Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

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Returning heroes

Posted by Oli on Saturday 9th May, 2009

So this week (well, since Wednesday) has been spent in Plymouth, home of 42 Commando Royal Marines, for their homecoming celebrations after their 7-month tour of Afghanistan.

Festivities started with a parade through the centre of Plymouth on Thursday morning. The Marines had hoped that the crowds would be big enough to ensure a solid single-file line of supporters along the route. They were wrong. Very, very wrong. There was a solid line of crowd around the whole route, but it was 3-4 people deep everywhere and at points that rose to 7 or 8 people deep. The reception was fantastic and the Marines were clearly all stuggling with a mixture of emotions ranging from proud to humbled, relieved to saddened.

Nothing like a parade of all the men in the Commando serves to highlight the loss of the 3 men who never returned. As the Commando filed passed the families of the fallen men – Marine Georgie Sparks, Marine Tony Evans and Lance Corporal Ben Whatley – on the dais, they saluted their memory. Everyone in the crowd, as jublilant as we all were, spared a though and shed a tear for the families who didn’t get to see their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers marching past with their mates.

After the parade the family all took a wander with Bro up on the Hoe, before grabbing a cracking lunch on Princess Street, after which he left us to return to Bickleigh for the tree planting ceremony for Georgie, Tony and Ben. Doubtless an emotional occasion, it does help to provide all sides with closure on the events of the last 7 months.

That evening we headed out to the Tanner Brother’s Barbican Kitchen for a meal which blew us all away. After dinner we headed out for a nightcap before calling it quits pathetically early for a party-week in Marine-ville.

Friday began with the worst hotel breakfast in the world – disappointing as the hotel at been pretty good up to that point – followed by a parade and medal ceremony back at the Bickleigh barracks, which we managed to see but sadly not hear since either the sound-system went wrong on our side of the field or else the wind simply carried the noise off.

Then we grabbed a couple of cheeky drinks before heading into the middle or Dartmoor to the Warren Pub/Inn/Freehouse where I had my first rabbit pie for absolutely ages. Apparently renowned for their pies I was soon jealously coveting Bro’s steak and ale pie after having a sneeky dunk of a chip in the gravy. Heaven. If you can find it out on the Moors – nestled at the side of the road just beyond Princetown – you’ll have a gem of an experience and a cracking meal.

After heading back to Bickers and then into the country for a bit of a walk – more sheltered than the Moors but with no less phenomenal a back-drop – we shot back to the hotel for a little R&R before another night out. This time starting at Artillery Tower restaurant, a quaint and friendly little eatery crammed full of character and quirks, we then headed back to meet Dazz at the hotel after his trek down from Leeds to spend some time with his cousin – also a 42 man – for a drink.

The hotel bar was populated by a number of…inebriated people who were all, let’s say, of a certain age. A large contingent of them were present to commemorate the HMS Gloucester’s – The Fighting “G” – stirling work during the German invasion of Crete before it’s eventual sinking in 1941. As soon as they realised/heard/overheard that Bro was a Marine, the place exploded into a riot of congratulations, handshakes, backslaps and war-stories. From a bunch of people who’d never actually been to war. Go figure.

Once we’d extracted ourselves from the bar, we headed into town and hit the nightlife hard. I eventually stopped drinking around midnight, knowing that making myself ill is a big no-no post-tx, but stayed out with Bro and Dazz watching the latter trying to keep pace with a man he should never be able to keep pace with. Ouch.

This morning, once we’d risen from our stupor, we headed out to the Dartmoor Diner outside Bickleigh for a bit of brekkie before hitting the shops on the Barbican from some bits and pieces, then heading off on a leisurely drive home.

It was a great “weekend”, spending time with my Bro and the family all together, eating and drinking far too much, but enjoying every minute of it. As you get older you realise how rare these occasions become when you can all spend time together without someone having to dash off somewhere and it was made all the more special by the true purpose of the occasion to congratulate 42 Commando Royal Marines on everything they’ve done for our country doing a sometimes thankless job. And, of course, paying our respects and tipping our hat to the three men for whose families there was no such celebration this weekend.

God bless you all, Georgie, Tony and Ben – let your deaths not be in vain.

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One Response to “Returning heroes”

  1. Woody said

    I’m very conflicted about the war in Iraq, but less so about Afghanistan; I think it’s important that it doen’t slip back into extremism, for the woman of the country if nothing else.

    Worth remembering we wouldn’t be in this mess if the Americans (with our support) hadn’t set the taliban up in the country in the 80s, I guess we have to be prepared to clean up our own mess.

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