United We Conquer – We Survived the Yomp

Hugh EwartIt’s 1943. A young Hugh Ewart aged eighteen arrives by train at Spean Bridge. He is part of a band of recruits from across the armed services that have been selected to do the newly created Commando course on the Achnacarry Estate. On disembarking the train they are told they have to speed-march eight miles  up to Achnacarry Castle in under an hour. Failure to do so means being immediately returned to unit (RTU).

In the dark and dangerous times of World War II, the remote and rugged terrain of the Scottish highlands provided a demanding training ground for new and tougher types of combat. Over this rugged landscape and coastline recruits were taken through their paces and pushed to their limits, and the estates that supported them became to be known as “Commando Country”. Achnacarry became the official Commando Basic Training Centre; Legendary for its toughness and the iconic “Green Beret” once you successfully passed through it.

Back to young Hugh Ewart and his fellow Commando recruit’s six weeks of arduous training. Their instructions were relentless; from explosives and demolitions; amphibious assaults under live fire, climbing and abseiling large cliffs, living off the land, navigation at night, camouflage and all weather survival to name but a few. They were instructed in close combat disciplines developed by ‘Fairbairn and Sykes’ while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police. This was combined with physical training which included the first “Tarzan” assault course, death slide and finally the infamous thirty mile “Yomp” with full equipment across the Scottish highlands to be completed in less than eight hours.

The results were incredible. In just six weeks Hugh and his fellow commandos would leave as the most resourceful, fit and confident soldiers with the coveted green beret which “separated the men from the boys”. Hugh and the newly fledged Commandos marched away from Achnacarry to join their units and on to action overseas. Some never returned, but all are remembered by the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge with the immortal words “United We Conquer”.

“In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939–1945. This country was their training ground.” 

On Friday 13th September 2013, as Hugh finished his talk, to us, on life at Achnacarry, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his original green beret, put it on and saluted us! A tear of pride and respect rolled down my cheek. We weren’t going to let him down.

Reveille at 5:30am, followed by coaches at 6:00am to the start line and a briefing from the Founder of Commando Spirit Sally-Anne Hunter…“you are the first people to officially yomp this land since the end of Commando Training in 1945”.

We set off in small units of six to twelve along the beautiful Loch Lochy with the towering Ben Nevis in the background. Accompanied by serving Royal Marine Commandos we made quick work of the first nine miles but by this point blisters, aches and pains had started to kick-in. Our Royal Marine Commandos would patch us up and keep us yomping, a mixture of fast walking and double time marching.  A few hours later we grind ourselves up to the inspiring Commando Memorial. We stop for a quick photo and snack, and set off again with just under seven miles to go. As the miles slowly melted away we arrive at the gates of Achnacarry Castle to be greeted by a loan Scottish Bagpiper, from RMA Highlands Division. Playing military marching music lifted our spirits and gave us the strength to push on for the final mile and finish the Yomp in seven and half hours exactly. My photos from “Surviving the Yomp”

In thirty miles we got much more than an arduous march and stunning Scottish scenery. We got an insight into the Commando Spirit: the importance of determination, cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and selflessness. That’s why the Royal Marine Commandos have the mindset in any situation to be the first to understand, the first to adapt and respond and the first to overcome. Great attributes we should all adopt in whatever role we do.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot

Thank you to all those who have sponsored me and if you would like to support the Commando Spirit Appeal for the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund please sponsor me http://www.justgiving.com/Rob-Gardner8

Finally thank you to Sally-Anne Hunter and her Super Team at Commando Spirit including Andy, Cath, Francois, Greig, Jackie, Joanna, Paul and Linn, and the Royal Marines (from 45 Commando, 43 Commando), RMR Scotland and RMA Highland Division who gave up their precious weekends to help out and make the event happen, to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, Chief of Clan Cameron and owner of Achnacarry for his support and encouragement and to Hugh Ewart for his inspiration.

If you are up for the challenge registrations are open for 2014.