A new page dedicated to subsequent experiences and exploits, of the crew and and site contributors

 

If anybody would like to contribute to this page, stories and accounts of what we are all up to now please contact dave.oddy@hmsbrilliant.com

Journey of Rememberance, Southhampton to the Falkland Islands on board a 74' cutter Rigged Sloop Pelagic Australis (Bill Oddy)

 

Fri 03/09/04

Slipped the Hamble 0615
Arrived Sark 19.15 49 26 380N   002 20 982 W
Moored in La Geve De La VilleMet by Peter local fisheries protection officer Roberts wife puffin and son Christopher. Roberts the chap we came to pick up. All climed aboard the rib and went ashore. Met by chap with a tractor and trailer with bus seats on and taken up to the top of the island Had a deliscious meal at Roberts house met some islanders and drank wine. Freindly people Loveley dinner Magical evening with the moon on the water and a shooting star.


 

Sat 04/09/04

Left sark Down to the Bay of Biscay calm seas and sunny Long rolling Atlantic swells


Sun 05/09/04

03.45 May Day calls on the radio Yacht Wisper instructed to continue on course by French Castguard yacht hit rocks and lost rudder but was not traking on water' lifeboat was on its way.
22.00 Electrical Storm


 

Mon 06/09/04

0800hrs  45 14 000N   008 08 635W
Sunny Morning sails up 10knts


 

Tue 07/09/04

39 52 342N   011 06 207W  9.0Knts   23.40hrs 1015mb
Across the bay of Biscay  no bad weather a few spanish trawlers and ships.A pod of dolphins chasing fish which were leaping out of the water Had a new crew member on board for awhile a finch. Quite a few moths as well. Instruction in the use of the radar and ropework. Gained sea legs dont feel like death warmed up. Have no Spanish courtessy flag for the Canaries ,manufacturing one from  j cloths and left over curtain material. Luxury a wheelhouse, radar and roller reefing on the forsails.


 

Thu 09/09/04

Cruising shute up swimming at 33 56 512N   013 24 080W
Blue clear and warm followed by dinner of reindeer rissotto
2241hrs  1021mb  calm seas  temp during day 30 degrees 9 knts 33 28 750N   013 33 527W    


Entering Las palmas Canaries

Tue 14/09/04

Have left the Canaries leaving behind a tasteful reproduction of Pelagics Flying fish and albatross logo on the quayside wall alongside all the others.good sailing top speed 14knots.
23.32 hrs 14 09 04
26 38 916 N   016 00 916 W
213 degrees   1019mb   9knots  

La Vijar Ted is the offisial mascot of Pelagic Australis and has had his Atlantico Passporte issued by King Neptune his stated occupation is mainero.
The customs officer in Las Palmos did look rather stern when it was explained that we had an extra crewmember and I pulled ted out of my pocket and his passport.
He took it in good stead and duly stamped his passport.
Good time in the Canaries a few running repairs 4500ltrs of diesel and 7000ltrs of fresh water with a bit of tank cleaning thrown in and far to much gin on the aft deck early one morining just like old times.


 

Thu 23/09/04

23/09/04 0001hrs   07 16 402N   26 41 403W  29.7 degrees 1015MB
A few problems since the last communiction flying fish, open hatches, screams in the night (cooked the ones that didnt manage to get a cuddle - lovely tasting once you pick out the transluscent bones)

 


Wonderful weather there has been some good sailing, 10 knots in the trades.
Had some man overboard exersizes today, had a go, bucket and bouy thrown overboard, stick the auto pilot on manual, 360 derees, 1200 revs, three quarters astern asked Alec to pick up bouy with boathook beutifully done, however 58 tons still traveling at 8 knots might have meant getting somebody on board an arm wrenching experience.
Third time managed to sidle up to it with about half a knot, so in calm seas with no wind and motoring they might stand a chance with me at the helm.

Stopped off in the Cape Verde islands.  Iila de Santa Luzia an uninhabited island, three of us went ashore in the inflatable with a 25 on the back through the surf and onto the beach with La Vijar Ted poking out of my pocket.
I thought we did rather well but a laughing radio message from Pelagic asking whether I had been in the SBS and not a stoker with my flying leap, put pay to that.

 


A lovely volcanic island with more vegetation than I expected - grasses as well as succulents?

In the past the island had been inhabited, with some stone walling and a ruined village as evidence.
We changed into hiking boots and set off up the 400M hill boulder strewn scree with what looked like inquistive house sparrows chirping at us.
The scree and rock faces had deep channels carved out from obviously heavy rainfall.
At about 200M I discovered Ted had gone missing and not wishing to have to explain to my son why travelling Ted now lives in the Cape Verde Islands with a local bear he met on the beach, I asked the others to go on and I would wait for them.
An hour later having sqaured off 75 square yards of mountain with cairns I found him sat on the ground sat next to bush staring at me with what I'm sure, was an amused expression. (three weeks at sea oh dear)

Spent the remaining half an hour watching crickets and ladybirds.
Rich and Mickey came back down with a description of a concrete block with a piece of wood in dated 1922 and wonderful views.

We returned to the beach out through the surf without getting deluged and back on board. Spent the rest of the day with safety boat whilst Alec and Giselle went diving for dinner.
A domestic nearly ensued when a big trigger fish returned to the sea after some confusion in getting it aboard. Three decent sized parrot fish calmed things down.





Santa Luzia Cape Verde Islands

 

We are now motoring South to try and pick up the South Easterly's.
A beautiful sunset half a moon and clear sky's above, on the horizon every now and then a flash of lightening.

 



We have been tracking the formation of tropical storms and their movement North, one of which is supposed to build into a hurricane with 125 to 150 knot winds sustained and 55 foot waves - not the time to be sailing to the Carrabian!

Approximately 1400 Miles to Salvador We sailed that evening.
Ill let you know how we get on over the next few days.


 

Mon 27/09/04

27/09/04 1200hrs   00 00N   029 21W  SE 20 1014 falling
Crossed the equator!

King Neptune climbed over the aft guard rails brandishing a boat hook strapped to an ice axe wearing a spectra beard and a j cloth crown.
I introduced the initiates Rob (loin cloth, talcum powder, brigh orange rubber glove and tickling stick) Giselle (South sea island coconut bra and frills with rotten teeth)Mickey (bunny suit)
They were ceremoniously castigated for fowling and raping the sea of her bounty without permission.
As a penance having to resamble last nights meatballs and pasta ,kissing long dead flying fish and throwing back a tot concocted by Alec.
Then I was found out, having let slip in an unguarded moment missing out on the ceremony twenty years previously after flying off at Ascension.
Two elderly pickled gurkins washed down with Grappa Russian Vodka and Pescoe on an empty stomach nearly finished me off.
King Neptune took his due when my hat flew off leaving me with a bin liner wig and toga.
A shout on the upperdeck later and we had caught the first fish on the troll line a magnificent wahoo streamlined iridescent blue and silver. 15 minutes baked in paper parcels delicious.
The day was finished off by showering in a rain sqall wonderful.

By gisele bokki botha
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE VOYAGE UNDERTAKEN BY PELAGIC AUSTRALIS IN THE NORTHERN ATLANTIC UP UNTIL THE EQUATOR AND ADDRESSED TO THE AQUATIC DEITY KING NEPTUNE



(Names have been changed to protect the innocent. no animals were harmed in the making of this passage. except 3 parrotfish, 1 Triggerfish that kicked the bucket and YAHOO! 1 Wahoo)


Dear the Revered King Neptune

Pelagic Australis is her name,
She is an aluminium Grande dame,
A true South African Wild Coast broad,
Deep down South she has soared.
 

To introduce you to the crew,
Their sense of adventure keen and true,
Richard the Skipper, Alec the Mate,
Dave, Robert, Mickey and Giselle with their various quirks and traits.
 

First on Board was Micky. The Civil Engineer,
Who for a sailor, drinks surprisingly little beer,
When she isn't cooking up a divine River Café dish,
She is shooting celestial bodies while the rest of us make a wish.
 

Next to join, was pencil wearing Dave,
Who is the expedition artist and Builder by Trade,
As he whips up his Wicked Pelagic Pancake mix,
Like Loki he is dreaming up a new set of tricks.
 

A stow away discovered who's looking rather Brown,
Along the way he has turned into a bit of a clown.
Travelling Ted with passport in hand,
Becoming a regular visitor to exotic lands,
Ports Foreign and distant horizons he hails,
To relate to Christopher some wonderful tales
 

For Paragliding or Mountain Climbing Thrills,
Packed with Reindeer Adventures and mid-air to firma spills,
Than Captain Richard is your man,
For hatching and scheming some wind funnel plan,
In Shantooti he scadootied to the icy continent,
To deliver us to Brazil there is no one more competent.
   

  If the not so ordinary qualifications apply,
To become a Master of a vessel, to get a boat to really fly,
Than of the mate Alec he may be nearly there,
Considering his piloting exploits up in the air,
And diving in shit, now that's quite a story,
That gets embellished each telling and is rather gory.
And on his watches the tea quaffing lad,
Wears his pants inside out creating a Doldrums Fad.


  And if its stories with fantasy the theme,
Or bogus facts you may wish to glean,
Then consult Giselle (unlike the graceful name applies)
Everyone tries to steady her before she topples over to her demise.
 

So a motley crew delivers Pelagic,
She clears the Hamble as if by magic,
With tide up her bottom, she whipped through the Solent,
Wasting not a single moment.
 

We journeyed to the Island of Sark,
Where they don't have streetlights so it gets very dark,
We have one more crew to pick up,
We lick our chops, if there's dinner we are in luck.
 

And on the Island we met Robert and Puffin,
And we ate and we drank till there was almost nuffin,
And we press ganged Rob onto our yacht,
Next morning friendly Sarkians descended on to our spot.
 

We set off in a fair breeze,
Waving goodbye to the hills and the trees,
We set the course for the Island of Dogs,
And progress appeared in the log.
 

In Las Palmas we spent a few days,
To work and to and wonder,
And shop and amaze,
Some without a clue,
Tried to gate crash a hen party too.
 

And so next stop Brazil,
Waiting for the sails to fill,
A small detour was decided,
And a glorious day in the Verde's provided.
 

A daring beach launch and a climb up a hill,
If Dave hadn't noticed Ted would be up there still,
Some diving and spear fishing to end a perfect day,
Upped anchor and sailed away.
 

This is an account of our voyage in the North,
To be read at you leisure as we proceed forth,
Grant us safe passage into the Southern Ocean,
Allow us to aquaint ourselves with the new motion,
Bring us good weather at 0 Degrees,
Keep south pleasant so we don't shiver and freeze,
Please send lots of big yummy fish,
And keep hurricanes away we fervently wish.
 

TA
PELAGIC AUSTRALIS

HAMBLE TO BRAZIL

Travelling Ted


 

Arriving at night to get caught up in an uncharted oyster farm

Some benefits however

 

 

 

 

 


 

Thu 07/10/04

07/10/04   08.15 Entering the port of Victoria 20 odd ships bulk ore carriers 20  16 23 S 039  33 238W
Massive terminal, ships lined up like Sainsburys car park.
On the way in saw a pair of hump back whales breaching - looked as though they were just mucking about, travelling along at about 5 knots.
Children doing quite well. On board, Laura is 2.5 and Lucre 18 months. Poor cea is suffering from sea sickness.

Anchored outside a marina, rounded bed rock alongside waters edge. Lush vegetation on steep slopes surrounded by high rise buildings on one side, large villas on the other and looking up river, a large bridge.

The ship in Salvador was not Brilliant, but ex HMS Brazen didn't manage to get on her as she was about to sail, but the chap on the gangway said Brillant was in Rio.

Off to drink Caiperinaes




 

Fri 08/10/04

08/10/04  1124hrs have departed Vitoria (not victoria)  22  21 .3  S   041  00 .6 W
Embarked two Brazilian chaps making a documetary about sailing, Andreas and Secundo (nicknamed Huie and Sturgeron)
Andreas is from Brazilia. Nice blokes, never been sailing before - they were both very ill.
Jumping around the decks when they recovered after reaching Parity.


 

Sat 09/10/04

09/10/04  1012hrs  23 17 S   44 08 W  Arrived Parity
Anchored in small bay, palm trees, rounded granite boulders, new jungleon, the steep slopes.
Small house on beach owned by Amir Klink (famous Brazillian sailor who sailed South overwintered sailed North and overwintered there).

Finally shamed into jumping off the spreaders, a new form of Acupulco diving named Cossack dancing style, interesting to watch but rather hard on the chest when you hit the water face down.



Amir brought his boat Paritii 2 into the bay and anchored up, a beast of a boat 30M 98tons unladen, carries 30 tons of fuel, unbalasted twin aero rigs built of aluminium. Part of the photo shoot for the documentary.

Amir Klinks Paratii 2

 

Following day went into Parity a colonial Portugese town with rough cobbled streets a Brazillian tourist town.
Travelled over to an island owned by Amir by inflatable massive dug out canoes in the boathouse, tracks up to the top of the island where in amongst the trees, earth banks and traces of buildings, lie 6 cannons in the grass in immaclate condition. A GR crest on the barrells with pussers arrow 23-9-21.

Hacked into a coconut that fell out of a tree, delicious on a red hot day climbing hills.

Back ashore wandered into a small banana plantation looking for a ripe bunch (something else to cross off the list) all unripe, following day poisonous snake lay beheaded on the path.

 

 

 



 

Tue 12/10/04

12/10/04 1715hrs set off for Sao Sebastian 70 Nautical Mles


 

Wed 13/10/04

13/10/04 0145hrs  23 38 .2 S   45 01 .5 W
0600 hrs arrived Sao Sebastain.  Anchored in channel opposite Cercao's beach house, about 3km down channel from a big fuel terminal. Cercaos is a chap who organised the Whitbread Brazillian stop over.
Loveley old style beach house made from reclaimed materials.
Never realised that the pan tiles have no lugs or fixings to keep them in place - they rely on weight.

Walked into town, a working town, good condition. Falmouth Brazillian style except there are mountains across the channel and around the town.
Big electrical storm last night with some viscious sqalls.
Staying here for a few days must go exploring.

 


 

Wed 28/10/04

28/10/04 38  34  064 S   055  57  471W
8.4 Knots   COG 186 degrees  Temp  21 degrees

No more just shorts, sailing down the coast of Argentina forcast is for something rough - phrases like we don't believe the winds wil be as bad as the computer model forecasts, and it will be a rough trip.
No sign of it yet. Beautiful sunny day, decent swell and twenty knots of wind surrounded by wandering Albatross.

Uraguay great country. Punte de Este feels like a European City. Apparently a lot of Argentine money gone into the place - probably explains the big sign outside the British club saying the Falklands are Argentine ( I was a little offended... Still at least they got the name right) right next to the sign inviting you in for high tea.

Good food. Main meal and wine for four pounds. Since unfortunately we are not stopping in Mar De Plata, I posted the war books Carlos asked me to bring by DHL.
That evening, behind the bar, the proprietor is also the same man who is the manager of the local DHL. 795 miles to go

Punta del Este Uraguay

 



 

Wed 03/11/04

Have just returned form the Falklands, gut feeling that it needed to be a journey and not a visit correct. It has put that episode of my life in Historical, Geographic and Current perspective, from visiting a school inBrazil,. Talking to Argentines in Uruguay who were only children at the time of the war convinced the Falklands are theres but who spoke with grudging respect of Maggie and a sign that was outside the British club in Punte de Este stating in English and Spanish that the falklands are Argentine and finally Melenie in Stanley who now 78 had not left the islands until she was 70 to visit Wales and Scotland describing her ARP training during the second world war and the conscripts begging for food during the occupation in 1982.
The pleasure of coming in to Stanley with a freindly Port captain who delivered a parcel for one of the crew on our arrival and the Customs officer who willingly stamped La Vijar Teds passport.


Back into a British way of life pubs, red phone boxes Landrovers but with timber frame houses with brightly colured roofs. and quite a few people working from St Helena.
On the way to MPA the driver of the minibus 28 years on the island form Inverness pointing out the place where his daughter ran off the road and died nine years ago in the deep ditches on the side of the forty mile gravel road. MPA a huge military base with marching soldiers, machine gun nests, rows and rows of green painted buildings bustling with activity, a shocking if necessary contrast to Stanley.
Sat by the war memorial four oclock in the morning, cool breeze the only noise coming form a generator somewhere up the hill looking out over the water, a huge black tom cat strutted up jumped on my lap and settled down. He did not move until I stood up to go back to the boat a hundred yards away on government jetty
It is a shame I was unable to spend more time on the island, I would love to go back meet more people and explore the inlets and islands.

Government Jetty

 

Mount Pleasant Airport

 






 

 

 

HMS Brilliant 25 Yrs on Taff Tinney

HMS BRILLIANT

25 Years On

On the 17th June 2007 I attended the 25th Anniversary Event of the Falklands Conflict at Horseguard Parade London.
There were 60 personnel from HMS Brilliant attending and we formed our own platoon.
It was an emotionally event affecting me more than I thought it would, maybe it was because I was with a lot of the lads from the ship I don't know but I was so pleased that I went.
I travelled up to London with my Brother-in -law Junior Allen. (My wife Carol has still not come to terms with the Conflict and found it difficult to accept the situation).
We stayed in a four star hotel just around the corner from the Civil Service Club the venue for all to meet up, the first people we met were Ginge Offord, Graham Land, John (Scouse) Dixon, Cappie and Jed Stone, hadn't seen Jed in 25 years. Junior was a little concerned that he would be left out of the activities as he was not one of the "lads", as it turned out he was accepted as one of the Boys and was made an honouree member of the Brilliant, he was made up with that.
As the evening progressed, more and more of the lads turned up and the talk inevitably turned to the events of yesteryear before returning to the present. A good night was had by all.
Rising early on Sunday we found a café and ordered breakfast before taking a walk round the area of Whitehall and Horseguard Parade where the Event was taking place. We then had a walk round the London Eye, Houses of Parliament etc.etc.
At around 1200 hrs we mustered in the Civil Service Club and prepared for the March, it was surprising how many more of the 'Boys' appeared at this meeting and by this time there must have been at least 50 of us, Captain John being one of them.
At approximately 1345 the guests started to make their way their entry point and those of us marching made our way to our forming up point.
By 1445 were formed up and as I said we were 60 strong and one of the biggest groups there, if you were not "A Brilliant" you had no chance of joining this platoon. When the Royal Marine Band began to play the hairs on the back of my neck stood up (as they always did when ever I marched to a Band throughout my time in the RN) and my chest filled with pride as I took the first step toward Horseguard Parade. I find it difficult to put into words the feelings / emotions I was experiencing at this time, but Very Proud to be part of such a Historic Event would be an understatement.
Once we were stood at ease on Horseguard and the proceedings were under way I found it difficult to keep my emotions in check as I watched the bombing of the ships in San Carlos. I had watched many News Clips /Programs over the years of these same pictures and it never affected me anywhere near as much as it did on this occasion, as I said maybe it was because there was so many others there that had been through the same thing and survived and knowing we were the lucky ones when so many never made it home. Whatever the reasons I am not ashamed to say that I had Tears. As did so many of the others.
On completion of the Ceremony on Horseguard, we then marched down the Mall an experience I will never ever forget, all the feelings, thoughts, emotions you could ever have were there, I thought my chest would burst with Pride.
To be cheered and applauded by thousands of people who had taken the time to come and witness the Event and pay tribute to the ones who did not return and to US the ones who did survive was Magical and yet Humbling.
To be part of such an occasion was indeed a Privilege and an Honour and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

The day did not end there for both Junior and I had an invite to the South Atlantic Medal Association (SAMA) Reception.
We were hoping to meet HRH the Prince of Wales or some of the other VIPs which included HRH Prince Andrew, Prince Michael of Kent, Tony Blair, Maggie Thatcher but unfortunately there was a big demand on their time and we only managed to meet Prince Andrew and that was only because Landy and Scouse Dixon jumped the queue and basically kidnapped him.
It was disappointing to say the least but you can't win them all, the way I look at it we were there, many of the boys and their guests did not get the opportunity.

All in All a very Emotional and Proud Day.

 

 

 

Chris Sherman Diving officer 4/11/06

I was due to leave the ship in March 1982 to join the Long Minewarfare and Clearance Diving Officers Course at HMS Vernon in April. My relief – Lt Andy Elvin was already onboard and I had been dined out by the Wardroom in Gibraltar during Ex Springtrain. I was actually due to fly home from there but had agreed with the XO to stay on for the passage back to Guz. When we got our orders to “go South”, I was called to the Captain’s cabin where he told me that he wanted to keep me for whatever was about to happen (as Andy was not yet a qualified OOW or diving officer) and I would have to delay my MCDO course.

Most of my memories from the Falklands revolve around the bridge watchkeeping which was pretty demanding with our “goal keeping” duties and all that steaming around with no lights on! I also had a few adventures in my diving/demolitions role – notably disabling (and possibly sinking) the Santa Fe in South Georgia and various “home made” bomb projects which seemed a good idea at the time! I left the ship in Ascension on the return trip so I could have some leave before joining up with the 2nd phase of the MCDO course, but I rejoined by helo for the return to Devonport which was an amazing experience.

I qualified as an MCDO in 1983 and went on to serve as XO in HMS Bronington, operations officer in the seabed operations vessel HMS Challenger and then had an exchange appointment in the USA. My final job was as Staff MCDO to Commodore Clyde at Faslane. I left the RN in 1993 and spent 4 years working in the offshore oil industry in Brunei, Saudi Arabia and then Aberdeen. I joined the Health & Safety Executive as a diving inspector in 1997 and have now reached the dizzy heights of Chief Inspector of Diving (big fish, small pond!). I have also been a List 5 RNR officer since 1997, doing 2 weeks training a year.

I am married (post Brilliant) , have 3 children and live in Warsash, Hampshire.

I went to a 10th anniversary dinner in 1992 with most of the 1982 officers held onboard Brilliant in Porrtsmouth. It was a great dinner, but very strange to be reunited in the wardroom 10 years on! I believe that she is now rusting away somewhere in S America, so no chance of doing that again. I have lost touch with all of the officers from that time and have no idea if anything is planned for 2007. I would very much like to attend your reunion next year if work allows.

I will have to admit that my memories of the time are quite hazy and have never been great at remembering names! However, it would be great to swap stories with old shipmates and I would particularly like to meet up with any of the diving team.

 

SA Kirk Van Beer 27/05/05

Watching Sheffield

I left the mob in February 1984. I started travelling (Hitch-hiking!) with a
back-pack, and ended up going around the world. I loved travelling on my own
with no-one to answer to save the law of whichever land I was in and my own
choices of what to do when! Twas a grand adventure!

In 1989 I found myself in Vancouver, BC (Canada!) and decided that I had had
enough travelling.

Not long after I that I got a decent job with the the Canadian government
and on Christmas Day 2000 I met my Lisa who is now my wife. In 2003 I moved
from Vancouver to Ontario and was fotunate enough to be able keep my job
with the Canadian government.

I don't have any children. I have a great house on a decent sized piece of
property in a tiny town with neighbours who all have guns and dogs. We are
gettin' our dog in the fall!....

Life is good!

Kirk

 

First Gunnery Sergeant Manuel Centeno Escuela de Operaciones

Corporal Manuel Centeno Now First Gunnery Sergeant

(Account of the firing of the exocet form the lorry trailer) on Crew Diary Coming Home Page

Manuel Carlos (Right) Aug 2004

.......1975...........................................1981....................................................1983.................................1985........................

1975 Two years in Boot camp made Lance Corporal

1981 Batallón de Artiller'ia Antiaera

1983 Summer Corporal uniform including malvinas ribbon

1985 Instructing in the use of RBS 70 Training exercises in Baterias

 

Stuart Hamiltons experiences in Sierra Leone Update No 8

 

28th April 2005


As I begin to write this latest update I have realized just how close we are to concluding the mission. It's amazing to think we've been in Sierra Leone for more than 10 months now.

Thankfully the riots mentioned during the last update have ceased. The situation does however remain pretty volatile with teachers and student unions threatening to strike again if wages and allowances are not paid.

I've spent the last few weeks traveling extensively to border areas and have visited Kailahun, Masiaka, Kamakwie, Lungi, Port Loko, Kabala and Sinkunia amongst many other places.

My visit to Kailahun was in response to a recent incident at Yenga when a number of UN personnel were effectively taken 'hostage' by Guinean troops (GAF) on 26th March at the disputed border crossing of Yenga. Yenga is actually within Sierra Leone as per the 1912 border agreement but Guineans have occupied and farmed the area since 1991. This move was initially defensive to prevent rebel incursions into Guinea during the rebel war in Sierra Leone but they have steadfastly refused to budge ever since. Numerous attempts have been made at securing the withdrawal of the GAF without success and this process remains ongoing.

I had previously visited the Yenga crossing point earlier in the year without incident but on 26th March the Guineans became agitated at the attempts of some staff to take photographs of their defensive positions and weaponry. The situation deteriorated further when staff members attempted to leave and a Guinean soldier stood in font of the column of vehicles before rather theatrically feigning that he had been struck and run over. At this point GAF troops drew weapons, including the obligatory RPG and stopped the UN staff from leaving the area. A demand was made for all film to be handed over but it soon became apparent that the Guineans were unable to grasp the concept of digital photography when memory cards were produced! The stand off continued for approximately 6 hours until senior GAF officers became involved and the UN staff were 'released'. It was quite clearly an embarrassing situation for the Guineans but a nonetheless unnerving experience for the UN staff involved.

My task some days after the incident was to attend subsequent meetings where the intention was to smooth the waters somewhat and ensure all sides maintained a dialogue. This was to prove more difficult than at first imagined. A tri country border meeting had to be aborted when the Guineans and Liberians failed to show and the district security meeting the following day degenerated into farce when the coordinator spoke of mobilizing the youth and war against the Guineans! His tone was at best unhelpful and at worst down right inflammatory but the rug was very quickly pulled from under his feet so to speak. The situation on this particular border remains tense.

During another patrol and OSD arms inspection to Port Loko we found the department had several more SLR's (old Belgium FN Self Loading Rifle's) than they should have had in their armory. It transpired that the extra rifles were in actual fact former rebel weapons that had been removed by officers from the arms collection containers! These were recovered and removed from the armory but it shows how much attention is paid to weapon safety in places like Sierra Leone. The weapons were in an awful condition but having said that many officers on armed groups have not actually fired a weapon, even in training, for as long as 3 years. Arms inspections are always interesting as inventories are inevitably wrong.

In Sinkunia we removed a machine gun from the station armory in similar circumstances. This was later discovered unattended on the helicopter with a live Chicken sat on top! A RSLAF officer had actually bought the Chicken in the town for his supper and left the poor condemned thing in a plastic bag preening itself under the seats on top of the weapon. The pilot was having a fit when we returned to the aircraft on completion of the inspection! He didn't however take up my suggestion of releasing the Chicken to see if the vastly overweight RSLAF officer could catch it again! You get used to this sort of thing after a while!

I've also recently discovered the Tacugama Chimp sanctuary on the outskirts of Freetown. The sanctuary was set up in 1995 and is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and abandoned Chimpanzees. The Chimps enjoy a semi wild environment within the 100-acre rain forest reserve. The overall aim of the programme is to provide a home for confiscated and rescued Chimps, while helping to stop the cruel and wasteful trade of the species, thus securing a future for the wild population.

The 'founder Chimp' of the sanctuary and the dominant 'Alpha male' is a brute of an animal called 'Bruno'. I was lucky enough to get within a few meters of Bruno when I last visited the sanctuary, as I was the only visitor that afternoon. I can also testify to his stone throwing ability as described in his 'profile' below!
When Bala Amarasekaran and his wife Sharmila first saw Bruno he was a few months old, and very weak. They paid $30 for him, (certain that if they had not he would have soon died), and named him Bruno - after Frank Bruno, the British heavyweight boxer who was fighting Mike Tyson that very day!
For a year he lived in Bala and Sharmila's house, without a cage, and got into lots of mischief. When they rescued a second chimp, Julie, Bala erected a cage for them in the garden. When the sanctuary was built Bruno had to remain in a cage, as he was too large to go on the daily forest walks with the younger chimps. It wasn't until the electric fenced enclosures were built in 1998 that Bruno was able to taste the freedom of the forest.
Bruno is now 16 years old and is a large, powerful chimp. He is wary of visitors and is painfully accurate at hurling rocks and stones at anyone he doesn't like the look of. And his spectacular and impressive displays are hard to miss. However, to those who know him, he is an extremely affectionate and cheeky character. He keeps his group in order whenever things get out of hand (usually at feeding time) and is gentle and protective over the young ones.

For a sanctuary of this type to exist in a country that struggles to feed itself is truly amazing. The sanctuary survived the rebel war despite being attacked and looted on a number of occasions without the loss of a single animal.

It may be of interest to some that the Animal Channel on Sky TV have recently begun showing a documentary on the sanctuary and further details can also be found at www.tacugama.org

As a 'mission' UNAMSIL continues to downsize in readiness for the final withdrawal which is now expected to happen in December. Containers around the headquarters are being flat packed and shipped to other mission areas such as the Sudan. A good number of civilian police and military officers are being repatriated without replacement and as our own end of mission date - June 9th - draws ever closer I do wonder what will happen in the long term when this country no longer has the 'crutch' of the UN to lean on. I have my own views. The single biggest issue in countries such as Sierra Leone is poverty. This has never been dealt with despite the billions spent by donor countries.

Stuart Hamiltons experiences in Sierra Leone Update No 7

 

05th March 2005

Firstly my apologies for the delay with this latest update which should have been written some time ago! This in the main is due to my posting to UNAMSIL Headquarters in Freetown as the Cross Border Security Adviser and a period of leave.

To conclude my last update, the body of the boy missing since Christmas Day 2004 was found prior to my departure from Moyamba. He had a fractured skull and broken neck and had been dumped in a river. One toe was missing and although impossible to prove, it is suspected that this was another ritual murder where the perpetrators were disturbed. Once again the investigation was a ham-fisted affair with little or no progress made up until the time of my leaving. Talk of sorcery and witchcraft is not something I will ever understand or miss.

My new posting as Cross Border Security Adviser covers the whole of Sierra Leone and provides excellent opportunities to travel, especially to the border areas with Liberia and Guinea. The third border is obviously the Atlantic Ocean. With disarmament projects in Liberia and the Ivory Coast in full swing the main issues have centered on weapons being smuggled out of Sierra Leone. Hardly surprising considering the fact that in Liberia an individual incentive of $300 is paid for each surrendered weapon, rising to $900 in the Ivory Coast. In Sierra Leone 'community weapon collection programmes' have replaced individual incentives and dependant on the amount of small arms surrendered a project such as the building of a school is subsequently undertaken. Whilst a trickle of archaic hunting rifles and the like continue to find their way into the collection containers it is estimated that approximately 30,000 small arms & light weapons remain throughout the country. This is based on an average collection of 200 weapons per chiefdom, of which there are 149, not including Freetown (A separate collection programme is planned for the capital where it is believed thousands of illegal weapons are hidden). It's a staggering number given the fact that this country is now considered to be stable. Many are believed to be buried in remote jungle locations making them virtually impossible to uncover.

Another aspect of the position is to identify and record all known border crossings throughout the country. With such a porous border this is a fruitless task. Whilst some crossing points house customs, immigration, police etc the majority are little more than clearings in the jungle. Monitoring the borders is therefore almost impossible. Determined individuals intent on criminal activities can cross into Liberia or Guinea almost at will. Although it is clearly not part of the UNAMSIL mandate I have already walked and driven well into Liberia (UNMIL mandate) on a number of occasions without detection. This was in the main a point proving exercise to show just how easy it is. Systems for intelligence gathering on the borders are non-existent. Some crossing points have little more sophisticated tools than school exercise books in which to record names and other personal details.

The majority of my travel is obviously conducted by air. I am able to plan my own workload and visits and in addition each Saturday is spent escorting senior officers of the SLP & RSLAF, Customs, Immigration, Commonwealth community safety project team and the International military training group visiting border areas and conducting weapons inspection / collection tasks. This is extremely interesting and rewarding.

Whilst in Kailahun recently I was made aware of the existence of a building known locally as the 'Slaughter House'. Villagers had initially been reluctant to reveal the location of the building but eventually an RSLAF Colonel was persuaded to allow us access. The notorious Foday Sankoh and his RUF thugs used the building to rape, murder and maim innocent victims during the war. We were escorted through a small settlement to a derelict, previously whitewashed stone building situated amongst dwellings. The building was without doors or windows and the external walls were riddled with bullet holes. Inside the walls and ceilings are stained brown with stale blood. A local police officer quietly informed me that as recently as 2002, when he arrived in Kailahun, the stains were still fresh. A bench and table used for beheadings and amputation remain in situ. Whilst the soldiers escorting the RSLAF Colonel looked away or stood quietly with their heads bowed I noticed villagers going about their daily business outside. Journalists who describe such places often claim their own blood ran cold. I could never really understand that sentiment but I can now. It was an eerie place to be and I have to admit none of us were keen to remain there any longer than was necessary to witness it. It was difficult to get people to talk but one soldier estimated that thousands of people were maimed or slaughtered here. I suspect the existence of the building is little known outside of Sierra Leone but I for one will never forget it.

(Sankoh was detained by the GoSL in 2000 and whilst being tried for war crimes died in custody on 29 July 2003 of complications resulting from a stroke the previous year.)

Since my return from leave, Freetown has seen strikes by 'students', teachers and war widows over the failure of the GoSL to pay allowances and salaries. The truth of the matter is the GoSL do not have the funds to meet their obligations. The strikes somewhat predictably turned to violence and police shot 3 people, including a 13-year-old schoolgirl who was the victim of a negligent discharge. One individual has since died. Police vehicles were attacked and damaged, roads were blocked and at one stage 4 SLP officers were taken hostage. More worryingly several SLP officers were seen to discard their uniforms and mingle into the crowd. Officers inside one station ran from the back as students from the front attacked them. The students briefly took over the station itself. Tear gas was used to disperse crowds.

An uneasy calm has now been restored after the signing of an agreement between the GoSL and the student union that all salaries and allowances will be paid in full. However, this agreement has yet to be met and it is widely anticipated that the strike will resume shortly. Reports of ex combatants traveling to Freetown from the provinces add to the concerns. Interestingly, the leader of the student union has since been impeached by his colleagues for signing the agreement with the GoSL in the first place and not representing their rights and views!
The strike restricted our movement in some ways for security reasons but it is a local issue and other than an increase in the usual monitoring and intelligence gathering activities our involvement has otherwise been minimal.

The benefits of being in Freetown are probably not obvious but include improved accommodation and food. I now reside in a complex, which includes military and police officers from Britain, Scandinavia, India, New Zealand and Canada. The complex has security guards supported by two 'guard dogs' ('Rambo' and his Mother!) that appear to hate the local population and attack anyone they don't recognize! It is clear they have at some stage been badly mistreated and are now exacting their revenge! Whilst the accommodation remains basic it is a vast improvement to what I experienced in Kabala and Moyamba.

Local restaurants are acceptable and reasonably cheap. If nothing else they provide a welcome variation to my Chicken and Rice diet of old! Other attractions include hotel pools and several glorious undeveloped beaches within walking / driving distance. Prior to my leave period we even had a visit by Jim Davidson who performed in a local hotel as part of his work with British military charities. This was obviously very well received, even by the American 'Charles Manson' look-alike who was conveniently seated in the front row! (For anyone reading this from the South Atlantic Medal Association (Sama 82) you'll be pleased to know that whilst Jim was talking about the various organizations & associations the charity supported we got a mention and a hearty round of applause to boot.)

Apologies once more for the delay with this update. Your continued contact and support is greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,

Stuart.


Stuart Hamiltons experiences in Sierra Leone

Stuart is on secondment to the UN from the UK police his job is to mentor, advise and train the Sierra Leone Police which has been 'extended' to June 2005. He will then return to Lincolnshire Police although there is already talk of a further 6 month extension!!! It's certainly a challenge.

Hello everyone once again. I wrote the following few paragraphs about a patrol & ceremony in Fadugu shortly before I left Sierra Leone to fly home on leave in September. It was too late to be included in September's update. I wrote the entry immediately after retuning from the patrol. It had been an emotional day and I guess I was angry. I decided to sit on what I'd written until I returned from leave so I could read it again and see if I felt the same. Well I've read it again and I feel as strongly about the issues as I did on the day so I have decided to include it in this update, warts and all. Some of you will understand.
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On 2nd September I attended an official UN duty in the village of Fadugu, some 15km South of Kabala. UN 'dignitaries' were arriving by helicopter for a ceremony at the site of a mass grave on the outskirts of the village. I have mentioned mass graves in earlier updates and in truth there are hundreds of them scattered about this war ravaged country. It is therefore easy to become slightly blasé about their existence, which is exactly what I've tried not to do. On this occasion I did attempt to detach myself from the emotion of the occasion but try as I might this proved extremely difficult.

There were in fact 3 graves at the site. Two were on one side of the road, dug into a clearing in the bush and marked with a pretty white stone monument. The third, across the tarmac road, was sadly unmarked and overgrown. The remains of 26 people were buried in the largest of the three graves. 8 lay in the grave beside it and 6 more were buried in the overgrown site. A hand painted stone of remembrance read:

Memoriam
R.I.P.
"In memory of our beloved loved ones who were brutally killed during the civil war on the 11th Sept. 1998. Dedicated by inter religious council - Sierra Leone and people of Kasunko chiefdom.
Grave of 26

I would challenge any decent human being to remain detached when stood at a monument with the bereaved people of a village like Fadugu.

There appears to be no religious bigotry in this place. Muslim and Christian leaders stand shoulder to shoulder and prayers in both faiths are said by all. To witness such a thing is to wonder how the people of this country came to be brought to their knees a few short years ago. For me at least it is slightly easier to be detached from events such as WWII and stand on the great battlefields of Northern France or walk in the cemeteries there because it was before my time. To stand at Bluff Cove or San Carlos in the Falkland Islands is easier too, only this time because I was there. Standing at Fadugu is different because I was somewhere else in this world and I realised today that whatever I was doing on the 11th of September 1998 that probably seemed so important then wasn't really very important at all. I may have been dealing with some drunken teenager fighting on the streets. Maybe I was shopping or enjoying a beer with a friend. It matters not. The point I am trying to make is I really don't know what I was doing on that day and neither would millions of other people around the world. It just made me wonder what 'we' were actually doing to stop what happened in places like this, and others like it. What were we doing to prevent it being repeated anywhere else for that matter? I'm ashamed to say I was glad when the ceremony was over and I could leave that place. I had driven to the site in a state of euphoria knowing that in 7 days time I would be starting my leave and preparing to fly home. 26 people buried here under a mound of dusty red earth will never know how it feels to go home again and I drove back to Kabala feeling quite alone and deflated. It was an emotional day and a sobering experience.
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My leave in September seems such a long time ago now! The return flight was 'eventful' to say the least. Most of the Sierra Leonean passengers had embarked on a spending spree in the Gatwick Airport duty free shops and arrived onboard carrying everything from wide screen TV's to large stereo systems! In addition most carried 'suitcase sized' hand luggage! The scrum for the overhead lockers had to be seen to be believed! One lady had a hat in a large hatbox that she was clearly very proud of. She went absolutely berserk when it was well & truly flattened by a boxed Sony computer system!

We left the stand about an hour late after the crew had somehow managed to stow everything and persuade everyone to be seated! They clearly hadn't anticipated the fact that most of the passengers had also acquired new mobile phone handsets and began trying to ring Freetown almost as soon as we were airborne! Another squabble began as people began complaining of being sold unserviceable mobiles when they couldn't get a signal from 36.000 feet! After an epic 6-hour journey we finally arrived at Lungi 'International' - Freetown. The final irony was watching box after box of electrical hardware being unloaded for use in a country that hardly has any electricity! It had had to be witnessed to be appreciated fully!

The Kabala U.N. civilian police team site was closed whilst I was on leave as part of the draw down of UNAMSIL and I have now been posted to Moyamba in the South of the country. I spent a week kicking my heels around Freetown before I was finally able to arrange transport to the new location. My driver, a Bangladeshi, arrived at UN HQ as promised and promptly reversed the vehicle into the main gate in front of me! Not exactly encouraging when faced with being a passenger in the same vehicle for the next 4 hours! The transport officer, an affable Irishman, was hopping up and down, going red in the face shouting, "I cannot believe he didn't see the bloody gate!" It was quite hilarious although I doubt that my Bangladeshi colleague shared my thoughts! The journey to Moyamba was quite the worst road journey I have faced so far. Not so much for the condition of the mud tracks but for the standard of driving! For the first time in my life I actually felt travelsick!

My relief at arriving in Moyamba in one piece was soon tempered by the sight of my 'accommodation'! Due to a lack of room at the civilian police house I had been allocated a room with the military and 'a room' was pretty much all it was. No bed or furniture! It was literally a room in a mud hut at the rear of the military accommodation compound. It was also surrounded by high grass and the prospect of snakes watching the 'new guy' moving in didn't endear me to my new residence too much either! The Swedish Milobs team leader had a spare camp bed, which I 'suffered' for 3 long nights but as an alternative to the floor it could have been much worse! In the circumstances it was a relative luxury! It is often the case that somebody else's misery is someone else's good fortune and so it was when the Japanese civil affairs officer went down with Malaria for the second time in his mission and promptly resigned! He had a room with a bed at the civilian police house and I was delighted to be able to move straight in. The accommodation is basic but I do at least have a bed! Washing facilities again consist of rainwater showers with a liberal dose of disinfectant! There is also a calor gas stove for the preparation of basic foods such as corn and sweet potato chips. Some things however never change and the diet of chicken & rice (or rice & chicken!) remains pretty consistent wherever you go in this country! I've taken to buying food locally for breakfast & lunch with the proviso of 'peel it, boil it, fry it or forget it'! Health is still the number one concern.

Moyamba itself is a small town with few facilities. It is a jungle location even more dense than Kabala. Our area of responsibility is large and visiting most locations means at least a 2 hours journey each way. The 'roads' are poor and most are little more than dirt tracks or former railway routes from the days of British rule. Other locations such as Bonthe Island are accessible only by air patrol. I've already visited most police stations and post's in the region, which includes a Liberian refugee camp at Taiame that houses over 3000 people. I visited on 14/10/04 whilst a rice delivery from UNHCR was in process. It is quite pitiful to see the hunger on people's faces in such places. The food allocation consists of one waste paper sized bucket of rice for a family unit and this is intended to last one month. The repatriation process is currently under way but with Liberia anything but stable it is difficult to see a speedy end to the suffering of these people.

Since arriving in Moyamba I've concentrated on interacting with youth groups (as explained in previous updates these are mainly former rebels / ex combatants) who suffer greatly from unemployment and boredom. Large numbers of fit, bored young men with nothing to do in any location is a potential powder keg. Football has become the common denominator and I spend most evenings with the local Moyamba Town football squad coaching and encouraging them. To my initial surprise there are some rather good players possessing well-developed skills, excellent ball control and good vision. What they lack is a sense of organization and 'shape' but taking into account the problems in this country as a whole this is hardly surprising!

On Sunday 17th October I arranged a friendly football match at the local stadium between Moyamba Town and '6 Battalion' of the RSLAF (Royal Sierra Leonean Armed Forces) who are based on the outskirts of the town in a rolling encampment. The game was to be played at the local 'stadium' which was built as a leaving gift by the Nepalese battalion prior to their departure in June 2004. I inspected the pitch a few days prior to the game and found it to be mostly bare of grass. What did remain was totally overgrown so I organized the Army to cut it and mark the pitch. I had been offered a number of inmates from the local prison to do the work but the thought of a large number of rapists, armed robbers and murderers escaping while marking my pitch didn't exactly fill me with the desire to secure their release for the afternoon! What I actually got instead of soldiers was a heard of Sheep but in truth they did a fine job! I never did get my pitch marked out! Clearly the Sheep didn't understand the instruction! Next time I'll insist on Goats. They are far more intelligent!

Kick off was arranged for 1630 but as this is 'African time' I expected things might not go quite to plan! At 1615 the nets arrived but there was still no sign of the two teams! Moyamba Town arrived at about 1645 and after we had been forced to remind the RSLAF of their commitment they duly graced us with their presence at 1700! I'd also been asked if it would be acceptable for the locals to provide a 'band' for entertainment. I thought this was a great idea, as the local township does tend to turn out for these occasions. The organizer requested that I collect the 'band' in the UN pick up. Totally illegal but something I was prepared to risk for the sake of community relations and hearts & minds! What I actually got packed into the back of my truck was a full on disco unit powered by a petrol generator! It must have been some sight to see a portable disco unit and about 15 locals crammed onto the back of a UN pick up gingerly making it's way through the streets! Thankfully nobody was quick enough to hold me to account with a photograph! In truth it provided a fantastic atmosphere and soon we had a decent enough 'crowd' of well over 200 people.

The game itself, which I refereed, was a hard fought affair, eventually won 1-0 by Moyamba Town. The usual pitch invasion took place after the goal and as I was unable to start the match until 1730 it was almost pitch black by the time I blew the final whistle! The event clearly went down well and requests for further games, coaching and referees courses have since been made. One of the biggest problems in this country is people will partake in just about any organized event but are not inclined, almost reluctant in fact, to arrange things for themselves. I have stressed that whilst I will remain involved for the duration of my stay here they must begin to plan and organize events themselves. If I can leave behind an active football team it will be a small achievement

The South West Branch of the Manchester City supporters club had generously donated a set of club shirts, which I presented to Moyamba Town prior to the kick off. The look on the player's faces as they tried on their new shirts made this well worthwhile.
Other highlights of the past month include the visit of the President of Sierra Leone to Moyamba on 21/10/04. This brought back memories of his visit to Kabala earlier in my secondment. We'd set up an elaborate security operation and had the helicopter-landing site pretty much surrounded with SLP officers and RSLAF troops. We were stood feeling pretty pleased with ourselves awaiting the arrival of the aircraft when it appeared, over flew us, and set down some five miles away in a totally unprotected farmers field! No such problems this time as the President came by 'road'. The Freetown to Moyamba route is a little 'uneven' to say the least! His visit was in recognition of two newly appointed Paramount Chief's and it was no surprise to hear the subject of possible 'road' improvements brought up in the presentations! It's actually a quite shocking route even by Sierra Leone standards and only a couple of days ago we 'lost' another UN vehicle, which burst two tyres in potholes. The vehicle actually turned over breaking a window before finally coming to rest in the bush. Thankfully none of the occupants was injured. The road will apparently be rebuilt next February thanks in the main to a grant from the EU.

I've also recently become involved in another murder investigation I would describe it as distressing but at the same time interesting. A 12-year-old male child, initially reported as missing, has been found partly buried in a remote village. It was difficult to even get to the burial site as there is no road and the only option is a 13-mile walk each way. The legs of the corpse were exposed and the genitals and soles of the feet had been removed. Unfortunately ritual killings remain quite common in this part of the world and as a result of an ongoing investigation members of the boys own family, including his parents and grandparents together with the local 'fortune teller / witchdoctor' are amongst 15 people now in custody. It is believed the Father of the child actually sold him to the witchdoctor who in turn carried out the killing and removal of body parts. It's a sad story. Of course 'mentoring' is difficult in such cases because for once we really don't understand the culture and mentality of people who can do such things. We are still awaiting the only pathologist in Sierra Leone to attend and conduct a postmortem. Quite an unbelievable case.

It is now almost 5 months since I arrived in Sierra Leone. In many ways the time has flown by. It remains everything I expected it to be with new challenges and developments arising most weeks. For those of you who are not aware I was informed on my return from leave that confirmation of a 6 month extension to my UNAMSIL contract has been received from the FCO London & UN HQ New York and I will now remain in Sierra Leone until June 2005. It seems a long time to be away but the time does fly. To that end I've decided to return home for an extra leave period on 26th November to 13th December. I will then be able to return to the UK again in February and April before checking out in June. As always please accept my apologias for the impersonal nature of these updates but they allow me to share and record my experiences with everyone without the need to type the same thing over & over again! Thanks also for the continued contact and support through e-mail, which as you know is greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,
Stuart