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Sailors rally to help Commonwealth families hit by volcano

HMS Medway runners Able Seaman Cavan Robinson and Engineering Technician Shane ‘Stella’ McCartney
28 April 2021
Sailors across the Navy have rallied round to help thousands of Caribbean islanders whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by a volcano.

An estimated 20,000 people in St Vincent – the largest island in the small Commonwealth state of St Vincent and the Grenadines – have been displaced by the unexpected and violent eruptions of La Soufrière.

Outside the Caribbean, the disaster has hit the RN especially hard as more than 500 serving personnel hail from the island chain.

They watched the alarming footage of the first major eruption in more than 40 years which dumped a thick layer of ash over homes and public buildings and led to widespread evacuation of people to temporary camps – where they require the basics of life.

Naval charities in the Portsmouth area got involved with collections almost immediately.

They’ve been joined now by personnel from RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, the crew of patrol ship HMS Medway and frigate HMS Lancaster.

“My heart is saddened, my eyes are weary, my peace is disturbed. It looks like a scene from a movie – seeing my beautiful island in ruins and my people displaced is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Able Seaman Shantal Quammie, a writer with 815 Naval Air Squadron.

“I can recall stories my father shared with me from his horrifying experience during the 1979 volcanic eruption. Lo and behold another is unfolding right before us.”

She and fellow Vincentians have been collecting the fundamentals of life to send to their homeland: bedding, shelter, tinned food, basic medical supplies and painkillers, clothing, batteries and torches, clothing (especially for children). A collection point has been set up outside the air station’s chaplaincy.

It looks like a scene from a movie – seeing my beautiful island in ruins and my people displaced is beyond my wildest dreams

Able Seaman Shantal Quammie, 815 NAS

The sailors of HMS Medway are split between Mayport, Florida (where the vessel’s undergoing maintenance) and the offwatch ‘Red crew’ (in HMS Nelson).

They each set themselves the target of covering 166 miles (the square mileage of the entire island chain) by rowing, running, walking and cycling either in Portsmouth or Mayport Naval Bases.

The team in Portsmouth covered 49.35 miles collectively before exhaustion took hold while in Florida – spurred on by Vincentians Chef Bernard Gloster and Marine Enginer Shaquille Barbour whose families are dealing with the fallout of the eruptions – the 40-strong ship’s company knocked out 250.3 miles.

 Despite the broiling Florida heat, Able Seaman Cavan Robinson and Engineering Technician Shane ‘Stella’ McCartney ran 15 miles each in 2 hours 20 minutes.

Medway’s efforts raised £1,860, which will be distributed among families being assisted by two emergency shelters on St Vincent: Fair Hall Primary School and Bethel Secondary School.

 HMS Lancaster has chipped in with £1,595 by rallying friends and family. Vincentian Petty Officer Astha ‘Ash’ McMillan called on the frigate’s family to donate on behalf of local charity, Country Meets Town, which is working alongside the authorities to provide essential support for people in public and private shelters.

Beyond encouraging friends to dig into their pockets, the senior rating is in training for the Three Peaks Challenge (conquering the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales) for the same cause this summer.

“I really wanted to support my fellow Vincentians in the Northern Zone through this difficult time and am hugely grateful for every donation,” he said.

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