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British Community Council (B.C.C) - Argentina, Río Gallegos District
Charitable Activities, Second World War (1939-1945) [quotation]


Childrens' party, Empire Day (May 24th), Río Gallegos, c1940

This district has put up such a splendid show in connection with the collection of funds for various purposes throughout the war that some members of the Community may like to know just where, and what is, the Rio Gallegos District, before we go on to give details of their total war effort.

Rio Gallegos is the capital of the National Territory of Santa Cruz and is the most Southern port in the Argentine Mainland. The town [is] somewhat scattered, with a mixture of modern buildings and old zinc walled and zinc roofed houses. is situated on the Southern shores of the estuary of the river Gallegos and is fully exposed to the prevailing cold South west winds.

There is an aeroplane mail and passenger service from Buenos Aires twice a week; the planes leaving Buenos Aires in the small hours of the morning reach Rio Gallegos in the late afternoon or evening of the same day. The same trip by coastal passenger and mail steamers usually takes at 1east nine days.

The population of Rio Gallegos may number about three thousand but the proportion of residents of British nationality (British born and of British descent) is very small indeed, it being doubtful if there are 60 all told, children included.

The Rio Gallegos District. however, comprises a large area stretching S.S.E. to Capes Dungenes and Virgenes, some 100 kilometres distant, at the entrance to the Magellan Straits; S.W. to the Chilean frontier about 60 kilometres distant; West to the Chilean frontier some 200 kilometres distant and North West to the Lago Argentino, some 300 kilometres distant.

Sheep-farming is the principal and practically only industry of the district. Some coal has been discovered in the back zones, which may be quite rich in minerals, but the cost of transport to port is prohibitive. The district is divided into many sheep-farming establishments, some large, very large, and others small, although few of the latter are less than 20,000 hectares (8 square leagues) in size. The larger farms, mostly in the southern part of the district are privately owned, by companies both British and local, and by individuals, whilst the smaller ones to the North and North West are mostly rented from the Government. Fortunately the bulk of the farms in which members of the British community are to be found in one capacity or another, owner, manager or shepherd, are situated nearest to port and are on the telephone which has greatly facilitated the work of the various committees of the District.

Despite the size of the District, the population is not large and the British Community is a relatively very small one, possibly some 250 all told including those living in town with persons of dual nationality predominating.

There is an excellent club in town called The British Club, reformed some years back and now affiliated to the Strangers Club in Buenos Aires. This club serves as the meeting place of the town residents: London Bank employees, Frigorífico Swift employees (both American and British and the former have generously helped in the Community effort), members of accountancy firms, etc., and the less constant visitors, the camp members, when in town. The club committee has served as the nucleus of the B. C. C. District Committee.

So much for the District, now for a rough and very small sketch of the work done therein.

The town members of the District Committee and Sub~Committees, have borne the brunt of the work of the various collections in the way of administration, accountancy and secretarial duties but from this it is not to be inferred that camp members of these committees have been less active. Far from it, they have generally been the inspiration and brains behind the various activities of the community, especially in connection with the collections for the Red Cross to which the endeavours of all have been specially dedicated.

No opportunity was lost to get the community together for the purpose of raising funds. Gymkhanas were held at central points in the camp, and bazaars and jumble sales were held in town. The former usually took place during the warmer (comparatively speaking) days of summer whilst the latter were usually held round about Empire Day, a date which, for many years back, has always been celebrated in Rio Gallegos by a treat (tea, toys and sometimes a lecture) for the children, followed on in the evening by a ball for the grown~ups to which the notabilities of the town are always invited. The enthusiasm of the Community can better be understood when it is remembered that on the 24th May the winter has already begun in these regions, the days are short (Latitude about 51.5 South) and the thermometer, especially at night, more often than not, marks below zero. Quite a number of the Community travel over 100 kilometres to get to town and are not deterred by the bad roads and cold weather.

Concerts have been got up and several raffles organized at different times but a continuous effort was maintained through what was styled "The Red Cross Shop". Here meat, vegetables and flowers, donated by camp members of the Community, and friends, were sold to town residents, the members of the Community, especially the ladies taking it in turns to look after the shop, the assistance of the men being required when cutting up of the meat became necessary. Easy work? Not quite. There is a case on record, an exception it is true, during a meat shortage in town, when the shop managed to dispose of 40 lambs and a bullock in little over half an hour!!!

The District responded extremely well to the call for help for the Prisoners of War with results which compare favourably with those of any other District of the B. C. C.

The total results of the District's work during the course of the war is given below but before going into detail it is necessary to emphasize the very willing cooperation of the various companies in the zone, as distinct from individuals, and especially to emphasize the ever welcome assistance and cooperation of firms and persons outside the British Community in the way of donations to the Red Cross. The collection of salvage gave plenty of work to the small community of Rio Gallegos but their efforts would hardly have been worth while when salvage had to be sent to Buenos Aires for sale, had it not been for the kindly and willing assistance accorded by the S. A. Importadora y Exportadora de la Patagonia whose boats offered to take one ton of salvage per month to Buenos Aires free of charge.

Total District War effort up to and including August 1945.

British Patriotic Fund $ 122,935.47
British Community Fund 6,747.50
Prisoners of War Adoption Scheme 119,112.29
British Red Cross Sub-Committee 415,849.95
Patagonian Spitfire Fund 100,778.93
Poppy Fund 7,231.85
Winston Churchill Fund
(Wings for Winston)
Spitfire and "V" Emblems sold 1,387.99
Fellowship of the Bellows 20,671.70
Ambulance Fund (£ 1,150 at $17) 19,550.00
British Women's Patriotic Committee (Collected through subscriptions, donations, cocktail parties, etc. ) 20,181.70
Total $ 837,189.38

The British Women's Knitting Guild knitted, or made, the following garments which were forwarded to the British Women's Patriotic Committee in Buenos Aires for despatch to Great Britain:

37 baby sleeping bags
359 pullovers for the Forces
68 pairs of pyjamas
115 shirts
160 pairs of socks
105 women's and children's pullovers
202 other garments - helmets, mittens, scarves, etc.
1,046 Total

The SALVAGE SUB-COMMITTEE forwarded to the Central Dump in Buenos Aires 24,906 kilos of old metal, gramophone records, corks, bottle tops, silver paper, paper, cardboard, etc., etc.

370 kilos of lamb skins were forwarded to Buenos Aires for lining the coats of crews working on minesweepers.

Two shipments of books and records were made to the MISSION TO SEAMEN, Buenos Aires.

£ 8,590 worth of British Government Bonds were sold through the medium of the Committee.

Supplies and books etc. were donated to British boats calling at Rio Gallegos, and officers and men suitably entertained.

L. D. Garrard A. L. McQuibran F. Gould
Chairman Secretary Treasurer

Source: Unidentified B.C.C. newsletter (published end-1945)
Photograph: courtesy of Liz Patterson (VIII-2010)
Thanks: British Club, Río Gallegos (I-2012)
Last update: 31-I-2012