We will remember them

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

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While Remembrance Day is always something that I have held close to my heart, I think this year has had special importance & poignancy for me; both because of the once in a life time date, 11.11.11, but also because this year I have been much more exposed to the sacrifice that so many people have given in service of their country. And so, I cannot think of a more fitting way to spend Remembrance weekend this year, than with my brother and the other Royal Marines of 45 Commando.

MEDALS PARADE

After a somewhat lengthy journey up to Arbroath, I met up with my family, both immediate and extended, and headed to RM Condor, home of 45 Commando. Given the temperamental Scottish weather, we were escorted to one of the hangers to watch the medal’s parade. As we sat in anticipation, I got goose bumps as the Royal Marines band marched in, instantly commanding the open space. Then marched in the brothers of 45 Commando; each one of them in precise unison with the other – to describe them as a close nit brotherhood really doesn’t do them justice.

In addition to the medal that Nick received along with the other 900 strong Commando Unit, he also was awarded with one for his exceptional service, above & beyond that of which was asked of him – a medal that only 3 others received. To say that I was proud of him is a complete understatement; I have never been more proud.

After the official ceremony Nick showed us around Condor, and I have to say that I think we may have a mini-Marine in our midst. My nephew decided to jump straight into scaling the heights of the climbing wall, and while a little big for him now, I think the Green Beret very much suited him – better not tell his Mum I said that.

_________________________________________________

As the light started to fade, we visited the newly opened Woodlands Garden. um I said that.__

45 COMMANDO ROYAL MARINES WOODLANDS GARDEN

The Woodlands Garden has seen an ambitious project convert it into a focal point for remembrance and reflection in 45 Commando. They lacked such a place and the project is timely given the operational burden shouldered by the Unit in recent years and the sacrifice paid by its men. The Commando has undertaken four tours of Afghanistan since 2002; during the same period it has also seen operations in Iraq. Since 2006 fifteen men of the Commando have lost their lives and many more have been seriously wounded, a significant number profoundly so. And that is to say nothing of those who are physically unscathed but who have seen things which they would have chosen not to see.

We sought a place for our families and ourselves, along with wider friends and supporters of the Commando, to reflect, remember and contemplate. We wanted it to strike the right balance between sadness and celebration and to be somewhere for those carrying the unseen mental scars to decompress and adjust in the aftermath of operational tours.”

At the heart of the garden is a large piece of granite, hewn with the names of all those who have lost their lives in the service of 45 Commando since it moved to Condor in 1971. Amongst other items, the garden also contains a superb centrepiece in the image of the cap badge of the Royal Marines, along with commemorative rocks where men of the Commando have served and fallen since 1971; Northern Ireland, Norway, the Falkland Islands, Kosovo, Iraq & Afghanistan.

As I circled around the garden with my nephew in my arms, we visited each of the rocks, with him asking me about each of the places that the Unit had visited – and saying that he is not even three years old, he is an incredibly switched on little boy. We met his mum in the middle of the garden, where he lay a special cross of remembrance at the wall of the fallen. As I stood back and watched him, I was trying to force back the tears, as I am now while writing this, thinking of what those men had given so freely, so bravely and so selflessly.

We will remember them.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL OLIVER LEE

To finish off the afternoon we were invited to Bewley Hall, to be addressed by the Commanding Officer of 45 Commando, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Lee. After a sneak preview of the upcoming documentary by Ross Kemp (which as it turns out features Nick heavily in the first episode), he told us about his command of the Unit in Afghanistan, and what they’ve achieved in just seven months – I say just seven months, but whilst Nick was out there, it felt so infinitely longer. He spoke of the progress that they’ve made with the local Afghan army, increased stabilisation of the region, and even educational reform with the introduction of a girls school. It was very humbling to hear how both he and his Unit put the welfare of the Afghan people before that of their own. Having been bombarded with crap from the media over recent months, it was incredibly refreshing to hear of the good that they’ve achieved, and how much progress they’ve made.

I forget the exact figures, but the reduction in summertime fighting in 2011 compared to the two previous years was astounding. The 80,000 people populating Nad-e Ali were not seen with suspicion and doubt, but seen as potential counter-insurgents, seen with hope and optimism. The strategic vision that Lt Col Lee had given the Unit was just awe inspiring. Simply put, I could not think of anyone I would have put my trust in, to lead those men into battle and to bring them home safely, more so than him.

 

LUNAN BAY

The day after my parents took me & my nephew to Lunan Bay – a prominent location for 45 Commando training runs, along with being the opening scenes of Ross Kemp’s Return to Afghanistan documentary.

 I can’t really explain the feeling of being on that deserted beach, the sand stretching for what seemed like miles, in front of a harsh and unforgiving sea. It was clear to see why 45 Commando was based in Arbroath – the surrounding areas provided a home training ground which would test even the toughest of athletes.

 REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Last year I similarly spent Remembrance Sunday with Nick, Jodie, Toby & my parents – we went to their local church for the Remembrance service, before walking down to the War Memorial in Bramham for a two minute silence. Standing there in the cold autumnal sunshine, while remembering those who had given their lives previously, I can recall being incredibly selfish in my thoughts. Knowing that Nick was due to be deployed a mere 4 months after, I was praying that I would not be stood there a year on remembering him.

I was praying for his safe return and whilst I am not a religious person, I thank God that my prayers were answered.

This year, we attended a remarkably moving service in the Woodlands Garden at RM Condor.

REMEMBERING THE FALLEN

As we arrived at the Woodlands Garden, we were met with the superbly powerful sight of 45 Commando dressed in their blues, lining the garden. The sheer power of their spirit emanated throughout, as they stood shoulder to shoulder, brothers in arms.

As we listened to Lt Col Lee and the Chaplain, I’m sure that the words spoken brought about different feelings and emotions for everyone there. For me they brought feelings of remembrance, sadness and celebration. Remembrance of the bravery displayed and sacrifice given by those that had fallen, the sadness of those that they had left behind, and celebration of the good that their efforts have achieved. This year, as the Royal British Legion commemorates 90 Years from The Somme to Helmand Province, I can say without hesitation, that their lives have definitely not been lost in vain.

For our tomorrow, they gave their today.

 As the service drew to a close, the names of the Marines who had died in the last year were read out, and amongst those, Lance Corporal Martin Joseph Gill from 42 Commando – an extremely close friend of my brother during his training. On Sunday 5th June 2011, while on patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province, LCpl Gill was engaged in small arms fire, where he was hit and fatally wounded. He tragically and sadly died of his wounds.

His Commanding Officer, Lt Col Ewan Murchison saw him as a true hero, “he died taking the fight to the enemy in the finest of traditions of the Royal marines: selfless, resolute, and courageous to the end.”

Although my brother doesn’t speak much of Gill now, I know that the news hit him hard. And whilst the tears got the better of me when his name was called, I couldn’t think of a better tribute to him, than being with Nick and the other Royal Marines of 45 Commando at RM Condor in their ‘garden of remembrance’.

A fitting close, to an incredibly moving and emotional weekend.

__________________________________________________

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge

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About benjonlambert

Mountain climber, marathon runner, Olympic torchbearer & ACF instructor amongst other things: "Success never came to those who weren't ready for a challenge"
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One Response to We will remember them

  1. christine lambert says:

    definately your best one yet ben, so proud to be part of it all ,keep up the good work xx

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