By Stephen (Wyatt) Earp
18-year-old Stoker on board HMS Ardent during the 1982 conflict.
My experiences on board HMS Ardent in the Falkland sound on the 21st of May 1982 had shaped my life. I felt so guilty for returning from the conflict. For many years I bottled it up and then I had a period where I thought about nothing else. During my first visit the memories came flooding back. It was an extremely emotional time for me. But it helped me to come to terms with my depression.
After my visit I was a much more contented person, although it was too late for my marriage and my relationship with my son.
I have never spoken to anyone professionally about my experiences and the loss of 22 colleagues including my best friends Buzz Leighton and Florie Ford. I can now see that not talking to someone was a mistake.
I decided to make a second visit to the islands this year after visiting for the first time last year since the war. I have fallen in love with the country, the pace of life and of course the people. The assistance I received from Jane at SAMA82 in booking my discounted flight to the Falklands and equally the help I received from Karan from the Falklands veteran foundation (FVF) in planning my trip was excellent.
The 1982 conflict does tend to come up in most conversations, however everyone is getting older and I do feel the younger generation are not that interested. And why should they be, they have grown up in a different Falklands to their parents. After the war the Falklands changed due to the fishing zone which was set up in 1985 and brings in excess of £30 million a year. The Falklands has its own at very successful fishing industry.
The education system is excellent with every child having the opportunity to go to university. Either back in the UK or in New Zealand or Australia. All paid for by the Falklands government.
Stanley is expanding with the government assisting first time buyers in the purchase and building of new homes. Before the conflict there was only 5 miles of roads on the island now there is over 300 miles, connecting all the community’s and farms.
They have some Internet, and mobile phone coverage is very good. The biggest change to the island is the tourist industry with cruise ships coming into the outer harbour. Dropping off Day-trippers, coming to see the wildlife and flooding the cafes, pubs and shops in Stanley.
Everyone gets involved with a line of 4 by 4’s waiting to drive people around.
There are some superb beaches around the islands however the majority are still covered with Argentinian mines, yet another reminder of the conflict. But 35 years on there is a concentrated effort to remove the mines.
I have been very lucky to spend some time on both West and East Falkland on this visit.
Staying at the FVF (Falkland Veteran Foundation) liberty lodge in Stanley. It is the perfect location to tour the island. The lodge is supported by local companies, demonstrating a strong feeling for visiting veterans on the island. The lodge is extremely well equipped and expertly run on the island by Alison Dent, the lodge had over 115 veterans visit during 2016.
Alison arranged for us to go on a round robin trip around the island to a number of 1982 memorial sites. Visiting Fitzroy and San Carlos cemetery was very moving. The cemetery is kept immaculately by local residents. although recently all the memorials and cemeteries on the island have been taken over by the MOD.
The small Museum at San Carlos has a great account of the conflict including details of HMS Ardent’s involvement. It was great to revisit Goose Green and see a number of the buildings have been updated and new families have moved in to this once thriving community. It was very sad to hear that 35 of the 115 residents who were held hostage in the community hall for four weeks during the Falklands conflict have passed away.
There are three vehicles at the lodge available for veterans to use, at a small cost, they are provided by SAMA82 (Falkland Islands) Gary Clements a former Royal marine is the contact in the Falklands.
I took some time on my own to climb Mount Harriet in the footsteps of 42 Cdo RM. Resting at the top with a picnic and the can of cider with the lads, even taking time to sign the visitors book and polish the plaque on the war memorial, which is customary for anyone paying their respects.
I was lucky enough to be spend some time with two veterans from 3 para who took me through their experiences of their TAB from Teal inlet onto Mount Longon before the final assault into Stanley. I also spent some quality time with other veterans from HMS Sheffield, HMS Invincible and the QE2, talking through our experiences and memories over a couple of beers.
The museum in Stanley is a fantastic facility and has a very moving film providing an insight into the childhood memories of the Falklanders themselves during the invasion and the 74 day occupation in 1982.
We had a very informative visit with the current governor of the island – Colin Roberts.
After some pleasantries including a cream tea and photo opportunity. We had an interesting conversation about the current situation on the Falklands and he made it very clear that there were still issues with Argentina due to the sanctions they impose on to the islands. From the restrictions on flights in and out of the island and the threats to prosecute and impose sanctions on any companies that deal with the Falkland Islands.
I caught an internal flight to West Falkland, staying at Port Howard where I visited a number of crash sites of Argentinian mirage planes. It was amazing that the wreckage was still there after 35 years and it looked as if it only happened last week. The Museum at Port Howard is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. I also visited the grave of Captain John Hamilton (SAS) who was shot just outside the settlement whilst on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines. He was awarded the military Cross for bravery. Port Howard was occupied by over 1000 Argentinians soldiers during the conflict. It is still run as a sheep farm and the main port for West Falkland, and the area is very popular for tourists and fishing. Port Howard lodge is run by Sue and Wayne and they couldn’t do enough for me, and made me feel very welcome.
I took another internal flight and visited Saunders island which is owned by David and Sue Pole-Evans. The island is 15 miles long and 8 miles wide and David and his family live at the farm near the airstrip. They very kindly arranged for me to stay overnight at the neck of Saunders island which is an area of outstanding natural beauty with an abundance of penguins, sea lions and albatrosses.
Sue kindly drove me in their Landrover the hour trip to the hut. Then said she would see me tomorrow!
I stayed in a self catering hut with only 10,000 penguins as neighbours. The hut was warm and cosy and a view to die for. I live on my own on Dartmoor, however being this remote was a new experience for me, although as the sunset and the gentoo penguins sang on the beach, I was convinced I was in paradise.
An experience I will not forget. An amazing place with fantastic wildlife and solitude. A great place to think and reflect.
Wow what a difference a day makes I woke up this morning to and electrical storm and heavy rain. I watched as a line of sheep made their way through the groups of the penguins on the beach, this is an image that will stay with me forever. I hope one day I can repay Sue and David’s generosity if they visit Devon.
Had an emotional day today. I enjoyed the drive up Campito, it was a two hour drive from Stanley to wreck farm at the foot of Campito it then took an hour of off road driving by islander Dick Swale to reach the summit where I laid a wreath at the type 21 memorial. From the memorial you can see both the final resting place of both HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope. It meant a lot to me to be able to pay my respects.
On the way back we visited San Carlos Blue beach cemetery where I laid another wreath under the HMS Ardent role of honour. It was a very still day, and the peace and quiet of the location really heightens the emotions. We also visited Ajex Bay, where the 1950s mutton processing plant played a vital role as a Field hospital and the main logistics base during the 1982 conflict.
I ended the trip with a few days in and around Stanley. Allison our host at Liberty lodge invited us to dinner at her house, it was great to meet her family. I also caught up for a drink with Terence Phillips and his wife Carol. Terence is a real character and spent the time during the conflict assisting the Para regiment on Mount Longon. I also managed to meet up for drinks with Tim Cotter and John Ferguson.
I was invited by Mike Sawden to visit the senior school which is built in the late 90s, Mike is an English teacher at the school who I met on the flight down last year. It was great to meet the teachers and some of the pupils that are benefiting from a fantastic education. The quality of the artwork and the politeness of the pupils was a credit to the school. At the school they also have a number of original paintings by Captain John Hamilton which are displayed on the walls of the main corridor. As a constant reminder of the 1982 conflict.
I ended my visit with a trip to the memorial wood just on the outskirts of Stanley, this is a fantastic memorial to all the people that lost their life fighting for the islands. There is a tree dedicated to each of the ships company that didn’t come home. I paid my respects and had a chat with the boys.
If I was to take one thing away from my trip down south. It would be the people, they are friendly and generous with their time, hard working, proud and genuine, but most of all British.
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the people of the Falkland Islands for their hospitality during my visit.
“Desire the right”
Stephen (Wyatt) Earp
18-year-old Stoker on board HMS Ardent during the 1982 conflict.