lava flows, except they comprise solid boulders.  Very difficult to walk across. 
Stone run, San Carlos Water
But, with a bit of care, we managed to cross the stones without turning an ankle.  We sometimes had to have  both hands on the boulders to keep our balance.  How heavily-laden soldiers crossed these barriers, silently, in the dark, was mind-boggling.

We had the convenience of a car, and about 2 hours later we arrived back in Stanley, slightly shaken by the very bumpy road.  But when we considered it had taken the troops who landed at Ajax Bay 4 days to walk the same distance, (and then fight fierce battles), I felt a bit pathetic whining about the potholes in the road!

More soon,

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