By Cpl (Rtd) Steve Boden RM
An RMA North Devon led team of both current and former Royal Marines recently completed the Spean Bridge Train Station – Achnacarry Speed March in support of RMA – The Royal Marines Charity.
It was also completed to raise awareness of the ongoing Mental Health challenges faced within the RM and across all the Armed Forces. This iconic route was first undertaken by Commando’s during WWII, whereby when individuals arrived at the Spean Bridge Train Station, they had to complete the 7-mile (11Km) route to Achnacarry Castle with equipment and weapons within an hour. Those who were unsuccessful were returned to their unit the following day. This speed march was not only relevant 80years ago, but also remains key today were a comparable march (9-mile) is completed as one of the Commando Tests at CTCRM. It remains a rite of passage with gaining the coveted green beret.
The germ of the idea to complete this route emerged whilst at an RMA North Devon meeting, and having canvassed interest across the RMA and Army Commando community, a group of volunteers embarked on the long journey from Devon to Fort William. Given the deep-rooted connections the RM and Army Commando’s have across this region, the offer of local support was ever present. The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team provided nothing short of ‘first-rate’ support, spanning transport to providing refreshment stops on the route. Moreover, the expansive RMA network saw members visiting from Inverness and Perth, with former WO2 Ed Wilson RM arriving with the RMA colours – a poignant element of the finish point ceremony.
Subsequently, the team met at the Spean Bridge Train Station early on a Saturday morning with fine conditions to complete the route. Whilst it has been several years since most of the team had completed a Speed March, let alone run in boots with weighted daysacks, the team stepped off on the route with a positive mindset. Following a hard slog from Spean Bridge to the Commando Memorial, the team settled into a good pace, setting their sights firmly on completing the 9-mile route variation within 90mins. Spurred on by the overwhelming encouragement provided by the locals and tourists alike, the team quickly reached the Achnacarry estate.
On entering the area, to make the march even more challenging, a log was picked up and was passed around the team during the final few miles. With Achnacarry Castle firmly on the horizon, the team dug deep and managed to make the finish point within the 90mins. The warm reception provided at the finish point by RMA Scotland representatives, Achnacarry Estate Staff and Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team was exceptional. Having fell in outside the Castle, Donald Cameron of Loch Eil (who still resides in the Castle), offered up some kind words to several of the team members before a series of toasts were made in honour of current, former and lost comrades. A small gift was presented to Donald by Cpl Rick Coulson RM, which was a handmade poppy with soil embedded from Spean Bridge. In keeping with Commando traditions, the adjacent river provided the ideal backdrop to conduct a dhobi, prior to changing into jacket and tie for a short service at the Commando Memorial. A speech provided by Lt Col Veacock RM (RM Branch Manager SO1) on behalf of Brigadier Turner (DCGRM) was well received, which demonstrates our close-knit RM community.
The Team achieved what it set out to do, completing this iconic route as a team within the traditional timelines, whilst generating much-needed funds for the RM Charity and raising awareness of Mental Health. In the latter, as the RM ‘Lifting the Lid’ initiative will help support early diagnosis and treatment, it is incumbent on all of use to look after one another via the ‘Buddy Buddy’ system we have had ingrained within us during Commando Training. Having exceeded the £7k charity headmark, I would welcome any further donations, with the page linked here. Steve Burgess, the well-acclaimed Wild Life Artist made a painting of the Running Man (see below pictures) which is currently being auctioned. At the time of writing, the auction has already exceeded £350.
On behalf of Mr John Peel, Chairman of the RMA North Devon Branch, a big thank you to all participants and support staff with enabling this charity event.