Sunday, February 21, 2010


Friday nights in the Officers mess they hold a happy hour for the families where the children can come in with their parents and have some food and watch a DVD while the adults get to relax. Best part for me is that I don't have to cook for at least one night of the week! Over the last month the base has been busy with a large exercise so the usual activities have been cancelled. This week they were resurrected and the Rock Climbing on a friday night was opened again for the children. When we arrived, we were the only family there and my three quickly got themselves into special harnesses and shoes and got on the warm up wall. Both Ellie and Euan has done rock climbing before when we went to Portsmouth navel musuem, this was Maddie's first time and she surprised me with her enthusiasm.
She very quickly rocketed to the top of the wall without a peep or worry or upset. Ellie had already shot up and down and seems to be a natural in this activity. Euan was next and he did very well but took a while to understand the principle of leaning back as he headed back down the wall. I think some of it was due to them being counter weighted in Portsmouth and literally just hopping back from the wall and floating down.

Ellie went off for a second shot and was more than happy to pose for Mum. I will have to take my tripod next week as the lighting was a bit to low to get a focused picture and I hate using flash.

Sisters in action. Ellie was told not to bop her sister on the head as she went past!

Since there was no one else around I asked if Mummy could have a go! I really wanted a go at Portsmouth but it was so busy that I didn't want to embarass myself and was rather self conscious about my weight. The instructors were lovely and helped me sort out my harness and set me on my way. I tell you it is not as easy as it looks. With the children you can easily see where they should put the next foot and hand hold from below, when you are up there it is not so simple. I fell off the wall twice but didn't ask to come down, I was determined to get to the top.
And that I did!!!! My arms were shaking by the time I got up there, I made the starter error of using mostly my arms and not my legs to lift myself up. I was so chuffed though that I finally gave it a go. They run an adult night on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I am tempted to give it a go.
On Saturday we headed into Stanley to go and learn about the mine fields. I had met Josephine Swanson in Stanley when I went for the craft coffee and after chatting found out that her husband Robin supervises the demining program in the Falklands. He works alongside Bactec and is running a pilot scheme to clear 4 of the 122 mine fields left after the Argentine war. We have been trying to go since Thursday but unfortunately the weather has been against us.

The area we went to is Surf Bay which is out past Stanley towards the peninsula by Cape Pembroke.

We had a very informative brief from the head of Bactec in the Falklands. He is ex army and has been working in the demining field for over 10 years. The area at surf bay has mine fields on either side of the road. It was a strategic placement as they believed the British would land at Cape Pembroke and head into Stanley past the airport along this road. They placed minefields on either side of the road with 559 (AT) anti-tank mines and 486 (AP) anti-personnel mines or toe poppers as they are known in the industry. Apparently the toe poppers are not meant to kill but merely maim the soldiers, they need just 8kg of pressure to be set off. Under the road a large bomb was placed which would have been detonated to force the vehicles into the mine fields. There are 15 runs of mine fields and each started and end with an AT mine. They are placed roughly around 2 metres apart.

Bactec are contracted to clear the area up to 20 cms deep but some of the mines have been found at 47cm deep on the beach where sand has been building up over the years. The deminers have the Argentinian plans for the placement of the mines and although there have been some anomalies they are fairly accurate. Each deminer starts on an entry lane into the mine field. He checks the ground over with a detector and once the intial area seems clear he then digs this part down to 10cms. He checks again and then digs this area once more to 20cms. Once he is sure that the area is clear he moves forward and starts again. He marks his progress with coloured sticks and string so that anyone coming into the mine field is certain of what has been checked and to what level. They wear kevlar jackets and gloves which a special face mask that rests on the jacket so no debree from an accidental explosion can shoot up in their faces. Last week they had one such explosion and the gentleman walked away with only a few minor scratches on his head.

You can see from the second information board an aerial shot of the area and also the coloured sticks they use. Most of the deminers are from Zimbabwe and even the most junior has over 4 years of experience. Once they find a mine, they know they are on a trench and start to move along it. Depending on which type of mine they find first they know whether they have to move out in both directions. Once the mines are detected they are exposed by several cms around the top and a charge laid next to them. The mines are blown up in situ ever two days. The ground surrounding the mines varies greatly from area to area, some are in loose sand while others can be tightly wrapped in roots from the white grass in the area. Only on occasion has the odd mine moved when close to a water source or if it has been exposed and tumbled into a new position.

At the start of each day the miners check their detection equipment in the pit below. The AT mines only hold a minute amount of metal, around the size of half an earring back which makes them very difficult to detect without special equipment. At the start of a shift the miners place a blue peg where they start. At the end of the day they check their equipment again. This is to make sure that it has not failed during the day. If it does they can then go back to the blue peg and recheck the area without having to redo the whole run.

Each run is around 1 metre wide. The rate at which it can be cleared depends on the soil and weather conditions but also the depth of each mine.

While we were waiting for the charges to be laid we made our way to a safe viewing platform on top of the hill. There was alot of shell cases left over from firing practices. Euan was absolutely fascinated with them but unfortunately we were not able to bring any home as it is a chargable offence for J to have them in his possession!!

There were seven explosions that day and they were blowing up around 50 mines. Euan absolutely loved it and you could feel the boom under your feet.

Mud flew hundreds of metres into the air, expecially with the AT mines as they hold higher amounts of explosive.

Euan particularly liked the big holes left in the ground after the explosion. The deminers will now go back and refill each of these holes by hand. The plants that they scrapped off the surface will also be replaced once the mine field has been cleared. At present they have cleared just over 60% of the mines from this field.

It certainly wasn't your usual Saturday afternoon activity but it was fantastic to understand the planning behind the mine fields and to see what damage they could actually cause. Part of me came away with a disgust for our human race, that we could do such damage to another human being. I don't know whether we are just desensitized with all we see on the news these days but up close and personal it definitely made an impact on me.

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