The journey was undertaken by Les Butterworth (ex-HMS AVENGER) and Graham Wild (ex-HMS ARDENT), this was the first visit back to the Islands in over 30 years.
The decision to make the journey south was taken about 6 months before setting off. The flights were arranged through the RAF hence reservations at the Lodge were not secured until the flights were confirmed. At that juncture we were asked to inform of any particular places that we wanted to call on and of any sites that we were keen to visit. We were given details of the movement from RAF Mount Pleasant (MPA) to Stanley, and of the volunteer driver scheme. We were also encouraged to visit the Lodge website to learn more about what it provided.
On arrival at MPA our transport was waiting for us and we set off to Stanley about 20’ minutes after landing. After dropping off those who were staying with families or in other accommodation, we arrived at the Lodge. We were welcomed by Ellen and her daughter Violet and with them was one of the regular visitors to the Lodge, Gary, a former Royal Marine who fought in the conflict.
We were instantly made to feel at home and were shown around facilities in the Lodge. Reassuringly Ellen and Violet were there to ensure that our intentions and aspirations were taken into account. They listened to what we wanted to achieve during our stay and offered suggestions for other places to visit and informed of events that were taking place. Gary, meanwhile, had prepared a chilli and made arrangements to take us around the sites towards Volunteer Point and Gypsy Cove.
It was obvious at that early point that we were going to be well looked after and that we were being welcomed into the lives of a very special group of people. Over the next few days Ellen was always on hand to talk with us. Her style and approach was not invasive or forceful, and she was not there to judge or to make assumptions. We felt she took a genuine interest in our experiences and made us feel that our individual recounts were as valuable and meaningful as other anecdotes and renditions that she had heard before. In a very subtle and sincere way she was gathering information that she could put to good use; she would occasionally go to make a call and come back to inform of an event or meeting that she had arranged for us. Such was her associations that it seemed nothing was beyond her capabilities.
During the course of our visit we attended a cocktail party and tour in HMS IRON DUKE, were taken on a full-day journey around East Falkland, had afternoon tea with the Governor and his wife, and were taken out for dinner with Carol and Terence Phillips – all of which was arranged by Ellen, who was assisted by Violet.
Ellen and Violet were regular visitors to the Lodge but were not intrusive. They gave us enough time, privacy and space for us to do whatever we pleased, but were there to take us around Stanley and introduce us to others. They are evidently well connected and have high standing amongst the local residents. Each visitor to the Lodge is welcomed and treated with the same sincerity and respect, regardless of their background or experience. The atmosphere in the Lodge replicates the sobriety and laughter that is shared in equal measure by veterans as they recount their stories and let others know how it was for them. The contribution that Ellen and Violet make to establishing and maintaining that ambience should never be under estimated.
In order to confront our reticence and rid ourselves of some ‘demons’ we wanted to visit San Carlos, where most of our encounters took place and it is the main place where our comrades are remembered. Our volunteer driver – Ron Buckett – drove us to where we wanted to go, but also took us to other memorial sites so that we could pay our respects. He shared his experiences with us and gave us valuable insight to how it was to be living on the Islands during the occupation. Ron is a remarkable person and a proper gentleman.
During our stay we met countless islanders and were made to feel extremely welcome by them all. We shared experiences, shared our renditions and occasionally shared drinks with them. The most outstanding things for us were how fresh and alive the conflict is for our hosts, but also how truly grateful they are and they had no qualms about letting us know. Their hospitality, thankfulness and readiness to welcome us into their lives was truly something to behold.
The only regret we have it is not spending more time on the Islands. There is so much to see and do and so many fabulous people to meet. We were introduced to people that we can now call our friends and we will keep in touch with them. There is no doubt that we will travel again to see more of what the Islands have to offer, and to spend time with our friends to learn more about the events of 1982. Having unfinished business is the perfect excuse to plan another visit and hopefully take our wives with us.
Liberty Lodge is without any doubt a most extraordinary place. Its facilities are outstanding and it is built and maintained to high specifications. But it is the way it is managed and run that makes it even more remarkable. From the initial welcome to the emotional goodbye you are made to feel special. You are embraced and included, and your contribution to the history and liberation of the Islands is everlastingly preserved and most comfortingly cherished.