Naval engineers fulfil debt of honour restoring Falklands memorials for remembrance period

Looking pristine, freshly adorned with poppy wreaths, flags and other tributes are war memorials across the Falklands – lovingly maintained by Royal Navy engineers.

Naval Engineering Falkland Islands (better known as NEFI) at East Cove Military Port is an 11-strong team responsible for providing round-the-clock engineering support for RN vessels operating in and around the islands, chiefly patrol ship HMS Forth.

A lesser-known task is to maintain the many memorials which pepper the islands in the wake of the war, cleaning, rebuilding where necessary, making inscriptions legible after the battering they receive exposed to the unrelenting weather in the South Atlantic.

The engineers are helped in their task by someone who was there – one of the few Falkland veterans still serving in any of the three Services, who serves as NEFI’s carpenter.

Chief Petty Officer Alan ‘Sharkey’ Ward served in survey ship HMS Herald, which acted as an ‘ambulance’ transferring casualties to safety.

He’s made it a point to ensure that the lessons of 1982 have been passed down to thousands of sailors since through damage control training.

And now he’s down in the Falklands again, he “keeps the history lesson going” among shipmates, most of whom weren’t even born when the struggle for the islands raged.

Given the remoteness of the islands, the rugged terrain, the sparse population, few of the monuments are close to any sizeable settlement, making all something of a challenge – and some are on far-flung islands, the closest land to where a naval action took place.

A cairn and cross to HMS Coventry can be found on Pebble Island – off the north coast of East Falkland – while the memorial honouring fellow Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield is one of the southernmost islands in the archipelago, Sea Lion.

The team try to visit all memorials at least once a year, most twice, making use of whatever transport is available to reach the more distant locations, such as Bristow helicopters.

And it’s not just the major monuments which the engineers are called upon to look after, but also individual memorials, like the one to Sergeant ‘Kiwi’ Hunt of the SBS. The Royal Marine was killed in a firefight with Argentine forces on June 2 near Teal settlement – roughly half way between the capital Stanley and the main British landing site at San Carlos.

In visiting the many sites and in working in the islands, the engineers have come to understand the scope of the conflict, the sacrifices liberating them demanded and, through encountering veterans making the pilgrimage back to the islands, the long shadow the war cast.

And after work on each monument is completed, the team hold a short service of thanksgiving.  

“Keeping the act of remembrance going helps to remind us about why we are here and why we serve in the forces,” said Engineering Technician Dom Shakes.

“We must not forget our history because we’d lose our humanity and become entitled. Their sacrifice and everything they stood for gave us the world we have today.

“The re-laying of poppy wreaths, the services that we have each year and the upkeep of the memorials themselves. This important work all plays a part in how we, those of us who continue to serve and those who have finished their service show our dedication and respect for those who gave their lives for us. We will remember them.”

Fellow Engineering Technician Pacey Laughlin said before his draft to the Falklands he “didn’t really know what happened during the Falklands war”.

Pacey continued: “Being out here, going to memorials, speaking to veterans who served across all three Services, it really paints a picture of what happened.

“The upkeep on the memorials consists of removing any rubbish lying about and looking after the memorials whether that’s polishing the plaques or repainting surrounding stakes.

“By doing this it shows our respect to those who fought and represented their country and those who are sadly no longer with us.”

Being out here, going to memorials, speaking to veterans who served across all three Services, it really paints a picture of what happened