Back in 2010 I visited the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge.
It wasn’t somewhere in the hills I had planned to visit. I had been on a touring holiday in Scotland, but once I saw the sign on the road-side I knew I would have to stop and take a look at this memorial dedicated the Commandos of World War 2.
Back in the 1980s I’d spent a day at the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone in Devon. As a civilian, I found the whole visit there like walking through a scene from a James Bond. Everywhere I looked, something was happening. As we walked up from the dedicated railway station, there were guys running everywhere. Overhead there were fellas going along wires that been strung. Nobody seemed to walk anywhere. They were always jogging, so our little group of visitors kept getting in the way and guys literally had to run around us.
I later found out that the rule at the time was only those who had completed the training course and had earned the right to wear the coveted bottle green beret of the Royal Marine Commando were allowed to walk outside.
Having seen some of the trainees is action, it put things into perspective on the achievements each of each man, just be able to join their Commando.
The memorial itself was erected in 1952 and was unveiled by the HM The Queen Mother on 27th September of that year.
When I was there, there wasn’t a crowd. There were a few people who, like myself had come to pay a visit, but one thing I did notice was how quiet it was. People, if they did speak, used hushed tones. It seemed fitting somehow to do that in a place dedicated to these heroes.
The Army Commandos of World War 2 featured in the 17ft bronze statue are quite imposing figures and I did spend a little time wondering if they were the faces of real men who had served during the war. All three have stern expressions and appear to be looking out at a target or their next objective. There were a thousand stories in each of their faces and I wondered what the surviving Commandos could tell, or choose to keep to themselves.
A short walk from the memorial a garden of remembrance has been added to the site. This is where the modern Royal Marines are remembered. I was familiar with 45 Commando, 40 Commando and 42 Commando of the Royal Marines and saw those designations appear on several of the small plaques that had been left there by surviving relatives. What I was not prepared for, and it hit me like a punch in the stomach, was the ages of the young men who were being remembered. Men in their early twenties most of whom had died in Afghanistan.
I’ll never the level of courage exhibited by the Commandos and my generation has never been asked to be tested by war. However, the memorial and the garden of remembrance are a testament to the skills and bravery of young men, asked to take incredible risks by the politicians of their day.