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The Captain General of the Royal Marines visits Four Five Commando

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

On a day of National mourning (9th of April 2021) I think it appropriate to add my reminiscences to the many (22% of the population, according to Gyles Brandreth, have met Prince Phillip). It won’t surprise you to know that I am a staunch Royalist.

I was lucky enough to attend a Royal Marine Officers’ dinner club night in London when our Captain General was the guest, and it was generally considered advantageous if one was not seated next to him because his sharp mind and encyclopaedic memory would inevitably catch one out. Nevertheless, we all brushed up on our Corps history, both modern and ancient, as he was sure to know more than us. He did not give a speech as he was amongst friends, his Corps, and consequently was simply there to enjoy himself. There was much hilarious raucous laughter that night; a real boys-only event.

On another occasion he visited Royal Marines Poole officially, with her Majesty, who was breaking a long period of abstinence from the Corps, to mark the 40th anniversary of D-Day. I was privileged to be the liaison officer for the 100 veterans of D-Day who attended. All were former Royal Marine Commandos who had landed on D-Day and were serving in Commando units at the time, from Marine to Major General, and a more impressive group of broken-nosed bruisers, some in their nineties and still marching in time, I have yet to see. They were simply awesome. They had all just returned from the main celebrations in Normandy and it was a fabulous day. The SBS and Landing Craft people put on a wonderful display and the weather was perfect. It ended with tea and stickies on the lawn with both of them. A red letter day for me.

But my most treasured memory goes back to my days as a Marine, when deployed to North Norway and the unit, Four Five Commando, put on a full display of our various mountain and arctic warfare skills for him. It was in the early spring of 1980 and towards the end of our annual 3 months in the Arctic.

I was in Recce Troop and three months earlier, as a rehearsal for the forthcoming visit and as part of a demonstration for a Senior VIP, we had built a covert Observation Post in the attic roof space of a derelict farm on the far side of the airfield in Condor Barracks, Arbroath. The VIP ascended a vertical ladder, wearing immaculate number 2 service dress, into complete darkness and just as I - lying on a plank beneath him - was about to describe the HF radio I was operating, he stepped off a joist and shot down through the plaster ceiling. The troop commander, invisible in the murk, stepped forward nimbly and grabbed his lapels as the ADC and others below, now covered in plaster dust and lath, supported his feet as a brief vertical tug-of-war ensued, both parties vying to rescue him. Fortunately, the murk hid our faces, but that was a genuine case of busting a rib in silent hysterics.

So, fast forward to North of the Arctic Circle and the big day has arrived. Once more we had built a superb covert observation post, this time in deep snow, that entailed a long communication tunnel, now completely invisible after successive snow falls, that lead to the snowhole that was the observation post itself. This had been cut in half in order to give the Captain General easy access. He arrived and sat down next to me. I started to describe my range card and the ground that we were observing, then the log sheets we kept, and the various observation kit we had to assist us, and just as I was handing him a steaming mug of pusser’s hot chocolate in a burnished aluminium mug, complete with skanky maskers on the rim to avoid burning my lips, there was a “whoosh” from behind us, followed a few seconds later by a hesitant cloud of snow dust that wafted into the OP. We all looked back to see why the tunnel had collapsed and saw the lower half of the same VIP we had met in Scotland. I can’t repeat the words that were heard in the OP over the next few moments, but as I was now running out of intact ribs, guffawing was the order of the day. He liked that.

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