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The Royal Marines Association, the official charity associated with Britain’s famous amphibious troops, says it hopes more respect will be shown in future after a group of bikers sparked outrage at the weekend when they set up tents and a campsite close to the iconic Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge.
More than 600 people expressed their anger after a local resident posted photographs of the 30-strong group, including some wearing leathers bearing the legend ‘Satan’s Slaves’ on the back, with tents at the memorial site on Friday night.
There were also reports of barbecues being held and it prompted multiple calls to the police and local MSP Kate Forbes appealing for action to be taken.
Some of those posting angry comments said they were relatives of Royal Marines whose ashes are scattered in the remembrance garden near the monument.
The site, which is Category A listed, is regarded by the Corps of the Royal Marines as hallowed ground as it overlooks the terrain where commandos trained during the Second World War. It has a number of prominent signs making it clear there is no camping and no overnight stays.
Several online posters claimed the group were ex-military or even former Royal Marines and part of a group due to parade in Fort William this weekend to mark the 80th anniversary of the formation of the commandos.
But this was dismissed by others, with one person explaining that particular parade had been cancelled some time ago due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
One Lochaber resident posted: ‘Disrespectful- would they camp in a graveyard?’ And one Oban resident posted: ‘My grandfather was in No 4 Commando and died in Holland in 1944. That memorial is our family’s main point of remembrance for him as we cannot visit his grave in Holland regularly.’
Asked if they were aware of the campsite, a spokesperson for Police Scotland said officers had attended and spoken to the group.
Advice was given and the group told officers they would move on in the morning and clean up after themselves.
The Lochaber Times contacted the Royal Marines Association (RMA) for a comment. Its Deputy Chief Executive, Brigadier Richard Spencer, told us: ‘The Commando Memorial is of considerable significance to not only the Royal Marines but also the wider commando community, with the ashes of many commandos being scattered in the Garden of Remembrance, which is maintained jointly by the Royal Marines, RMA – The Royal Marines charity – and Highland Council, and is sited adjacent to the Commando Memorial itself.
‘Whilst it would appear that no malicious damage has been done to the memorial or Garden of Remembrance, it is unfortunate that this group has chosen not to recognise the important historic and emotional significance of this site and to ignore the clear local anger at the perceived lack of respect shown.
‘We hope that, in future, the Commando Memorial is given the respect it deserves by all those visiting this historic site.’
Spean Bridge resident and former chairman of the local community council, John Fotheringham, said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ that people had opted to camp at the monument.
‘This is disrespectful, particularly as there is a garden of remembrance there and which is so important to so many families across the UK.
‘The ashes of a number of marines who served their country with distinction are scattered there.
‘This is probably the most important memorial in Lochaber as well as being of national significance in the UK.’
Local MSP Kate Forbes told the Lochaber Times: ‘I have seen images circulating tonight of people camping at the Commando Memorial. These are completely disrespectful and unacceptable.
‘The Commando Memorial requires respect; it is not a campsite. I am speaking to the police.’