Monday, 11 April 2011
Spean Bridge Commando Monument - A featured memorial
Today's featured memorial is one of the best known monuments in Scotland. I saw it on the BBC website the other day in a piece about Johnny Ramensky, the safe-cracker turned Commando, and thought it should get a blog post.
Even if people don't actually know where Spean Bridge is (it is near Fort William), they know why it is there. During the Second World War the Commandos had their main training camp at Achnacarry castle, part of Cameron of Locheil's Lochaber estate.
When new recruits for the Commandos got off the train at Spean Bridge railway station they had to march seven miles to Achnacarry past the junction of the A82 and B8004. In 1952 the Queen Mother unveiled Scott Sutherland's magnificent memorial to the commandos at this, the most scenic point of their journey with views to Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr. As it says on the plaque on the plinth, "This country was their training ground".
I remember visiting it as a child and being overawed by it. Scott Sutherland got it just right and you can see why he won the design competition. I doubt if the great Scottish sculptor Alexander Carrick (one of Sutherland 's tutors) could have captured the Commandos so perfectly in bronze.
Even the inscription on the base could not have been bettered: "United We Conquer". This reflects the multi-ratial and inter-service aspect of the wartime Commandos. There were soldiers, sailors, marines; British, French, Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Yugolsvian and even German and Austrian Jewish Commandos. All were united in their desire to beat the Nazis.
The Commandos left Achnacarry after the Second World War and the army and foreign commandos disbanded. It was up to the Royal Navy and specifically the Royal Marines to continue to wear the green beret.
In recent years this war memorial to brave men of the Second World War has taken on a new meaning. People who had no connection to the Second World War Commandos travel to Spean Bridge to leave a tribute to their own fallen Commando. A memorial garden has been built nearby for these small tributes for men who died in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, or men who served for many years as a Royal Marine Commando and have recently passed away.
Modern RM Commandos are trained, based and serve many miles away from Spean Bridge; but their spiritual home is the land above the River Spean overlooked by three powerful bronze warriors.