Echoes of war still linger in Falklands

TS News. 04/11/2011. ARBROATH: RM Condor open the Woodland Garden of remembrance at the military base RM Condor including a memorial stone that names all 59 Royal Marines who have died whilst in service since the 45 squadron moved to  Condor in 1971. Pictured is a stone from the Falkland Islands that marks the conflict where many marines died
TS News. 04/11/2011. ARBROATH: RM Condor open the Woodland Garden of remembrance at the military base RM Condor including a memorial stone that names all 59 Royal Marines who have died whilst in service since the 45 squadron moved to Condor in 1971. Pictured is a stone from the Falkland Islands that marks the conflict where many marines died

THIS WEEK 30 years ago an Argentinian task force occupied the British owned Falkland Islands, sparking a conflict that claimed hundreds of lives on both sides.

While the veterans of both countries gather to commemorate the fallen, the Arbroath Herald spoke to one Arbroath man who witnessed first hand the legacy of war in the Falklands.

Murray Robertson (46), went to Arbroath High School and is now a director of Canning Training and living in Edinburgh.

But in 1992 he was a 26-year-old Captain in the Royal Artillery on a six month posting to run the Joint Operations Command at the Headquarters British Forces Falkland Islands.

He said: “Where we lived in Arbroath, in Patrick Allan-Fraser Street, there were three Marine families in the same street, all from 45 Commando at Condor. The lady opposite lost her husband as one of the 255 who didn’t come back, so it was strange to have been posted there 10 years after the war.”

According to Murray the terrain had a stark beauty to it. He said: “I was stationed at RAF Mount Pleasant, about 20 miles by road from Port Stanley.

“The scenery was very similar to the rolling hills of Scotland or New Zealand, but had absolutely no trees and nothing to break the often 70mph-plus winds.”

The Falkland Islands is still a very remote posting for British servicemen, and in 1992 there were around 2,000 personnel from all three services, almost doubling the population of the Falklands.

Murray said: “It was a pretty bleak place to be stationed. Most were on six-month tours although some of the longer-serving military staff were on two-year postings. Time off was rare, and tended to be spent either exploring the islands or using the facilities, such as they were, on base. There was a large sports centre, people played rugby, usually coming back with severe gravel-rash due to the nature of the terrain, and kept themselves fit.”

Even after 10 years the scars of war were still apparent. He added: “The land was essentially rocky scrubland broken up by the tell-tale markings of the hundreds of minefields left by the Argentinians. Although these had all been marked, there was still the occasional sheep casualty.

“Bits of Pucara [An Argentinian ground attack fighter] can still be found rusting on remote hillsides, as well as the debris of a fast-moving infantry-led land war.

“Shell casings and small items of equipment rest where they fell. The lasting damage is the minefields; too numerous and dangerous to clear; ironically sold to the Argentinians by our Spanish colleagues in NATO.”

Murray remembered the islanders were very patriotic, even 10 years later. He said: “They were still grateful to still be British. The Union Flag flew from the few restaurants and hotels in Port Stanley and there was always a welcome, usually salted lamb and whisky, if you ever chose to trek across parts of the Islands and stopped in with some of the residents. The price of this hospitality? Some fresh fruit or bacon, which was rare in the remote settlements.”

l Do you have memories of the Falkland Islands you would like to share? Are you a Falklands veteran or are you a former or current Falkland Islands resident? Contact the Arbroath Herald on 01241 872274 or email us at arbroath.herald@jnscotland.co.uk