Falkland Islands - Background information


History
Natural history
People and culture

History 

Abridged from the History section in Falkland Islands: the Bradt Travel Guide

The Falklands War 1982

As far as the general public were aware, the first incident of the 1982 war was the landing on South Georgia of an Argentine scrap-metal merchant accompanied by some military personnel on 18 March. It was revealed later that concerns about a possible invasion had been raised in the weeks prior to this event. Britain called for the removal of the military men with little response from Argentina. On 26 March the head of the military junta in Argentina, General Galtieri, decided to invade the islands. The first land forces reached the islands on 2 April and took control of Stanley after a short battle with the Royal Marines garrisoned on the islands. These soldiers and the governor were taken off the islands and flown to Montevideo.

Over the next few days, Argentinian troops consolidated their positions on the islands, also landing on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The United Nations passed Resolution 502 calling for the cessation of all hostilities, the withdrawal of Argentinian troops from the islands and the resumption of talks between Argentina and Britain. In London, the House of Commons was convened at an emergency session on 3 April and informed that a task force would be sent to liberate the islands. The first British Navy ships left the following week for the South Atlantic, and Britain declared a 200-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands. 

Liberation Monument, Stanley, Falkland Islands by Joel dos Santos Matos, ShutterstockOne of many memorials found on the islands, Stanley’s Liberation Monument serves as a reminder of those who lost their lives in 1982 © Joel dos Santos Matos, Shutterstock

The American Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, began shuttle mediation between the two countries and Argentina landed over 10,000 troops on the islands. In Europe, the European Economic Community supported Britain by approving trade sanctions against Argentina on 10 April. The main task force, under the command of Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, departed from Ascension Island. Wideawake Airfield on Ascension was the busiest airport in the world on 16 April. Alexander Haig’s efforts in mediation eventually failed on 17 April, and five days later the British Government advised all British nationals to leave Argentina. In late April many more ships headed towards the South Atlantic carrying troops and the first action took place involving British forces. After several exploratory landings, the Royal Marines and the SAS retook South Georgia on 25 April. At the end of April, President Ronald Reagan of the United States declared his country’s support for the British and enforced trade sanctions against Argentina.

Hostilities increased on 1 May when men of the SAS and SBS landed reconnaissance forces on the Falkland Islands for the first time and Stanley airfield was bombed by a Vulcan bomber based on Ascension Island. This was followed by a naval bombardment and Sea Harrier attack on Argentinian installations at Stanley and Goose Green. The first aerial combats took place that day when two Argentinian planes were shot down and two others damaged without any British losses. These events were to be overshadowed a few days later when the Argentinian warship, General Belgrano, was sunk by torpedoes fired from the submarine HMS Conqueror on 2 May and an Exocet missile hit the British Warship HMS Sheffield on 4 May. Naval bombardment and air battles began to occur more regularly as the British forces neared the islands. ‘Active Service’ – full-time service in the forces – was declared on 14 May. That night Pebble Island was raided by the SAS, which successfully destroyed 11 Argentinian aircraft on the ground. Political activity continued until 19 May when the United Nations peace initiative foundered, and on the same day the British Cabinet gave approval for the task force to land.

The night of 21–22 May witnessed the landing of the British Task Force, under the command of Major General Jeremy Moore, on the western side of East Falkland at San Carlos Water. Several of the British warships were damaged or, in the case of the Ardent, sunk, but the land forces were able to get ashore relatively unscathed. Over the next two days attacks continued on the warships in Falkland Sound and San Carlos Water while the bridgehead was consolidated. Five thousand men were entrenched on East Falkland by dawn on 24 May. The second parachute regiment began their advance on Goose Green on 26 May, eventually attacking that settlement and Darwin on 28 May. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the soldiers of the parachute regiment were victorious at a critical stage of the war.   

Minefield signs, Falkland Islands by JeremyRichards, ShutterstockAlthough many of the minefields from 1982 have been removed, signs still indicate areas that are out of bounds © JeremyRichards, Shutterstock

It was during this fighting that Lieutenant Colonel ‘H’ Jones was killed. Colonel ‘H’ Jones was the commanding officer of the second parachute regiment which was in the forefront of the battle of Goose Green. His forces were pinned down at the bottom of a slight valley by gunfire from the Argentinians dug-in at the crest of the next hill. Under covering fire, with very little in the way of shelter, he attacked the Argentinian forces. His extreme bravery and that of his men saw the overrunning of the Argentinian forces occupying Goose Green. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his bravery. During this period the British Task Force was being regularly attacked at sea, losses including HMS Coventry and MV Atlantic Conveyor. The last few days in May saw the British troops advancing over East Falkland towards Stanley. Special forces had taken over Mount Kent so that by 31 May Stanley was surrounded.

In early June the British Government vetoed the Panamanian–Spanish ceasefire resolution at the United Nations Security Council and gave Argentina one last chance to withdraw from the Falklands. Some of the most dramatic images of the war came from the British landings at Bluff Cove. The attacks made by the Argentinian aircraft on the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram created scenes resembling Dante’s inferno. Fifty men were killed on 8 June. The battles were fought closer to Stanley on 11 June, when fighting commenced on Mount Longdon, Mount Harriet, and the Two Sisters. HMS Glamorgan was hit by an Exocet missile while withdrawing to sea, after having supported these attacks with her heavy guns.

The fighting reached Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown on 13 June. The capitulation of the forces of General Menendez, the Argentinian commander, meant that these were the last battles of the war. British forces were welcomed with open arms in Stanley later that day. Over the next few days some 10,254 Argentinian prisoners were brought into Stanley. The British forces established a headquarters at Government House and began the consolidation of the Stanley area. General Galtieri was removed as head of the military junta in Argentina on 17 June, to be replaced by General Bignone on 21 June, who announced that the ceasefire would be observed by all Argentinian forces. Britain formally declared an end to hostilities as soon as the South Sandwich Islands had been reoccupied on 20 June 1982.

Natural history

Abridged from the Natural history section in Falkland Islands: the Bradt Travel Guide

The Falkland Islands have been described as one of the last wildernesses in the world. Whether it is the spectacular scenery, the throngs of penguins or the impressive elephant seals, there is much for the visitor to see.

Penguins

The penguin family are well represented on the island, with five species nesting annually, plus the occasional vagrant from the Antarctic or sub-Antarctic islands. A visit to the king penguin colony at Volunteer Point on East Falkland is the highlight of many a trip to the islands. By far the largest breeding penguins on the Falklands, they can turn up on almost any island, sometimes mingling with gentoo penguins when they come ashore to moult. Small breeding groups are found on some of the other islands, but the sheer number of birds at Volunteer Point make it a truly memorable wildlife spectacle.

Gentoo penguins are much more widespread. Their preference for nesting on low ground means that their colonies are much more accessible than some of the other species of seabird. Some colonies do not conform to this rule by choosing hillsites a long walk from the beach. The Falkland Islands shelter 30% of this species’ global population with an average of over 100,000 breeding pairs on the Falklands in recent years and the gentoo is one of the few penguins that stays around the islands in large numbers during the winter months. These are the most comical of the penguins, waddling to and from their rookeries, always using the same route.  

Gentoo penguin, Falkland Islands by Anton_Ivanov, Shutterstock A white flash over the eye is the easiest way to identify a gentoo penguin © Anton_Ivanov, Shutterstock 

The rockhoppers are the smallest of the islands’ breeding penguins, yet they locate their rookeries on some of the most inhospitable coastline such as at Marble on Pebble Island, Kidney Island near Stanley and near the settlement on Bleaker Island. Their climbing ability is second to none for a seabird, as they make their way up some of the steepest slopes to their cliff-top nesting site using only the sharp claws on their powerful feet to cling to the rock face. The colonies are noisy, smelly and marvellously photogenic. The vivid yellow tufts above each red eye contrast with their otherwise shining black-and-white plumage. Rockhopper penguins, unlike the other species of penguin breeding on the Falklands, can often be found in mixed colonies with other seabirds. Imperial or king shags and black-browed albatrosses are the most frequent cohabitants, along with the occasional macaroni penguin. The last is at the northern limit of its range and breeds in very small numbers, usually just a handful of pairs mixing in with the larger rockhopper penguin rookeries such as at Marble on Pebble Island, at White Rock, West Falkland and on Sea Lion Island with occasional hybrids occurring at some colonies such as on Saunders Island. It is a stockier, taller bird with fiery crests meeting on the forehead. Greater numbers of predators tend to be found on the perimeter of these mixed colonies.

Magellanic penguins are the first species of penguin encountered by most visitors to the islands. Their habit of breeding in burrows dug into the peaty soil results in rather more diffuse colonies than is true of other penguins. They are found on almost every coast with suitable nesting grounds and access to the sea, always avoiding cliffs and settlements. As with all the smaller local penguins, two eggs are laid at the start of the summer. By January the young are large enough to be exploring the environs of their burrows, dashing back for cover at the first sign of danger.

People and culture

Abridged from the People and culture section in Falkland Islands: the Bradt Travel Guide

The majority of the people who live on the Falkland Islands are of British descent, originating from the sheep farmers and other settlers who came to the islands of their own volition, and from seafarers who arrived and simply never left. Islanders are very friendly and approachable. Until the arrival of modern technology (television was only established in the 1990s), radio and telephone were the only means of communication. The result of this was that each settlement was isolated and developed its own community life. Of the total population of nearly 3,400 some 2,100 live in Stanley – the remainder live in camp. This figure does not include the military personnel and contractors at MPA, which would add about another 1,350 to the number of residents. The percentage of ‘Kelpers’, as the Falkland Islanders are called as a result of living on islands surrounded by bands of seaweed, living in Stanley has increased with many new houses being built to accommodate the needs of those now working in ‘town’ as the economic base moves from wool production to servicing the fishing and tourism industries.

Living in the camp was never easy; the islanders had to be very self-sufficient and able to turn their hand to almost anything. The only fuel for many years was peat, which had to be dug in the summer to dry out on the peat stack before it could be used. Each settlement had its own store and, if large enough, a small school. Living off the land in tune with the seasons was an important part of camp life. November was the time of year when ‘egging’ took place, the gathering of penguin and albatross eggs to supplement the locals’ diet. Later in the summer edible berries were collected for making into preserves and pastries. The men were expected to look after the sheep and their dogs, to dig peat and to undertake all the maintenance, while the women did the cooking and managed the house and family.

The modernisation of farm work has changed the way of life for many. Vehicles such as Land Rovers and quad bikes along with motorbikes are now the preferred method of gathering the sheep and much of the shearing is done by roving ‘gangs’ of shearers who travel the world, so far fewer people are needed thus reducing the amount of work needing to be done to manage the farms. The road system has meant each settlement is no longer many hours’ drive from their nearest neighbours or any shop or even Stanley. Wind turbines now supplement the generators to provide electricity which again has improved connectivity with other parts of the islands and the outside world via social media and the internet.

Farming, Carcass Island, Falkland Islands by Steve Allen, ShutterstockIn camp, farms are busy during the summer months as sheep gathering takes place prior to the shearing season © Steve Allen, Shutterstock 

Education is free and compulsory up to the age of 16. For those in Stanley there is a primary and a secondary school. The existing primary school was upgraded in 2002 to include a new IT suite. The senior school was opened in Stanley in 1992 and offers 18 subjects at GCSE level based on the English education system. There are primary schools out in camp at three of the larger settlements (Goose Green, North Arm and Fox Bay). Otherwise children in the smaller settlements are taught either over the phone or by camp teachers who visit these farms on a regular basis. Once children reach the age of ten or 11 they come to stay in Stanley, staying at the school boarding house in order to attend the primary school before moving up to the secondary school. For those wishing to continue their education, assuming certain grades have been met, the Falkland Islands Government will pay for two years of education at either Peter Symonds College in Winchester for A levels, or Chichester College for NVQs or National Diplomas. The government also offers grants for Higher Education courses, mostly with the UK. With the improvement of the local economy, a great many of these students return to the islands after their studies.

There are a variety of clubs and societies on the islands including a wide range of sports activities, with football and cricket being very popular, as well as everything from hockey to motocross plus drama and other arts. The majority of islanders keep in contact with what is happening on the islands by reading the weekly newspaper, the Penguin News, and listening to the local radio, Falkland Radio, available island-wide on 530 kHz and between 88.2 and 88.8, 96.5 and 101.0 MHz.

The Falkland Islands are a very social place, and stopping for a chat is a way of life. The self-sufficient existence of the islanders has meant that some have turned their craftsmanship into arts and crafts such as spinning, weaving, felt-making and photography. The islands are also home to some very talented artists. These crafts can be seen displayed around the shops in Stanley.  

Since the 1990s there has been a steady influx of workers from St Helena to join the British, and a small number of Chileans reside on the islands. There is no native language on the islands but there is an identifiable accent that has its origins in the West Country of England. Some words are pronounced differently from their English counterparts. Parts of horses’ tack are still called by the names they were given by the gauchos from South America who lived on the islands in the 19th century. This also applies to some of the place names on the islands and to fixtures such as cattle grids, which are sometimes known as pasa libre.  

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