Sunday, 21 December 2014

1914 Remembered - a violent year in the Falklands.

[A pictorial diary of life in the Falklands for me and my wife.  Here for a few years].

The Falkland Island are, and were, a remote archipelago, and prior to the Panama Canal opening in 1913, Port Stanley was occasionally a safe harbour for ships damaged or blown off course after rounding Cape Horn.  Very much a quiet backwater......

However, on December 8th, 1914, events near Stanley, the capital, brought the Falkland Islands to the notice of the world for the first time.
Royal Marines Band
A full-blown naval battle took place within sight of land, resulting in over two thousand deaths, and the crushing defeat of the German fleet in the south Atlantic.
But, just a few weeks earlier, it was the Royal Navy that had suffered horrendous losses in the Battle of Coronel, just off the Chilean coast.  1,600 sailors were killed as British ships were sunk by the stronger German fleet.
Royal Navy
It looked certain that the German fleet, under vice-Admiral Graf von Spee, would then easily capture the Falklands, obtaining vital coal supplies, and destroying the powerful radio station.
Royal British Legion and other civilian groups.
But, reinforcements, under Admiral Sturdee, had rushed to Port Stanley from the north and arrived on December 7th, the day before the German fleet, to surprise the Germans, and achieve a stunning victory.  How different might things have been if the Royal Navy had arrived a day later.....
Memorial wall with plaques about to be unveiled.

"Adversaries in War; Companions in Death"
The sea battles had repercussions, not only for the families of those involved, but also for historic figures such as Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty, at the time), and also for the long-term strategic importance to Great Britain of the Falkland Islands.
Flotilla of small boats
With my tour guide hat on, I often get asked by visitors, "Why?" Why is this spot on the map British?   "What earthly interest did Great Britain have in a wind-swept archipelago, miles from anywhere and in some of the roughest seas in the world?"
Well, that naval encounter in 1914 brought home to the world how important it was to have a staging post and re-fuelling base, when you are thousands of miles from home.
The Governor inspects the parade
"The Sun Never Set" on the British Empire at that time, and the empire relied on trade, which relied on ships, which relied on coal, and later, oil, to keep their engines running.

In an unstable world, where people were throwing off colonial rule, the Falklands became an indispensable and reliable haven for ships going round Cape Horn to California and Australia, and to explore  "Terra Incognita" - Antarctica.
Marine Band. Battle Monument
So, despite their remoteness, the Falklands had fame thrust upon themselves on the 8th December 1914.  And to commemorate the centenary, a group of locals decided it would be appropriate to invite descendants of the Admirals in those battles to Stanley.

So, the descendants of Admirals Craddock (defeated at Coronel), Sturdee (victorious at the Falklands) and Graf von Spee (victor at Coronel and defeated at the Falklands) were invited to participate in events to mark the sacrifice made by both navies.
Combined parade march past
December 8th is now a public holiday in the Falklands, and a large crowd turned out on a bright and breezy day to see units from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Falkland Islands Defence Force march to the Battle Monument, and return to take the salute from the Governor and VIPs.
A new memorial for both sides of the conflict was unveiled, and a flotilla of small ships sailed down the harbour in the brisk south-westerly.
The Marines Band, as they did all week, marched and played stirring music.....
"Hearts of Oak".  "The Great Escape" - yes!  Even some Bond themes!
They are all superb musicians, each playing a minimum of two instruments.
Falkland Islands Defence Force.

Taking the salute at Government House.
Flotilla of launches.
Malvina House Hotel flagpoles.
Later in the day, the visiting Royal Marine Band Beat the Retreat in the street, in front of the Malvina House Hotel, where a gala dinner was taking place.  A stirring performance on a cool evening.

Beating the Retreat

At the end of the week of commemorations, another memorial was unveiled, this time by local descendants of 8 members of the Falkland Islands Volunteer Force who died in a tragic accident on December 1st 1914.
Cairn, with the Canache in backround
The men had been hurriedly working on lookout posts, before the expected German fleet appeared in Stanley harbour.  To save time, rather than taking a longer land route, they took a short boat trip across the Canache - a sheltered inlet of the harbour.

While crossing a narrow strip of water, their punt capsized, and, fully-laden with coats and packs, 8 of them drowned a few yards from shore.

The impact of this tragedy on such a small community, on top of the news of the imminent arrival of an invading German fleet, is hard to imagine.

So, it was an emotional week for many.  But the visitors apparently felt that it was such a fitting  gesture by the Falklanders - to bring together the families of the commanders of opposing fleets.

The guests had enjoyed a full programme for their week. When not viewing the famous wildlife or visiting a sheep farm, they were being entertained by the local Amateur Dramatic society, in the shape of a Edwardian Music Hall concert, with the addition of sketches from the BBC Blackadder WW1 series!   A great time was had by all, including the audience!

More details of the Battle of the Falklands can be found here >>>>>

Have a peaceful Christmas


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