A year ago today, I arrived in the Falklands. This visit came about purely from a visitor to our Gallery in Ashbourne several months earlier. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Allan White and partner Jacqui Jennings and Bosun the dog, they were on a UK holiday and had stopped by chance in Ashbourne, one thing led to another and I was on my way back to the Falkland Islands. Full of trepidation I boarded the flight that was to last around 19 hours. Have to say that the flight was great and we were well looked after by the cabin crew.
I was met by Jacqui at Mount Pleasant Airport some 40 miles away from Stanley. Jacqui was preparing for her daughters wedding and was buying mountains of food, for the day. The wedding was taking place at Fox Bay on West Falkland, we would be driving over via the ferry MV Concordia, which runs from New Haven on East Falkland to Port Howard on West Falkland.
The following day found Allan and I driving out to New Haven, we had a small detour via Darwin, I wanted to stop and visit the memorial that lies on top of Darwin Hill, and overlooks Goose Green. I wanted pay my respects to those that died, during the Battle of Darwin and Goose Green. As I walked up the small rise to the monument I was struck with uncontrollable sadness, and spent the next half an hour pouring out my heart. It had been 35 years since I was on the islands, and those 35 years came tumbling out as my eyes filled with tears as I remembered events from that time.
I had carried this sadness around with me for all this time and I guess this was my chance to unburden myself of those memories, When we were on the ferry to Port Howard I had the time to reflect upon those events in 1982, when as part of the 2nd Parachute battalion (2 Para) we landed on the Falklands. This was my chance to see the Islands in a different, and more thoughtful way, and I was so glad that I had made the trip. As a photographer I wanted to capture images of the landscape, which makes this place so special. Reflecting back to 1982 I didn't like the Falklands at all, barely knew where it was. It was wet, windy and pretty cold. A vast barren windswept land which held no allure for a young Paratrooper. I think we all wanted to get the job done, and get back home as quick as possible.
Travelling over West Falkland to Fox Bay the scenery was just epic, The gravel road went on for mile upon mile carving through the vast bleak moorland, finally arriving at the small hamlet of Fox bay which would be home for a couple of days. I was shooting the wedding of Nadia and Justin out at Leicester farm, and I couldn't wait to meet them, and their friends and family on their wedding day.
It's quite amusing even now as I sit here in Derbyshire typing this, having shot hundreds of weddings in the UK at Castles, and Hotels, and other venues. Never have I shot a wedding in the middle of a 55.000 acre farm. The wedding would be held by a little brook over a very rickety bridge, it was quite simply amazing. Watching people turn up carrying plastic chairs in their finery, a walk of several hundered yards for most folk. The view of seeing 50 odd 4x4s perched on the hill overlooking the wedding place, reminded me of film Zulu. It was a simple ceremoney filled with little touches from their friends, and certainly is one wedding that I will think of for the rest of my life. A wedding on New Years eve, boy do these people know how to party, they work hard, and play hard.
New Years day turned out to be the warmest day of my whole visit, it was brilliant sunshine with a gorgeous blue sky, Allan, Jacqui and I went on a 4 wheel drive adventure and ended up at a Penguins Rookery high up on a hill a few miles from Fox bay, although the sun was out it was quite breezy (it is rarely calm on the Falklands) we were out a few hours and I actually got quite well sunburned, the lack of ozone and pollution helps. We found beautiful untouched white sand beaches, at times you would think we were in the Bahamas. The Falkland Islands are certainly full of suprises. On the drive back to Stanley, Allan and I went for a drive over to Bodie Bridge, the only suspension bridge in the Falklands, it must have cost a small fortune to build. We crossed over it rather delicately as it is quite a sorry state, and it won't be much longer before some of it will fall into the sea.
So it was back to Stanley for a few days, before Allan departed back to West Point Island, this sounded like a fantastic place to live, and I would join Allan and Jacqui at the end of my visit. Meanwhile I went on a battlefield tour with a wonderful guy from Stanley called Tony Smith. We picked a rather moody day to go, which suited my photography, sunlight danced around the hills and we had the occasional shower to contend with. A great experience and Tony, who is a real affable, and we spent the best part of the day touring around Longdon and Wireless ridge. His Landrover coped admirably with the terrain. Some great images captured, I did make my way back up to Wireless ridge later in the week and spent a few hours up there as dusk fell and witnessed the most spectacular sunset. As the light began to fade and the wind picked up, it felt quite eerie being there, I paid my respects and left them in peace.
Toward the end of my first week, I made my way over to San Carlos where I spent the night at Matthew McMullan's farm, after spending an hour or to on the top of Sussex Mountain. I visited Bllue Beach and the UK Armed Forces Cemetary. Paid my respects to Colonel H and the rest of the lads, the cemetary is in a lovely quite spot overlooking Blue Beach, with nothing to disturb, other than the cry of an Oystercatcher. Following morning I was away back to Darwin and Goose Green, once agian loitered at the top of Sussex mountain, remembering that bloody tab up from San Carlos, loaded up with ammunition and kit, easily carrying over a 100lbs on our backs, a tab I'm never likely to forget.
Having a full day over at Darwin and Goose Green, the light was simply stunning and I was in Landscape heaven, this rather benign landscape I was taking pictures of on this lovely January day,was such a different place 35 years ago. A place where friends and comrades died, where fine and selfless acts of heroism took place amongst the sound and sights of battle. Once again I was brought to a halt by salty tears, not this time ones of sadness, but by a feeling of immense pride in our battalions, and it's endevours during those hours of combat. Over the next few days I really did begin to see how the Falklands had grown and prospered, and what we achieved back in 1982 was so worthwhile.
Finally my visit was coming to an end, but for the last couple of days I would fly out to West Point Island, and join up with Allan and Jacqui. West Point is a truly specatacular place to live, and not for the faint hearted. A certain amount of resiliance is required, and the kelpers have it in abundance. Especially when you think of the cosseted life many of us enjoy in the UK. So it was with a heavy heart that I said my goodbyes to these 2 wonderful people. The flight back to Stanley was rather impressive, Sat in the crew seat with Andrew Azalia the FIGAS pilot, he asked me where i wanted to go, we had a memorable trip back flying over San Carlos and Ajax Bay, Goose Green, Fitzroy, Swan Inlet, finishing with a flypast of the 2 Sisters, Mount Tumbledown and the final views of Mount Longdon and Wireless ridge, before touching down at Stanley Airport, a truly amazing visit, amongst equally amazing friendly people.