24.02.22 The Clerk

The Coachmakers’ Banquet 2022 – Update

As you know, the Coachmakers’ Company this year will pay tribute to those who served in, and in support of, the Falklands Task Force in 1982 with a themed banquet on Wednesday 8th June.

This has proved to be extremely popular; so much so that all the available places were sold by early January and we are now running a reserve list for those who waited until the January sales before they bought their 2022 diary.

However, all may not be lost. As with all events for which 450 persons have expressed their intention to turn up, with the passage of time programmes change, health fails and better offers emerge. So there is every reason to expect that a percentage of those who have currently spread their napkins across their reserved seats may not be able to fulfil their commitment. So if you want to be part of what will be a splendid evening in the Guildhall please contact the Clerk and your name will be entered onto the reserve list.

Proper planning prevents poor performance

The title above is used often in military and naval circles and it is self-explanatory. Some of you may have seen or heard its use with an extra word or two inserted but I am writing before the watershed so I’ve kept it clean. Nonetheless, even with the odd word or two added for effect, it says what it means and it means exactly what it says. And when one goes forth to do work on great waters one needs a good map, or more correctly a chart.

In March of 1982, a fully metricated chart of the Falkland Islands did not exist. This had not hitherto been a problem because if an accurate chart of some part of the archipelago was not available, the wise sailor simply went round that bit and navigated through the bits for which accurate charts were available.

On 2nd April 1982, the Argentine invasion of the Falklands changed all that because overnight there was a need for a fully metricated accurate Admiralty chart of the entire island network that would enable safe and accurate navigation by ships of the Royal Navy in their quest to retake what had been misappropriated.

Rod and Lesley Upham as young cartographers in the 1980s

Rod and Lesley Upham as young cartographers in the 1980s

To whom did the Royal Navy turn to address this shortfall? Step forward Honorary Assistant Lesley Upham, who in 1982 was working as a cartographer in the MoD’s Hydrographic Office based in Taunton. Working long hours on the chart compilation, what normally took months was achieved in a matter of weeks. Lesley brought together a variety of survey material acquired by the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Branch across many centuries to create the first metric navigation chart of the Falkland Islands. Converting fathoms, feet and inches into metres, she put together the necessary information to be printed on a large piece of hard wearing paper that in itself appeared to be simple and mundane but in reality was a vital tool without which the bridge teams of the various ships that took part in the operation simply would not have been able to do their jobs.

The new charts that emerged were rushed by road to those ships in UK dockyards that had not already sailed south to join the Task Force, and many others were flown to Ascension Island where they were passed to the ships already on their way south as they called in for stores and provisions en route. Although I can’t be certain, many of these new charts were probably transported to Ascension Island in the VC10s of 10 Squadron RAF, commanded in 1982 by Past Master Gp Capt Gerry Bunn CBE – more of that next month.

Howsoever they were delivered, without an accurate chart available on the bridge of every ship that participated, the landings in San Carlos Bay may not have been possible, the many troop insertions into little known inlets before and during the main fighting may not have been possible, and the most basic of safe navigation of any of the ships that took part may not have been possible. And although it might be thought of as a slight exaggeration, without Lesley Upham, the whole operation may not have been possible.

Therefore as one of the many Officers of the Watch in theatre who used the fruits of her labour to safely and accurately plot their ship’s position, thereby avoiding the wrath of the Navigating Officer or the Captain, I am extremely grateful to her for her work.

But it doesn’t end there. While Lesley was weaving her magic over tidal ranges, navigable depths and the presence of shoals and underwater obstructions, her husband Rod was doing similar things to create helicopter navigation charts for the Falkland Islands; these had previously not existed because they had not been needed. However, again, without Rod’s efforts, the rotary wing crews would have had a far more difficult time of it, especially at night, with the likely negative effect on operational capability during a critical period.

I didn’t get the chance to use Rod’s output until 1990 when I was serving as the Flight Commander of a Lynx Flight on patrol with HMS AMBUSCADE. By then the navigational charts were more sophisticated as the air space around the Falklands had become more regulated but as one who spent much of his flying career as a blue water pilot, knowing exactly where and how high the various lumps of cumulo-granite were sited around the islands was a great comfort to me and my short-sighted Observer.

In summary, the point of this short dit is to emphasise how much was done by so many, not always obvious to the casual observer, which helped to make the endeavour to retake the Falkland Islands a success despite the 8,000 mile logistics chain and the challenging weather of the South Atlantic. And the fact that so many of them have connections to the Coachmakers’ Company will make the banquet on 8th June just that bit more special.

So if you have not yet booked your place contact the Clerk and get your name on the reserve list because another favourite saying in military and naval circles is that “a plan is merely a basis for change.”