Thoughts for Today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
The Falkland Islands
War, Constancy, Peace and wild bleak beauty
So, at 8am Tuesday 4th February we were ‘anchors off’, and the tenders were ready to transfer us to Port Stanley part of the East Falklands. The Falklands made up of 776 smaller islands and now designated a British Overseas Territory are 752 miles from the northern tip of Antarctica and 300 miles east of the South Americas. Since their discovery in 1690 by Royal Naval Captain John Strong they have been in French, British and Spanish hands. Britain reasserted its rule in 1833 after a two-year settlement by the Argentinians. The total population of the islands today is 3,398.
The Falkland Sound was named by Strong after the 5th Viscount Falkland, Treasurer of the Navy in 1690. Falkland is from the Gaelic word for enclosure hence the name of the town of Falkland in Scotland. It wasn’t until 1765 that the Falklands Islands were named. Captain John Byron claimed them for King George lll and when the French challenged their ownership it was almost called St Malo!
We arrived on this breezy and sunny day aware of the context of the 1982 Falklands Conflict between April and June of that year. After a warm welcome at the Tourist Board we made for Gypsy Cove, a twenty-minute minibus ride away. We were quickly out of the centre of town, past the large supermarket, petrol station and the great peat banks (the residents get an annual peat fuel allowance) into the wild barren vista of the sea coast with one or two large wrecks lying forlorn and rusted.
At Gypsy Cove we met guides who were able to let us know what we were seeing around us. They left us to walk (at a safe distance) past the Magellanic Penguin burrows where there was evidence of some youngsters. We saw a Turkey Vulture on top of one of the high outcrops. The local regulars like the Falkland Thrush and the bright yellow Siskin escorted us until we came to the bright red dust-bath display of a Long Tailed Meadow Lark.
The Cove revealed a vast expanse of beach being patrolled by the adult Magallenic Penguins in every stance you could name. Preening their stiff wings which can propel them 20–50 metres into the sea to catch fish and jelly fish at up to 25km an hour. Commerson Dolphins swam close to the shore, five or six of them fleetingly saying hello with their dazzling white and black markings. ‘Diddle Dee’ Shrub Heath guided us to the cliffs where the Cormorants were nesting overlooking York Bay. The Balmoral was just the other side of the bay where we saw a gun emplacement from the second world war. Further along in the distance we could clearly see HMS Forth part of the present British Fishery Protection fleet.
All of this before 12 midday. Back in Port Stanley we took refreshment at the Globe Tavern where the licensee was from St Helena and his forbears from the heritage of slaves. The Falklands flag displaying the Falklands coat of arms shouted the motto of the Islands: ‘Desire the Right’. The pub was filled with memorabilia of the islands in war and peace.
We paid our respects at the Falklands Memorial recording all the fallen of 1982 conflict which included 3 civilians, 255 British personnel and 649 Argentinians. Nearby we passed the Governor’s House en route to the 1918 Memorial outside Stanley remembering the Sea Battle of the Falklands on 8th December that year. This was when the German Squadron, headed by Vice Admiral Graf Von Spee, was defeated by the British Navy. Flanking the memorial are the three words War, Constancy and Peace. The story of the Falklands goes on with the fishing industry, tourism and sheep farming. The possibility of drilling for oil still looms.
Christ Church Cathedral on the front at Port Stanley, built in 1892, is the most southerly Anglican Cathedral in the world. The Whale Jaw Bone arch was put up in 1933. We met the Dean, Ian Faulds, in the Cathedral and shared a service of dedication. A wreath made up of a hundred poppies knitted by passengers on our ship Balmoral during the first half of our voyage was placed on the Book of Remembrance, and meant so much to the Veterans in our party. It was a very moving ceremony and took Jane and I back to our parish life in Poole where we and the Church family were able to give support to the families of Marines engaged in the Falklands conflict.
It was hard for us to leave this extraordinary place with its remoteness and untouched habitat, and where we had received such a warm welcome.
The three words War Constancy and Peace describe our present circumstances and the process of reflecting upon what makes for peace and builds up our common life.
On we go to Chile, Punta Arenas and the Chilean Fjords…
Edward and Jane