December 1983

East Cove camp, built in December 1983

East Cove camp, built in December 1983

On 14th December George L, Wickham, Dave O and James M moved down from Mount Pleasant House to the new portakabin camp on the cliff top opposite the Merchant Providence.

The whole accommodation programme was running about three weeks late because of the delayed arrival of the Merchant Providence. The England had gone off to Cape Town and was due back in three days with another two hundred and ninety one workers but the camp was hardly big enough for us already here.

George was a strong-minded individual to say the least, young and not afraid to speak his mind loudly. We had heard that the portakabins were to hold eight people in four double bunks. George was vociferous to say the least and complained that PSA should only be four to a cabin. This was one reason why we delayed our departure from Mount Pleasant House where we had complete independence. He got his way.

On 16th December 1983 I was suffering from sore eyes as it had been hot and windy and peat dust had got into them all day as I helped Dave O set out points for the Soil Mechanics tests.

At this time (16th December) the stone haul road was being laid from both ends to the site five miles away. The CAT D9 had reached March Ridge but only just. There was a gap in the haul road of about 300 metres next to Mocho Pond which was still soft grass, OK for landrovers and smaller bulldozers but not for the D9 with its narrow tracks. Big grooves in the grass showed where it had got bogged. It weighs a lot and sunk nearly to its belly, but somehow they got it out after putting sleepers underneath and pulling with other bulldozers. There was a steep climb over March Ridge needed some work by the D9 to create a route for heavy vehicles. It was peaceful and quiet in our cabin without George who had been ordered to go to Stanley for three days to supervise the quarry and portakabins. He had vociferously refused to go, but eventually had to go, only for three days.

The MV England arrived on 17th December 1983 with the first lot of workers via Cape Town. We watched as she came into East Cove and laughed and jeered as she turned parallel with the Merchant Providence to face West and faces became recognisable. It's a tight turn in the small cove for a ship and she kept coming until there was a crunch and she bounced away, leaving a bent rail on the Merchant providence and a pulley block hanging down the England's side had been pushed through a saloon window, smashing it. A man watching had a cup of tea, but was so surprised when the England didn't stop that he jumped back, tripped, fell over and split tea all over himself. A rubber tyre fender was squashed to 1" thick. There were long, noisy queues in the mess hall in the Merchant Providence hold that evening.

Dave and I went to L'Antioja on 17th December so that he could fish, but he got no bites so we drove on to Swan Inlet. It was very sunny and extremely windy. We walked down the inlet to where it widens out and watched a lot of black-necked swans in the distance; I counted fifty eight. After crossing the wooden bridge and Dave caught a few fresh water trout just below the bridge using just a spinner and a red-tufted hook. On the way back we saw three turkey vultures (Dave calls them luncheon vouchers) on a sheep carcass. We went to Mount Pleasant House which was deserted after everyone had been transferred back to East Cove. The gulls cackled, asking for their dinner, obviously missing us, and I washed dirty plates in the stream. We baked the trout in foil and butter. The propane cylinder was still there but the oven didn't seem to get very hot, but the fish tasted beautiful compared with Kelvin's meals. How I wished we were still there with freedom and fresh air.

Merchant Providence and cargo ship on 29th January 1984

Merchant Providence and cargo ship on 29th January 1984

We ate in the hold of the Merchant Providence. There were soon complaints about the food at director level between LMA and Kelvin the camp contractors. There was nothing they could do until the main camp up at the site was built. Several times a week we had minced meat mixed with baked beans probably left over from breakfast which was called chili concarne, followed by tinned fruit and evaporated milk (which I am addicted to).

The steel walls of the hold ran with condensation. The kitchen was in a smaller hold with barely any ventilation and the servery hatch was a hole cut in the steel wall.

I remember looking over the side of the ship once in the evening and seeing thousands of fish lit up by the ship's lights, no doubt eating food waste thrown overboard. There was often a night heron nearby.

Ras-ing entered our dictionary and became a reality. The initials RAS stand for replenishment at sea, which took place off Ascension Island when one ship might have all the medical supplies and another all the body bags, so they transferred supplies into the right ships.

Frank S was a past master at this and a few cargo ships had arrived with containers. He found one with office furniture so he and I took out the best of the stuff destined for directors when the main office complex had been built. I got a very nice swivel tilting chair that I kept for months until I was asked to give it up.

Ras-ing happened a lot as there was a bit of a wild-west atmosphere. We didn't consider it stealing, just borrowing common property that we shouldn't really have.

General Spacie came to cut the first turf on 31st December 1983. See The Military.

January 1984

Runway excavation began on 2nd January, stripping grass and peat first 95m wide by usually 300mm deep, but peat areas up to 4m deep were found later and also rocky outcrops that needed ripping by the D9 or blasting. Areas of blue clay and soft areas of yellow clay were also found which needed removing. All "unsuitable" material was dumped in Long Pond initially until it was decided that it was a long haul, so permission was granted to dump in Champina Pond which was closer, although care was taken to preserve a main runway drainage channel.

On Friday 13th January I was doing a level survey at the site of the pumping chamber at L'Antioja Stream when Bobby Short came over the hill on a horse with Argentine stirrups and a woollen saddle and with his two dogs. We just had a chat about where things were going to be built as the islanders were not aware of the detailed plans. Islanders were referred to sometimes as "Bennys". It was a derogatory term (after a character in the British soap opera Crossroads although I didn't realise that at the time).

Later we found a flock of about 1000 sheep being herded across the haul road near the tillite quarry and I remembered that Mount Pleasant House had to be cleaned up a bit this week for the shepherds to use it while rounding up sheep.

People were suffering from upset stomachs, either from the over-chlorinated water or pre-cooked, heated-up food.

James M went to Stanley by landrover across "camp" via Bluff Cove on 13th January to fetch some equipment and brought back some booze from the NAAFI for us. The next day I returned to our cabin in the evening and Dave O, James M and George L all said "Let's have some Southern Comfort, John". I went to my cupboard but the half-full bottle had gone. I said "Who's got the bottle, then" and assumed that a cleaner might have stolen it. They coaxed me to look in the cardboard box that James had brought the booze in from Stanley and there was a broken Southern Comfort bottle inside. I groaned when they said James had only brought one bottle for me and it had broken. I was offered some of George's Southern Comfort and said I'd better have some to calm my nerves. They were rocking with laughter, then told me that my bottles were in James' cupboard and handed me a gin bottle with my half bottle of Southern Comfort inside and another Southern Comfort bottle for me. I'd been wound up and they had audio-taped the whole thing. I had asked for Bourbon, but I liked what he brought, anyway. We often sat outside the portakabin on the decking and had a drink together, see Pioneers.

Mr Heseltine on 21st January 1984

Mr Heseltine on 21st January 1984

Mr Heseltine and Sir Rex Hunt visited the site on 21st January with the general and the press, arriving by helicopters. I believe that Mr Heseltine came in a Nimrod to Stanley airfield. It had a short and not very smooth runway and large passenger jets couldn't use it. Hercules "airbridge" flights were the only passenger planes to use it, and of course the internal Islander flights around the islands. Phantoms and Hercules tankers also used the airfield. I noticed when I was there on one occasion that there were steel strips on the runway which bounced up as a Hercules went over them. Maggie Thatcher came down once on a Hercules which had a sound-proofed portakabin and toilet inside so that she could have some privacy. Normal Hercules flights had a canvas screen shielding a chemical toilet. Maggie visited the Islands on 8th and 9th January 1983 before work started on the new airport, although surveyors may have been on the island.

Ron S and Stirling M, land surveyors from Plowman Craven Associates, arrived on 23rd January to take over the site measurement of excavation - areas and depths of peat, other material, rock and so on, leaving me to start my real work as a QS.

John G, from G & T's Scunthorpe office, joined me on 27th January 1984. I had gone to meet the Islander on 23rd but only land surveyors turned up. John must have been booked on a later Hercules flight and just turned up unexpectedly.

February 1984

Dave "where-were-you-in-'82" left on 7th February 1984 in a crowded landrover (he always joked that he was more of a pioneer than us because he had come out with the first surveyors in 1982). There was him with all his kit, 3 oxygen cylinders, Bert F the local driver, Bill a burly policeman and two guys arrested for burglary and stealing a shotgun from a house in Fitzroy who were off to the court in Stanley.

The Sunday before 7th February 8,500 cans of beer were drunk by 450 people, some of whom weren't drinking, but it was an average of nearly twenty each.

For a long time the site had been working six and a half days a week for about ten hours a day. On Sunday afternoons most workers just slept. Now Saturday evenings and Sundays were free. There was a show put on by a small folk group from Stanley on Saturday evening 18th February in the Merchant Providence mess (in a hold) and George played his guitar. No one listened, the noise of people talking was incredible. I'd left by the time George started singing, Thank God.

In the morning I heard that several fights had broken out. The camp ambulance had been called to ferry someone drunk or injured to the medical area (all of fifty yards) and passed ten fights on the way. One man had a broken jaw, broken nose, one cut eye and the other eye black. Clem a quarry man was said to be the cause and had his fingers strapped together.

One portakabin next to our's had been converted into a bar for workers and was called Huggy's Bar after a section leader or ganger who was built like a bear with his huge barrel chest and thick arms. He was always seen wearing a thin T-shirt even on the coldest days. I only saw him wear something more if it was raining.

Many people left the bar and couldn't be bothered to walk twenty yards to a toilet block and pissed against our cabin. I was in the bed at that end and my head was only just the other side of the hollow timber wall. I don't remember thumping the wall or swearing, it seemed the norm for the rough conditions. We all pissed anywhere during the day when we were out and about. However, I did notice that there was soon a miniature river valley in the gravel where it ran away.

One night there was a series of loud hurrahs followed by enormous thumps. The noise and banging from Huggy's Bar was so loud I got up and went out to see what was happening. I didn't dare go in, not that anyone had lost their temper, but there were large bits of wood flying around. The main table was built of stout 4" x 4" timber with a thick boarded top and it was being lifted up high then brought down hard on the floor with much cheering. There was no sign of the camp security guards.

Next morning I admired the restraint of the workers. The portakabin structure was untouched, apart from the floor which was non-existent, but easily repairable. The table had survived and was sitting in a large hole on the gravel below. The rest of the bar was completely bare inside. All the bar counter, shelves, chairs and other fittings were in small pieces.

James M left on 20th February. The atmosphere got more civilised, the pioneer days ended as more and more workers arrived. George had brought carpentry and metalwork tools, camping kit, butane gas cooker and the like but a new arrival Mark T brought a slide projector, slides, camera, radio cassette recorder, headphones, and a coffee machine complete with beans, grinder, milk, etc.!

The bar PSA and LMA management used was the Merchant Providence bar which was tiny. It got incredibly crowded and hot. Sometimes we sat in Maurice C's cabin and talked there but that was crowded too. I remember once Frank S wanted to leave so he stepped up onto Maurice's desk and walked across it in his big boots, right in front of Maurice (who had even bigger boots).

Maurice C was the PSA director. He and other PSA and LMA senior staff lived on the Merchant Providence after the England first left for Cape Town. He, and I think the LMA director, stayed there the whole time while other staff went up to the main site camp after that was built.

Our cabin at East Cove camp
Our office thunderbox near the temporary offices