Stevenage pensioner relives Falklands adventure 30 years on
- Credit: Archant
A Stevenage pensioner who travelled to the other side of the world to help rebuild the Falkland Islands following Argentinian occupation has been recalling his spell in the South Atlantic 30 years ago.
Norman Drummond of Ashburnham Walk made the long journey in August 1984 after signing up on a two-year project to help build an airport.
The Mount Pleasant project was authorised straight after the Falklands War to protect the island from another possible Argentinian invasion.
The 77-year-old, who is originally from Newcastle but moved to Stevenage with his wife Patricia in 1962 in search of work, heard about the job through a friend and decided to apply.
He said: “I had a friend who applied to work in the Falklands but he failed the medical because he had asthma. He told me they were paying £200 a week tax-free – at the time the average wage was about £50 to £60 a week and I was struggling for work because the economy wasn’t great.
“I was 47 but I’ve always been fit so they passed me and put me on a ship to Cape Town. It was 13 days sailing from South Africa to the Falklands and the seas were really rough.
“People were being sick all over the place and two blokes never came up on deck for the whole trip. As soon as we landed they got back on the ship and went back to Cape Town because they couldn’t hack it.
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“I love the sea so the journey didn’t bother me so much and I ended up bunking with my future best mate, Brian Tripp.”
Norman remembers getting off the boat and everybody rushing to the offices so they could book Christmas leave.
“The ship could only take 400 people and there were 2,000 of us on the island so you literally had to run to the office and book it straight away otherwise you were stuffed.”
Norman soon got stuck in on the airport project. He said: “Previously I’d been a skilled machinist but we did anything and everything on that job. Some days I’d be driving big 70-tonne lorries and other days we’d be laying tarmac.
“When I arrived it was just a pile of rubble and it was great to see the whole thing finished.
“Sir Rex Hunt, who was governor of the islands, came and opened it.
“I’ve always been into my photography and took my camera with me everywhere so I quickly took a snap with him.
“He was a lovely man and I later found out that we shared the same birthday so I sent him a card and we ended up staying in touch.
“He wrote to me several times and I used to send him a birthday card every year.
“I loved being out there because you were so free. It was such an isolated place but it was beautiful and we had so many good times.
“It wasn’t all good though, we lost nine people out there building the airport.
“One guy had a heart attack and the others died in accidents.
“Despite that I still look back on my time there extremely fondly and every year I go and see my old mate Brian and we have a few days talking about the great times we had together.”