A Brief History of British Falkland Islands

Comprising two main islands, the Falkland Islands are situated some 300 miles east of Cape Horn, in the South Atlantic. The total landmass is roughly equivalent to 2/3 the size of Wales.

Although the islands are as far south as the British Isles are north, they do not benefit from the Gulf Stream, therefore, the climate is very similar to that of Northern Scotland.

The majority of the population (averaging about 2 600) lives around the capital, Stanley (formerly Port Stanley) and, until 1987, much of their income was derived from wool. However, with the establishment of the Falkland Islands Conservation Zone (FICZ) the national income, of some £38 million, is now from the sale of fishing licenses and the trans-shipping of fish.

As the countryside is so sparsely populated, but for around 700 000 sheep, wildlife is abundant, specifically the bird-life. In his book "Guide to Birds of the Falkland Islands", (1988, Anthony Nelson, ISBN 0 904614 22 0)Robin W. Woods lists a total of 185 birds, including variants and vagrants, of which 17 are peculiar to the Falkland Islands.

The only terrestrial fauna, native to the islands, was the Warrah. Regrettably, it was seen as a pest and the last recorded Warrah was killed in 1876. Despite this, there are still unsubstantiated sightings reported every so often.

There are many ocean-going fauna; notably seals, including Elephant Seals, whales and dolphins, and Sea Lion. Along with the bird population, these provide superb opportunities for sightseers and amateur naturalists, as well as those with a deeper interest in wildlife.

South Georgia

800 miles further southeast of the Falkland Islands, is the island of South Georgia. With mountains rising to about 10 000 feet and glaciers emptying into an ocean populated with icebergs, it is a beautiful place, despite its isolation and severe weather conditions.

There is a regular mail drop by Hercules C-130, but mail to be picked up must wait for a ship to call. There are other means of communication available to the Garrison based there, such as a free telegram service, Intersat and telephone to both the Falkland Islands and the UK.

The 1982 Conflict

Until 2 April 1982, few people knew where the Falkland Islands were to be found. This all changed dramatically when Argentina, claiming sovereignty, invaded the islands. At the time There were fewer than 80 Royal Marines based here and they were rapidly overwhelmed, as were the local defence force.

A Task Force set sail from Britain, immediately while the United Nations tried to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. On the 25 April South Georgia was taken back, but the re-taking of the Falkland Islands was to take a little longer.

On 2 May 1982 the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano was sunk. Two days later HMS Sheffield was sunk, followed by the loss of HMS Ardent, Antelope and Coventry as well as the container ship Atlantic Conveyor.

Later, that same month, on the 21 May, British forces came ashore at San Carlos, on East Falkland and joined in battle with the Argentine occupying force. In the Battle for Darwin and Goose Green, the Argentine force was defeated and the British commenced a 'yomp' across the island, now in a bitter winter, towards Stanley.

On 8 June there was one of the saddest days of the conflict when the Fleet Auxiliaries, Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, were bombed at Fitzroy.

One week later, on 14 June, the Argentine force surrendered, after bitter and protracted fighting on Mount Longdon, Wireless Ridge and Tumbledown Mountain, around Stanley.

Three Falkland Islands civilians, two hundred and fifty-four British service personnel and six hundred and fifty-five Argentine servicemen lost their lives during this period.

Mount Pleasant Complex

Soon after the Conflict, work was started on the building of Mount Pleasant Airfield, 35 miles from Stanley. Construction was a joint venture for the Laing-Mowlem ARC consortium of an extraordinary nature, in that a road was built from Stanley to Mount Pleasant, an airfield capable of supporting a small International Airport was constructed and a complex capable of providing all that is needed for maintenance and accommodation was built.

Today the complex houses gymnasia, a 33m swimming pool, shopping facilities, Messes and kitchens, a Church and all the accommodation necessary for the personnel stationed here.