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French commandos return to their Scottish roots celebrating 80 years alongside Royal Marines

8 July 2022
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French marines paid homage at the imposing Scottish monument which honours all commandos to mark their 80th birthday.

Fifty Commandos Marine joined their Royal Marines counterparts from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group from Faslane at Spean Bridge, near Fort William, where tens of thousands of first-generation commandos from the free world trained to defeat Fascism at the height of World War 2.

Among those early Commandos were volunteers from the Free French Forces who were trained alongside British counterparts at Achnacarry Castle in Lochaber and who went on to participate in the Normandy Landings as well as other crucial WW2 operations.

The Commandos Marine – the Special Operations Forces of the French Navy – were formed in 1942, modelled on British commandos established after Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for the formation of a small group of highly-trained troops to operate clandestinely.

The Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry was created in 1942 and all commandos were trained there.

This included newly-formed Royal Marines Commando units and an inter-allied unit known as 10 Commando which was raised from volunteers from several occupied European countries, including troops of Free French Forces, loyal to France’s future leader Charles de Gaulle.

“The modern French Commando units are directly descended from the unit suggested by Phillipe Kieffer, a French naval officer in 1942,” explained Lieutenant Commander Nicolas de Joux, who organised the anniversary pilgrimage.

 

It is a privilege for us Royal Marines to be invited to attend this service at the Commando Monument and the service itself had more of a French flavour that the ones we usually have here.

Brigadier Andy Muddiman RM

“So, coming here to Achnacarry, to see where it all began and realise how difficult it must have been for those men is just amazing.

“We are also really pleased to be able to hold a parade at the Commando Monument at Spean Bridge, such a breath-taking position. Our colleagues in the Royal Marines come here all the time, but for us this is entirely new and it’s a real honour.”

As with Royal Marines, they wear a coveted green beret, pulled to the right with the badge over the left eye – the opposite of other French military units but the same as today’s Royal Marine Commandos – in recognition of their origins.

The bérets verts joined the green berets on a speed march, replicating the seven-mile route from the railway station to Achnacarry Castle which prospective commandos had to complete.

“This area of Scotland is very much the birthplace for our commando forces,” said Brigadier Andy Muddiman RM, Naval Regional Commander Scotland & Northern Ireland.

“For our French colleagues this visit has been really important and has reconnected them with their roots.”

He continued: “It is a privilege for us Royal Marines to be invited to attend this service at the Commando Monument and the service itself had more of a French flavour that the ones we usually have here. 

“I’m delighted that we have been able to help facilitate this visit for our NATO partner and clearly we share that close bond as Commandos.

“However, I think that it’s the landscape itself that has really delivered the most impact.  It is that sense of being here, in ‘Commando Country’, which is so important and will have made a lasting impression on them.”

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