Misty Rain over Mount Tumbledown
After a day at sea to celebrate the new decade, we received a faithful escort into Stanley Harbour. Following our vessel, at a respectful distance, were a dozen or so sea eagles. They hovered off the stern of M/S Veendam, gliding from left to right, their eyes fixed upon any human activity which might catch their eye. They remained ready to swoop upon any stray food which may, perchance, become available.
Sailing into Stanley Harbour felt somewhat nostalgic, even though neither Huckleberry B nor I had ever been there before.
When I was in Year 8, the news each evening was replete with references to the war being fought between Britain and Argentina over a remote set of islands which lay off the south east coast of South America. To this day, words and phrases such as `Harrier Jet’, ` Goose Green’, `Exocet Missile’, `The Belgrano’ and `Mount Tumbledown’ evoke mental images of that distant time.
On 2 April 1982, Argentine Forces landed at Yorke Bay and, within a short period, overpowered the local British garrison. Argentina had long claimed rightful ownership of the Falkland Islands; or the Malvinas as they knew them. Their petition was based upon the fact that Spain occupied the Islands before Britain. Whilst Spain, itself, laid no claim to the distant archipelago, Argentina sought to assert a derivative claim.
One of the first questions I asked our guide – a local Falkland Islander, of very British pedigree, named Antony Smith – was whether Argentina still cast a jealous eye over the islands which they claimed to be their own (although, doubtless, I did not cast this enquiry in such poetic terms). Tony assured us that they did. He hastened to add that the real reason Argentina desired possession of the Falklands was the possibility of a lucrative oil reserve, together with valuable fishing rights.
In any event, within three days of the Argentine invasion in 1982, Margaret Thatcher – the `Iron Lady’ – dispatched a task force across the Atlantic to reclaim the Islands and restore British honour. The task force was to include none other than Prince Andrew, the second to the throne after Prince Charles.
Tony Smith explained to us that the Argentines occupied the mountain tops surrounding Stanley, including Mt Harriet, Mt Two Sisters, Mt Longdon, Wireless Ridge and Mt Tumbledown. In our drive around the countryside surrounding Stanley, Tony pointed out each of these peaks. They were uninviting places, to be sure; dominated by rivers of rock which flowed down the slopes of each mountain and afflicted by rain for most of the time we were there.
These Argentine strongholds were successively retaken by the British between 11 June and 14 June 1982. Argentina formally surrendered immediately upon the recapture of Mt Tumbledown.
One of the highlights of our battleground tour was a visit to the remains of an Argentine helicopter, which still lay where a British Harrier Jet had destroyed it whilst it sat on the ground, awaiting its next mission. The lowlight was the sight of mine disposal experts from Zimbabwe methodically working their way across a field of Argentine landmines which lay no more than a 10 minute drive outside Stanley. A number of landmine fields have been fenced off since the war but the landmines, themselves, are only now – close to 30 years later – being cleared.
The House with the Blue Roof
Stanley is a quaint little village, with some 3,000 local inhabitants. The arrival of 1,300 cruise line passengers swelled the population by 50% and rendered the town positively crowded.
Arriving by tender boat early in the morning, we looked around the small port. We could have easily been on an island off the coast of Scotland, so British were the surroundings. Small shipping vessels bobbed in the shallow harbour. Modest dwellings dotted the hillside on the southern shore. A row of three brown brick terrace houses – one with a blue roof – dominated the port area. Green hills rolled into the distance on both sides of the harbour. None of the locals walked with any apparent destination or undertaking in mind.
Our first task was to locate Antony Smith so that our guided tour could commence. However, as first 15 minutes and then half an hour passed, we began to wonder whether he was going to make an appearance. Huck B made some inquiries of some locals and, assuring us that they knew him well, said they were yet to see him that morning.
After waiting for close to an hour, B entered the visitors’ centre and asked somebody whether they knew where Antony lived. The lady behind the counter gently took Huckleberry by the arm, led her outside, and pointed to a terrace house with a blue roof – no more than 20 metres away – and stated that Mr Smith resided within.
And so B and I toddled over to the house with the blue roof, strolled up the long garden path and rang the brass bell which hung adjacent to the front door. After several minutes the door opened. The man who stood before us was both quizzical and half shaven in appearance.
In response to our polite inquiry, the man confirmed that he was, indeed, the very same Antony Smith for whom we were searching. He suggested we were early – although we were sure we were not – and said that he would met us once he had fetched his vehicle, which he would do as soon as he had finished shaving…
Our curious experience with the house with the blue roof provided all the confirmation historians should require that both the Falklands and her inhabitants are, indeed, very British.