Oakham School CCF cadets have taken part in the first-ever Duke of Edinburgh expedition to the Falkland Islands. After two years of planning and the co-operation of Commander, BFSAI, alongside the valuable support of the Ulysses Trust, nine cadets took part in the once-in-a-lifetime trip to successfully complete their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award on East Falkland. Making the 17-hour journey, the party arrived in the height of the Islands’ Summer to find a strong breeze and light rain!
The trip is one of the most southerly D of E expeditions ever undertaken, and the cadets’ experience started on their way with practice expeditions in the Durham Dales in October, with visits to the Memorial Arboretum in Warwickshire and the Vulcan at Finningley – both serving to paint a picture of the 1982 conflict in the minds of the young cadets. The cadets were challenged by an arduous four-day walking expedition across difficult terrain in extremely changeable weather. Starting from San Carlos and walking the route of 2 Para over Sussex Mountain, the group stopped at Camilla Creek House, Goose Green and Black Rock House before completing the expedition phase West of Fitzroy. The conditions were generally helpful, but there was no escaping the arduous terrain, and all the cadets were left in no doubt just how tough fighting through that landscape at night in the depths of winter must have been. At no point did the wind fully relent!
Once they had successfully completed their expedition, the cadets were able to spend some time getting to know this unique country and its turbulent history. They took a Battlefield Tour of Mount Harriet with members of the Rapier Battery (who acted as their sponsors for the expedition), where the cadets were given a briefing on the battle that took place there. They toured the settlement at Goose Green including the sheep sheds where Argentine prisoners were kept and the village hall where the local people were corralled during the occupation – quite one of the most extraordinary places on earth! They also talked with serving Soldiers and had the opportunity to meet veterans to discuss their first-hand experiences of the conflict whilst doing some decking painting at Liberty Lodge (the SAMA82 and FVF-sponsored house in Stanley).
The group were able to visit the Port and Maritime Squadron as well as the Resident Rapier Battery which gave them all a sense of operational life 7,500 miles from home. It was this combination of arduous walking, contemporary services visit and thoughtful reflection at 1982 battle sites that created such a complete and unforgettable experience.
Pupils were also honoured to meet His Excellency the Governor, Nigel Haywood, for tea and a discussion about the islands, the past, the future and about the imminent referendum. During their tour of Government House, pupils saw the famous snooker table that is signed underneath by every guest who visits. They were privileged to be able to add their own names alongside the many famous ones that had visited before them.
The cadets were even given a remarkable ‘farewell’ send-off, as their plane was accompanied by a pair of Typhoon aircraft that sat on their wing upon departure.
As well as making their mark on the snooker table, the trip has certainly left its mark on all of the cadets and staff involved. The landscape is unique, the road (for, essentially, there is only one road) can only be traversed at 40 mph, making East Falkland feel much bigger than it actually is, and the wildlife is magnificent. No trip to the Falkland Islands would be complete without a visit to the penguin colonies, and to go by mountain-bike (as they did) added an outdoor quality to the experience.
It only remains to complete this report by mentioning all those who spent considerable time and effort in making this trip possible: to the Ulysses Trust for providing the resources which allowed us to have transport support for the expedition; to the Resident Rapier Battery at Mount Pleasant who worked tirelessly to overcome numerous cadet issues in an operational environment; to Logistic Support operations who managed to get the whole party safely between RAF Brize Norton and Mount Pleasant; to Major Al Prescott and Sgt Des Barlow who joined the trip as Assessors and, of course, to Major David Taylor and Captain Duncan Wright who took responsibility for the trip. This was a quite memorable trip unlikely to be repeated for some time.