It may seem odd to title a post from the South Atlantic in Nepalese, but regulars to Pengoing South will know that I am rarely inexplicable. If you can’t wait until the end of the post to find out why then various online translation services are available that can enlighten you. It’s late in the month, I know, to be getting around to updating and usually I’d have some explanation such as a stranding on an island or the general hustle and bustle of Falklands life. This is, after all, the most social place we’ve ever lived and makes island life extremely attractive. It is little coincidence that so many friends have left this transient community and found themselves on other islands (hello to our friends on the Islands of Man, Wight, Jersey, Guernsey and the Shetlands to name but a few). Still, looking back over our most recent photos, I realised that we hadn’t actually been as busy as we have been in previous years. Could it be that, after nearly four years on this remote outpost, we are finally calming down our time here? Certainly we’ve been away a little less than previous years and we’ve spent less time adventuring in the latter half of summer. The high season, such as it is here, has certainly ended and there are key symbols of that to be seen across the islands. The final cruise ship of the Summer closes the season by sponsoring an evening of free music in the Town Hall (ambitiously calling itself Falkfest, but I guess it’s all relative). The annual Tourist Board Tourism Awards take place, which I have to confess is usually an event that utterly passes us by but this year I was invited to collect my Tour Guide certificate (and also perhaps as part of my work on Sea Lion Island) so another fine evening reception at Government House beckoned. With the summer season ending, so we also said goodbye to several friends who had been working here (some repeat visitors that we’ll see again, some we may not), which has been a constant theme of our time here (still, we’re not ones to complain as I dare say we’ll be doing the same to others someday).
We’ve become adjusted to this constant turnover;; it is one of the nuances of living here. There are plenty of those! For example: the Queen’s Birthday is, unlike the UK, a public holiday here in the Falklands. A parade of the three armed forces plus the Falkland Islands Defence Force takes place on the seafront, with a fly-past from Mount Pleasant’s Typhoon jets and a 21-gun salute from the Victory Guns (two guns stationed on Victory Green only fired on key ceremonial occasions). It is always a reminder of just how ‘British’ this British Overseas Territory is.
In order to commemorate the Queen’s Birthday, Stanley played host to the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas (there it is!). They flew all the way down to assist in the celebrations and were warmly welcomed by the population. The Gurkhas are one of several Brigades with a familial connection to the Islands and these relationships are even more pronounced at this time of year. 2nd April marks the anniversary of the Argentine invasion and almost each day for the 74 days that followed has some significance to those who lived through it. There’s an excellent day-by-day unfolding for Twitter users here: https://twitter.com/hthjones but we are re-reading ’74 Days’ by John Smith. John is a good friend to us (with a surreal family link to home) but to those who don’t know him: he’s a local historian who recognised the historic nature of the events taking place in his home, remained in Stanley and wrote a diary of the day-to-day experiences of the civilian in wartime that has since been published. It is well worth a read, especially as people commonly do here: one diary entry per day from 2nd as the 74 days unfolded.
Anyway, back to the Gurkhas. Hailing from Kent, with an Anglo-Indian (and short) ex-military father, the Gurkhas have often intrigued me and it’s always good to see them here. The band were kind enough to put on a well-attended public performance in the FIDF Hall where we found out that, unlike most military bands, the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas aren’t musicians before they join the Gurkha Regiment (I did wonder how many tuba and cornet players would naturally emerge from the hills of Nepal) so their performance was even more impressive and further proves the adaptability of the Gurkha soldier. I don’t think I’d cope too well with being handed a brass instrument and told to learn it to band standard within a couple of years while also completing soldierly training and duties. Somewhat bizarrely, the conductor was a native of Kerry in Ireland so there was some familiarity for Han there too.
My run-ins with the Gurkhas didn’t end there. The following day I was in attendance at the unveiling of a recreation of a Mani wall (a type of wall found in the high Himalayas with Buddhist symbolism) that was to act as the first local memorial to the role of the 7th Gurkha Rifles in 1982. If you fancy a laugh and are also quizzical about the role that the Gurkhas played in 1982, it is well worth looking at some of the fanciful Argentine propaganda concerning them from the time. It is also interesting to note that Argentina, somewhat ironically, attempted to launch an objection to their deployment with the UN.
Sadly, shortly after the unveiling of the memorial to 7th Gurkha Rifles I attended the unveiling of a second memorial nearby to a member of the Queens Gurkha Engineers: Corporal Krishnakumar Rai QGE was killed on 11th November 1982 in this spot while clearing the battlefield and setting off an Argentine booby trap. As you can see, the landscape that he was involved in clearing is no longer denied to the people of the islands (as some areas still are) and is now used to bring renewable energy to the population. It is hopefully of some tiny comfort to his family and friends that some good came of his sacrifice.
This ceremony had an added significance as my Dad served in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and was involved in bomb disposal for much of his 22-year military career. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times he too could have been in such a precarious position (particularly on very active duties such as his Northern Ireland deployment) and how fine the line between life and death must so often be for those whose professions are inherently bound to armed conflict.
37 years may seem a long time for any community, but sadly conflict doesn’t seem as easy to shake off as peace.