memories of the Falklands War part 3

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From watching the war on TV to living there. . .

AS a teenager growing up watching the bloodshed and drama of the South Atlantic unfold on his television screen, Carl Gumsley could never have dreamt that three decades on, he’d set foot on the islands themselves.

Back then, as 15-year-old Intake schoolboy, he’d watched in awe, like the rest of the nation, as a hastily-assembled Task Force sailed the 8,000 miles south to recapture the rocky and windswept British outpost.

He said: “I remember the images, the military bands, the patriotic fervour that gripped the nation. It was very exciting and I recall wishing I was part of it all.

“However I also recall the true reality of war being brought home to me after the fighting had begun. I have memories of going to Sheffield the day after HMS Sheffield had been hit, the flags being at half mast, and the palpable feeling of real sorrow in the city.”

Now, as islanders recall those dark days, Carl, 45, is among them, serving the Falkands as senior magistrate, acting supreme court judge and HM coroner, arriving to take up his role just five months ago following a distinguished legal career in the UK.

As the islands’ only resident judge, he deals with the majority of cases that come before the various courts and tribunals.

But even as relative newcomers to life in the South Atlantic, the former Doncaster Grammar School pupil and his wife Jackie says the events of thirty years ago are never too far away.

“The war is still spoken about – of course - probably more than usual with the anniversary this year,” he said.

“It is clear that memories of some of the terrible things that happened in 1982 are still very firm in the minds of many. It is also clear that the Falklands people are very grateful for the sacrifices that were made by those in the task force sent to rescue them and there are monuments throughout the Islands to those who came to restore freedom. Veterans are always very welcome.”

His parents still live in Bessacarr and he visits them whenever he can but admits when the role came up on the other side of the globe it was too good to turn down.

Added Mr Gumsley: “I was attracted by the prospect of living a completely different lifestyle, the sense of adventure and the desire to see the legendary beauty of the Islands and the fantastic wildlife which lives there.”

The 1982 conflict is brought home to him every day - and barely a moment passes without reminders.

“I live close to places that have become legendary - looking out at Two Sisters from my living room window, walking over Tumbledown or Wireless Ridge with my dogs, working in the Town Hall building where Sir Rex Hunt in plumed hat famously told the Argentinian general that they had unlawfully invaded or visiting the cemeteries, both British and Argentinian, provide constant reminders as to what was done to restore freedom, justice and the rule of law, and makes me reflect even more on how precious these fundamental rights really are.

“While on a day to day basis people tend to get on with their lives there are constant reminders of the war. For instance there are places where I can’t walk my dogs near Stanley because a number of areas are still minefields created by the Argentine military.”

Naturally, island life differs hugely from Doncaster - the population of the Falklands is about a quarter of that of Bessacarr, there are few fully made roads and Mr Gumsley gets around in a 4 x 4 “because I have to, not because it looks trendy on the school run, and mine actually gets muddy,” he said.

“I can get to work in about two minutes - no “Cantley Crawl” here. There are no traffic jams and no traffic lights and no parking problems. I can drive to the beach in five minutes where I can sit and watch penguins as they come up to check you out or dolphins as they swim past.”

But there are home comforts he has to do without.

“Fresh food and vegetables are extremely expensive and sometimes scarce. Other shops are basic and there are few chances to indulge in luxuries. If you are looking to buy something which is not already in the Islands it can take months to arrive by ship. And I miss the ability to nip out for a curry in an evening or go to the theatre,” he said.

As islanders continue to commemorate those who fell, passions are being stirred once more and he added: “I certainly intend to attend the ceremonies that are planned, and to pay my respects to those who lost their lives and to the veterans, many of those who are to make the journey back to the Islands to be involved.

“But most people just want to remember and give thanks for what was done by the task force in 1982 and pay their respects quietly.”

BACK in the spring and summer of 1982, the peace and tranquility of the Falkland Islands was shattered by the brief but bloody sovereignty battle between Britain and Argentina. In the third part of our series remembering the 30th anniversary of the war, features editor DARREN BURKE chats to an islander with Doncaster connections about life there in 2012.