On 2nd April, the anniversary of the Invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentinians, Reed’s School CCF sent a small detachment to go to “Yomp” across East Falkland. After a tiring journey, which included a refuelling stop over in Ascension Islands, the party arrived to hear the ominous news that the weather had been terrible for the preceding 72 hours.
After a night of sorting out equipment and drawing the necessary stores from the Falkland Island Defence Force, the party moved to San Carlos to the start of the route used by 45 Commando back in 1982. With the regulation pictures taken on the landing jetty, the party set off on the first leg to New House and the luxury of the shearing sheds. The total route was going to be 74 miles, with each person carrying around 60 pounds of equipment and a deactivated Self Loading Rifle (of the type used during the conflict) in order to add to the authenticity.
Over the next four days, the group experienced the changeable weather of bright sun, near freezing nights, fog, drizzle and rain, but kept up a steady pace to ensure that each night stop was reached at a suitable time before dark. On one occasion, the local farmers put on tea and freshly baked biscuits for everyone whilst showing the cadets their photo albums illustrating what had happened when the Argentinians overran their farm and the subsequent locations of the Commando and Parachute Regiment soldiers that were camped around it, once it had been retaken.
The party was very well supported by a Royal Marine Mountain leader, on attachment to the Falkland Island Defence Force, and were lucky enough to be told stories from the vast quantity of information he had gathered from veterans during his tour there. This added a real element of excitement and gave the cadets an excellent understanding of what the British troops had to do in order to retake the Islands.
The walk finished at Liberation Monument in Stanley, where a tired but happy group were interviewed by Falkland Island Television and congratulated on achieving a physically demanding challenge. To our surprise, we subsequently made headline news in the national paper – The Penguin News – reporting on our endeavours.
The plan for the following day involved working with members of the Falkland Island Defence Force to see what capabilities they had and how they operated in support of the Regular British forces that are stationed on the Island. We spent what we thought was the last day visiting various units at Mount Pleasant, the main British Base. The cadets were thrilled to get the opportunity to have a look around the Typhoon fighter and pose for pictures whilst sitting at the controls. They were also briefed on the roles of the heavy lift aircraft before being treated to a very large lunch by one of the Resident Rapier Battery detachments. Whilst having lunch came the news that the outbound flight had been delayed for 24 hours due to an engine fire on the Charter Aircraft. The cadets took this in good spirits and used the delay to take the opportunity to get some revision done for their summer examinations, whilst a small party went to look at the memorials at Fitzroy. A little more souvenir shopping was done for the obligatory penguins before saying our farewells and packing for the very early start to get us home.
Every member of the party fulfilled some form of personal ambition just by getting to the Falklands and challenged him or herself on an arduous walk. It provided the cadets with an in depth and hands on look at some recent military history as well as allowing an opportunity to understand what the British Government is still doing to ensure that another invasion is unlikely to be able to happen. It also reinforced some of the information that had been given to the cadets during a lecture day at the school, where a number of the veterans of the conflict had given up their time to come and talk about their experiences to a captivated audience.
The trip also appears to be the first time that a cadet unit from the UK has gone to the Islands to challenge themselves with this walk and hopefully paves the way for other units to partake in similar ventures in the future.