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Goose Green and Darwin

  
  - darkometer rating:  5 -
 
The Battle of Goose Green was one of the most significant in the whole Falklands War as it "set the tone" for the entire British land campaign until the final victory in Stanley just a couple of weeks later. The victory at Goose Green, against many odds, came after a string of major setbacks for the British (especially at sea), so it was a crucial morale booster. 
  
For Argentina, on the other hand, it was the first sign of the beginning of the end for their war efforts. Today Goose Green is an important element in the Falklands' battlefield tourism portfolio. Nearby Darwin can serve as a base for such tours. 
  
It is also near Darwin that the official Argentinian war cemetery is located, which now serves as the main pilgrimage site for return-visiting Argentine veterans and relatives of the dead. 
More background info: For general background see also under Falkland Islands and Falklands War.
  
Goose Green is the second largest settlement on the Falklands, albeit with just 70-80 permanent residents it's still far behind the capital Stanley (which has over 2000 inhabitants). 
  
Neighbouring Darwin and Goose Green form a kind of double community – the two settlements are only about two miles apart and share many facilities. Sheep farming is still a major business here. The shearing shed at Goose Green is allegedly the world's largest! (Or at least it may have been at some point.)
  
Owing to their size, significance and location on the narrow isthmus between the northern part of East Falkland and Lafonia in the south, Goose Green and Darwin were also deemed important for the Argentine military after their invasion of the Falklands in early April 1982. So they set up a garrison here and also used the airfield at Goose Green for stationing a dozen Pucara ground-attack aircraft. These were sturdy little propeller-driven planes capable of landing and taking off on such short and rough grassy airfields and proved quite effective in their role as ground attackers. This had been realized by the British early on – hence the SAS raid on Pebble Island to sabotage a flight of Pucaras there – see under Falklands and Falklands War.
  
Goose Green had been well observed too by covert British SAS lookouts near the settlement and they conveyed information about the Pucara aircraft and troop movements to the British command. As the Argentines realized that information about their activities at Goose Green was reaching the enemy they accused the local civilian population of harbouring a spy. 
  
As a drastic measure of collective punishment they then proceeded to lock up the entire village population (then over a hundred) in the local community hall! Four weeks they had to hold out in the necessarily very cramped conditions there. At Darwin House I met one guy who as a child had been amongst those imprisoned in this way – and he certainly did not have one good word to say about the Argentinians. Such psychological scars clearly last ...
  
The British landings at San Carlos from 21 to 25 May had cost the task force dearly at sea, when Argentine fighter jets sunk a number of British warships and severely damaged yet more. So it was felt that an early victory on land was needed to make a statement. Goose Green was only of minor military importance for the British, but it was the closest target of any significance, and an early victory on the territory of the Falklands was deemed of great propagandistic and morale-boosting value. 
  
And so the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, or "2 Para" for short, was sent to attack and "neutralize" the Argentine garrison there before the main push towards Stanley
  
It was a daring operation, as the Paras had to cross exposed land that was heavily defended by Argentine positions, and so the advances were carried out mainly at night. To save on weight, only limited weaponry, ammunition and provisions could be taken. But at least they were able to seize one 4x4 jeep from an Argentine patrol, which came in handy in aiding transportation.
  
It is often mentioned that the BBC World Service prematurely reported of a successful battle for Goose Green, before it had even started (!), and how this slip infuriated the command on the ground ... obviously because it could only alert the Argentines to the battle plans and thus put the soldiers' lives at disproportionately higher risk. However, it seems it was rather a mistake by the British Parliament mentioning this too early – and the BBC just reported that. Still, no damage was actually done. The Argentine command in Goose Green did indeed pick up the same report on the BBC, but did not react to it in any way because they simply couldn't believe the British would be so stupid as to give away such a forewarning. So they dismissed it as merely psychological warfare. What a bizarre string of coincidences in the light of what then actually happened in ...
  
The full details of the battle that ensued on the 28th of May have been retold elsewhere much better than I could do it here – so I refer the reader to those other sources (e.g. in the seminal book "The Falklands War Then And Now" by Gordon Ramsey – see under Falklands War). Here only a short account of the most important aspects and the outcome can be presented. 
  
It turned out to be a pretty nasty battle with lots of "hand-to-hand" combat, as the British tried to "take out"/"eliminate" position after position of the defending Argentines (in non-military-jargon language that would read as: close-range killings). The Argentines, however, fought back harder than was expected, causing not only the first British casualties on land but also decisive delays. 
  
Daylight was coming and the advancing groups were repeatedly pinned down by Argentine defences, especially at a gorse gully near the ridge on Darwin Hill. The increasingly frustrated and impatient commander of the battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert "H" Jones himself then suddenly made a daring advance on one of the Argentine positions ... but in the process came under close-range machine-gun fire from behind and was shot down. Shortly after he died on the very same spot. His actions later earned him much praise for bravery and even a posthumous Victoria Cross. But there have also been alternative, less heroism-centred interpretations of this episode. I am in no position to judge this. Suffice it to say that the operation had now lost its commander in battle and the person second in command, Major Chris Keeble, had to take over. And this he did – with ultimate success. 
  
After the main defence line on the hill had subsequently been broken, also thanks to successful air support by Harrier jets that attacked main gun positions within Goose Green, the British decided to send two captured Argentine officers back to the garrison with the demands for surrender. It was especially mentioned that holding civilians captive within a battlefield was a violation of the Geneva Convention – and this must have added weight to the demands. 
  
The next day the Argentines accepted a meeting to discuss the terms of surrender. This was conducted in a little shed by a field. There were complications as the commanders were keen to maintain some degree of honour, to save face. But in the end the official procedure commenced. As the Argentine soldiers came out and laid down their weapons it became clear that the British had seriously underestimated the number of Argentine troops stationed here. About three times as many as they had expected now came out – around a thousand. The Paras would have been clearly outnumbered had the fighting continued! At the same time the Argentinians must likewise have over-estimated the numbers of their British opponents. 
  
The Argentine soldiers, many clearly relieved that the fighting was over, were then taken POW. The commanders were flown out immediately, but the soldiers, before they could be repatriated, were put up in the settlement's large sheep shearing shed for temporary shelter – now at least they had a roof over their heads and were out of the bitter cold of the Falkland winter. 
  
The casualties and losses on the British side were 17 Paras dead and about 60 wounded, plus 3 Royal Engineers who were also killed. As with the war overall, the numbers on the Argentinian side were almost three times that. 
     
After the war, a site at nearby Darwin was set aside as the official Argentine war cemetery, and numerous bodies of fallen Argentine soldiers who had initially been buried in mass graves on the battlefields were later taken here for reburial. 
  
Today, this is the main site for visiting Argentine veterans as well as relatives of the Argentine war dead. Nominally, there are strict rules for their behaviour. For instance waving/displaying the Argentine flag or singing of the national anthem are considered an offence. But it does still happen. Some Falklanders who lived through the Argentine occupation are therefore not particularly happy with these visiting Argentinians today. But mostly they are tolerated these days. See also under Falkland Islands in general. 
  
Finally, in case you were wondering: Darwin is indeed named after Charles Darwin, the great explorer/zoologist and father of the theory of evolution. He visited the place in 1833 on his second voyage aboard the Beagle.
  
  
What there is to see:  Not actually all that much. The battlefield itself has largely grown back to be just innocent-looking pasture. On the higher ground west of Goose Green, some locations of Argentine positions and foxholes can just about be made out ... if you know where to look, that is, or have a guide pointing them out to you. Otherwise you would hardly find any evidence of the battle at all these days. Unlike at the plane crash sites near Port Howard or Mt Longdon near Stanley, actual relics were almost completely absent, except for a few pieces of cloth (ex-Argentine blankets) and an empty British anti-tank missile case (see under San Carlos).
  
However, numerous memorials have been set up, some immediately after the war, both at Goose Green itself as well as in the surrounding lands and at Darwin. For instance there was a small fenced-in cairn dedicated to a British pilot who was killed when his Harrier got shot down at Goose Green in early May (parts of his plane are placed at the bottom of the memorial stone).  
  
A particularly prominent memorial site is that right at the location where Lieutenant-Colonel "H" Jones fell, closer to Darwin than Goose Green and not far from the infamous gorse gully (see above). There's both a little stone cairn with a brass plaque on it as well as a patch filled with white stones right next to it, which is to indicate where his body lay and where he died. His body was later transferred to the British military cemetery at San Carlos
  
The little shed by the Goose Green airfield still bore a visible bullet hole. But otherwise all damage had either been repaired or disappeared. The former school building, for instance, which was used by the Argentines as a barracks of sorts, burnt down during the battle and virtually nothing of it remains. 
  
At the settlement of Goose Green, however, you can visit the community hall in which the village population had been imprisoned for four weeks during the Argentine occupation. Our guide had to fetch the key from the village cafe/shop, though, so it may not be so easily accessible to individual tourists who are just dropping by.
  
At the back of the largely empty hall a door leads to a small memorial room. Unlike at the little war museums at Port Howard or San Carlos there are hardly any artefacts here, but lots of plaques, photos and insignia of the battalion who fought here. The largest item is a framed Union Jack with "2 Para Goose Green" written on it in large letters and hundreds of names and little remarks in small lettering. 
  
In one corner there's a photo of Margaret Thatcher, as well as an official letter sent by her from 10 Downing Street after her visit to the Falklands in 1983. Other visits are documented by single pictures or small photo collages, such as that by one-time Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd or the teams of producers of books on the war.    
  
There's also a list of all the names of the villagers who were held captive here in 1982. But the rest of the community hall is just that – a place for gatherings of all sorts in the context of village life without any war reference. Instead it's more about the celebration of sheep shearing and other such activities and sports.
  
The sheep shearing shed itself, i.e. the place where the Argentine POWs were first held after their surrender, can also be visited. Sheep shearing has long been resumed here, of course, so it offers a glimpse into the local community rather than anything dark ... unless you count the sight of the two resident barn owls sitting motionless on the beams under the roof waiting for dusk ... 
  
The area around Goose Green is also still full of minefields, which are, however, clearly marked now – like in the rest of the Falklands
  
Just south of Goose Green you can see a much more recent installation, namely a row of radar aerials that presumably form part of the RAF airspace surveillance or something else related to the nearby air base at Mount Pleasant. 
  
Last but by no means least: the principal place of remembrance for the Argentine side is located near Darwin, just north across the bay, to be precise. If you've seen the British equivalent at San Carlos (with only 14 graves), then this Argentine cemetery will immediately strike you as huge in comparison. Here there are a couple of hundred white crosses. Quite a few of these are marked simply "soldado Argentino – solo conocido por dios", i.e. they are nameless graves (or rather "known only unto God", as it would translate). The reason for this is that many bodies were exhumed from their original battlefield mass graves to be taken here much later – so some could no longer be identified.
  
A sign by the entrance says that by an agreement of 1999 the Argentine Families Commission was authorized to reconstruct and maintain the site. Another sign underneath declares in English and Spanish that it is forbidden to leave any "alien elements" in the grounds of the cemetery. Yet, you can see quite a few rosaries (mostly in Argentinian colours), plastic flowers and little crosses and mementos left here as well. I was also told that some Argentine visitors also unfold their national flag here, even though it is by Falkland Law officially an offence. 
   
A row of large marble plaques towards the rear of the cemetery lists the names of all the (known) dead on the Argentinian side. In the middle is a kind of religious shrine, complete with a Madonna figure clad in Argentinian colours. 
  
  
Location: roughly in the centre of East Falkland, the more populous of the two main Falkland Islands, about 50 miles (80 km) south-west from the capital Stanley
 
Google maps locators:  
 
[-51.8279,-58.9718] – Goose Green community hall
  
[-51.806,-58.958] – Darwin
  
[-51.7966,-58.9403] – Argentine war cemetery
  
  
Access and costs: best as part of a battlefield tour such as those offered from Darwin House; not cheap.  
  
Details: Although some of the sites could quite easily be visited on an independent basis, provided you have your own vehicle (i.e. hire car), it makes more sense to do it as part of a battlefield tour with a guide. Only that way will you get the whole picture. And some of the less obvious sites you would most likely not even notice without a guide pointing them out. It can be a long and somewhat strenuous tour-de-force with all the minute military details being recited for you, but for real war history buffs that will be just the ticket. 
  
The tour I went on was offered by the host at Darwin House and cost 」180. The only alternative I know of is coming on a guided tour from Stanley, but that would add at least another two hours' driving to it. And private transfers can be very costly too, so doing it that way may not save you much money ... unless you get really cheap accommodation in Stanley (the town does have such options). 
  
Full-board accommodation at Darwin House cost 」187 per night for a double room when I was there. Prices may vary seasonally and by room. Book both accommodation and battlefield tours well in advance. Darwin House is one of the most popular lodges in the Falklands.
  
Transfers to/from Darwin also have to be arranged in advance. Darwin House offers airport shuttles at ca. 」50. Given that Darwin is the closest accommodation option to the international airport at Mount Pleasant, it is usually either the first or the last place tourists stay at.  
  
  
Time required: touring the sites around Goose Green formed the second half of my battlefield tour from Darwin, so something like 3 or 4 hours (the first half of the day was spent in and around San Carlos). 
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The battlefield tour from Darwin that I went on took in not only Goose Green but also San Carlos, where the British troops who fought the battle of Goose Green had landed only days earlier. So the corresponding sites at San Carlos are the most natural combination. 
  
The Falklands' capital Stanley is obviously another natural choice. En route you could visit Fitzroy, the later British landing site where the British suffered a major setback when two landing ships came under disastrous aerial attack.  
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Goose Green's other claim to fame, beyond its role in the 1982 war, is the nearby Bodie Creek suspension bridge. It is allegedly the world's southernmost such bridge – although that is sometimes contested. It was built in 1925 to facilitate the movement of sheep towards Goose Green. It hasn't been maintained for many years and is now unsafe, so you can no longer cross it. But it still makes for an unusual sight to behold in these parts ...
  
The neighbouring settlement of Darwin features a large historic stone corral and cattle shed, built in the late 19th century. It looks almost like something prehistoric you might expect to encounter in the Shetland Islands or Orkney. Some sheep, more pets than serious farm animals, also roam the green between Darwin House and the corral. 
  
Fishing is also a favourite pastime in these parts, as is the case in much of "Camp" (i.e. rural Falklands). As far as watching, rather than catching, wildlife is concerned, you'd have to be content with geese, cormorants (you can see some on the remains of the bridge/pier just outside Darwin House), gulls and the like. Penguins only rarely drop by. The nearest colonies are at New Haven (the eastern ferry jetty for crossings to Port Howard). More serious wildlife watching requires a flight to the outlying islands, in particular Sea Lion Island. See under Falkland Islands in general.
    

 

  • 01 - rough terrain01 - rough terrain
  • 02 - Argentine position on the hill02 - Argentine position on the hill
  • 03 - British missile case left behind03 - British missile case left behind
  • 04 - Argentine relics04 - Argentine relics
  • 05 - no, only the jaw bone of an ex-sheep05 - no, only the jaw bone of an ex-sheep
  • 06 - minefield06 - minefield
  • 07 - memorial cairn for fallen British soldiers07 - memorial cairn for fallen British soldiers
  • 08 - old ammunition box by the memorial08 - old ammunition box by the memorial
  • 09 - Argentine position on a hill just beyond Goose Green09 - Argentine position on a hill just beyond Goose Green
  • 10 - memorial to the commander of the operation who fell right here10 - memorial to the commander of the operation who fell right here
  • 11 - Goose Green settlement11 - Goose Green settlement
  • 12 - Goose Green community hall12 - Goose Green community hall
  • 13 - inside Goose Green community hall13 - inside Goose Green community hall
  • 14 - memorial room adjacent to the community hall14 - memorial room adjacent to the community hall
  • 15 - tribute to sheep shearing15 - tribute to sheep shearing
  • 16 - sheep shearing shed16 - sheep shearing shed
  • 17 - sheep shearing station17 - sheep shearing station
  • 18 - past sheep shearing records18 - past sheep shearing records
  • 19 - barn owl in the sheep shearing shed19 - barn owl in the sheep shearing shed
  • 20 - Goose Green airfield shed with bullet hole20 - Goose Green airfield shed with bullet hole
  • 21 - memorial to shot-down Harrier pilot21 - memorial to shot-down Harrier pilot
  • 22 - yet another memorial at Goose Green22 - yet another memorial at Goose Green
  • 23 - Darwin23 - Darwin
  • 24 - near Darwin24 - near Darwin
  • 25 - Argentine war cemetery25 - Argentine war cemetery
  • 26 - Argentine soldier known only unto God26 - Argentine soldier known only unto God
  • 27 - sunny morning at Darwin27 - sunny morning at Darwin

 

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