HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association

 

RÉSUMÉ OF ASSOCIATION VISIT TO CHILE URUGUAY & ARGENTINA

DECEMBER 2019

 

CHILE

Sunday 01/12/2019

28 of us gathered at Heathrow for the short flight over to Paris to connect with our 14½ hour flight to Santiago Chile leaving on schedule at 1955hrs local time. One member was leaving from Toronto.

 

Santiago: Monday 02/12/2019 – arrived on schedule at 1020hrs and were soon on the bus to take us to the Panamericana Hotel Providencia in Santiago. Our Canadian member was delayed by snow so arrived later by taxi.

 

Just days before we were due to fly the itinerary was thrown into turmoil by the ongoing civil unrest in Chile when the City of Concepción issued a dictate that we should not travel there – the whole reason for this leg of the trip. A hasty change to the itinerary was made and we were able to extend our hotel dates at the Panamericana instead.

 

Santiago: Tuesday 03/12/2019 - rather than visit Valle Nevado in the Andes today we went on our rescheduled 3 hour City Tour that turned out to be 7 hours with a long lunch included. This meant a hasty rearrangement of the planned Jonathan Harwood talk that afternoon as we were committed to an evening engagement.

The planned Ambassador’s reception had been brought forward to 1800hrs to allow staff time to get home before the transport system shut down.

We arrived at the residence of the British Ambassador to Chile, Jamie Bowden and had a wonderful time although there were far fewer guests there than could be expected due to travel restrictions.

The large shield for the City of Concepción and gifts for Armando Cartes were presented to the Defence Attaché who will present at a later date in Concepción.

 

Santiago: Wednesday 04/12/2019 – at 0900hrs we set off in a small coach, the largest allowed up the steep twisty roads, into the Andes to Valle Nevado at 3000 metres. The scenery was spectacular and nobody could fail to be impressed by the close views of dozens of majestic Andean Condors. We took lunch in a small village before returning to the City.

Members attended Jonathan’s talk on The Battle of Coronel that had been hastily arranged for early evening.

We were also informed that travel to the sea port of Valparaiso was off-limits, we were due to meet the navy at the Naval Museum the next day, so yet another last minute change of itinerary was made.

 

Santiago: Thursday 05/12/2019 – a complete change of tack saw us checking out of the hotel and taking the bus 150kms south to the town of Santa Cruz in the wine regions. The hotel was delightful and our stay included a tour around the attached museum – quite fascinating.

 

Santa Cruz: Friday 06/12/2019 – being in the wine region we just had to do the obligatory wine tour at a vineyard some 30 minutes away. The tour included a cable car and historical tour as well as a little wine tasting.

 

Santa Cruz: Saturday 07/12/2019 – our scheduled day to leave Chile so back on the bus up to Santiago Airport to connect with our Latam flight over the Andes to Montevideo.

 

Whilst it was a great disappointment that when in Chile we didn’t get to do the commemorative things that had been planned over the last 3 years but matters were completely out of our control. What was to be a commemorative week turned into a touristy week but all enjoyed themselves and accepted the situation.

 

URUGUAY

Saturday 07/12/2019 – our flight took off on time at 1554hrs and with clear skies we had great views of the Andes not that far below us. We also had wonderful views as we approached Montevideo along the length of the Rio de Plata, River Plate.

Soon on the bus to the Esplendor Cervantes Hotel, Montevideo. Here we were joined by one UK member and two from New Zealand.

Karina from the British Embassy was there to welcome us and ended up going to the British Hospital with me and a poorly group member.

 

Montevideo: Sunday 08/12/2019 – on the bus for 0900hrs for a 3 hour city tour returning in time for lunch.

In the afternoon a number of the group made their way to the Silver River masonic lodge at their invitation as members of HMS Ajax & Exeter had visited there some 80 years ago donating signed photographs – we all received a copy. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and the brethren really made us feel welcome, especially at the free bar!

 

Montevideo: Monday 09/12/2019 – set off the 170kms to Colonia del Sacramento west up the River Plate and spent the day looking round the old Portuguese town, quite touristy but enjoyable nonetheless.

2 more members from the UK joined us in the evening.

 

Montevideo: Tuesday 10/12/2019 – a free day for members with a group visiting the Estadio Centenario y Museo del Fútbol where the first World Cup was held.

The Mayor of Ajax and his wife arrived to join us.

That evening we attended a reception at the Residence of the British Ambassador to Uruguay Ian Duddy, another splendid residence just like the one in Santiago and a wonderful evening.

 

Montevideo: Wednesday 11/12/2019 – on the coach for 0900hrs departure to the city of Punta del Este about 150kms east along the River Plate. Here we met Andrew Beare who took us to Punta de la Salinas where a crowd of local dignitaries and residents had gathered to greet us around the Ajax Anchor where speeches were made and a wreath laid by our Chairman. We then lunched at the Yacht Club before a tour of the city.

 

A party of 6 from the UK arrived but staying at a different hotel, taking the group total to 42.

 

Montevideo: Thursday 12/12/2019 – the group walked to the Museo Andes 1972 Exhibition telling the story of the plane crash in the Andes in 1972.

Following lunch the coach took us to the Graf Spee Anchor site in the port area to meet up with our guide; however, things did not go according to plan as the authorities wouldn’t let us in and futile negotiations ate into our tour time. Consequently the tour was not what it should have been and only succeeded in making us late for our next appointment at the Naval Museum, keeping two Ambassadors and other dignitaries waiting! The British and German Ambassadors unveiled a plaque on the river front to commemorate our visit.

 

In the evening we joined the British Society of Uruguay at the premises of British Schools Carrasco at the invitation of the Society President. Following a lecture on the River Plate Battle by Jonathan Harwood we sat down to dine with the other guests that included the daughter of Captain Langsdorff, Inge Nedden.

 

Montevideo: Friday 13/12/2019 – today was the big day being the actual 80th Anniversary day

The day started with a service at Templo Inglés (The Cathedral of The Most Holy Trinity) with the Association Standard paraded in by a piper. The bugler played the last post and reveille on the actual bugle played on Achilles at the time of the battle. The service included the unveiling of commemorative plaque by our Chairman and the laying of wreaths by the Association, Mayor of Ajax, the Harwood family and the Woodhouse family along with flowers laid in memory of Judi Collis by her granddaughter.

 

We then moved on to the Cementerio Británico for an act of remembrance at the common grave of 3 HMS Achilles crewmen with the Association wreath being laid by Douglas Batt the son of surviving Achilles sailor Bob Batt who was the bugle boy on Achilles.

 

At the Cementerio del Norte the act of remembrance at the graves of the 36 Graf Spee crewmen followed a German theme and the Association wreath was laid by the daughter of River Plate Ajax sailor Colin Chadwick.

 

It was straight on the bus to travel to the port area where this time they let us in and we boarded the Uruguayan Training Schooner “Capitan Miranda” that was to take us and a German contingent out to the actual Graf Spee wreck site in the River Plate. Here we all cast individual flowers on the water and the British and German Defence Attachés cast a wreath (biodegradable) as did Inge Nedden.

 

Fortunately we ate on-board as once we docked it was straight on the bus again to attend the Residence of the German Ambassador Ingo von Voss where we again all had a wonderful time – we were beginning to get use to such receptions!

 

Montevideo: Saturday 14/12/2019 – for our final day in Uruguay there was a special treat in store. After much negotiations permission had been secured to view the bronze eagle recovered from the Graf Spee which, due to its controversial nature, had been kept in secret storage out of public view – where were the first private individuals allowed to see it since it went into storage 10 years ago.

Having checked out of the hotel we made our way to the location and, after some interesting detours, eventually arrived. With strict instructions regarding photography we were allowed in supervised groups of 8 to spend a few minutes in the presence of the eagle – we were allowed to touch and everybody agreed it was quite spectacular and one of the trip highlights.

 

Our wonderful time in Uruguay was coming to a close as we later departed for the port area to catch the evening Buquebus Fast Ferry over the River Plate to Buenos Aires, a sailing of 2hrs 15mins.

 

ARGENTINA

We arrived in Buenos Aires at 2145hrs and most transferred from the port to Hotel Dazzler Maipú, Buenos Aires

 

Buenos Aires: Sunday 15/12/2019 – the coach collected us at 1000hrs to take us to the Cementario de la Chacarita where in the German sector we met up with Graf Spee Association & British Legion together with other dignitaries. Following a moving ceremony our Chairman laid a wreath on behalf of the Association as did Inge Nedden, daughter of Captain Langsdorff.

We then made our way through to the British sector for an act of remembrance at the grave of J T Frederick HMS Exeter where the sons of two River Plate Exeter crewmen laid the Association wreath.

Following a very quick look around the cemetery we made our way to the premises of Sociedad Alemana de Gimnasia where we joined the Graf Spee Association for luncheon at the invitation of its President Enrique Dick. Following a splendid meal and speeches it was time to depart.

 

Buenos Aires: Monday 16/12/2019 – a morning city tour reinforced what a lovely city Buenos Aires was with its mix of ultra-modern with old and colonial buildings. The trip included the almost obligatory visit to the Cementario La Rocaleta where Eva Peron lies in one of the many fantastic mausoleums.

 

In the afternoon back at the hotel we were joined by a number of Graf Spee members for Jonathan Harwood’s talk followed by a general discussion.

 

In the evening we set off for another obligatory visit; the Tango Show at La Ventana. Our show was preceded by a wonderful meal and copious amounts of wine. The performers were splendid and a few members posed for photographs.

 

Buenos Aires: Tuesday 17/12/2019 – a day of leisure for those remaining members before they got ready for tomorrow’s departure. We all met up in a waterfront restaurant for our final meal.

 

Buenos Aires: Wednesday 18/12/2019 – our final day and after check-out it was on the bus to the airport for the bulk of us where we said farewell to the 3 flying to Toronto. The rest of us checked in for our KLM flight back to Amsterdam that left a little later than the scheduled 1630hrs departure.

 

Thursday 19/12/2019 – arrived at Amsterdam to find our connecting flight to Heathrow delayed. Eventually we arrived back in the UK and at the luggage carousel we all said our fond farewells with all agreeing it had been the trip of a life time.

 

My grateful thanks to everyone in the group who made the trip what it was.

Malcolm Collis

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