Bikers branded ‘selfish’ for camping at commando memorial

The sight of tents pitched close to the Commando Memorial was met with anger from local people. NO F28 Commando Memorial campsite

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The Appin granddaughter of a Second World War commando killed in action has been left heartbroken and deeply offended by ‘selfish’ bikers who camped at a memorial near Spean Bridge.

Susan Simpson sent an open letter via The Oban Times hoping it would reach those who put up tents around the Commando Memorial causing hurt and distress to many, she said.

Photographs posted on Facebook showing the leather-clad group, some with the legend Satan’s Slaves on their backs, and their tents on Friday attracted 600 angry responses via social media within 24 hours.

The memorial 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.

NO F22 commando memorial
The Commando Memorial. Photograph: Abrightside Photography.
William Harvey who gave his life liberating a German-occupied Dutch town is remembered on a plaque at the Spean Bridge Commando Memorial.
William Harvey’s widow Margaret, wearing a broach on her coat, with No 4 Commando widows Peggy Wells and Jean Keenan meeting the Queen Mother at the unveiling of Spean Bridge Memorial. Lord Lovat is in the kilt.

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 to mark the 80th anniversary of the formation of the commandos, but that particular parade was cancelled some time ago due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The Royal Marines Association, the official charity associated with Britain’s famous amphibious troops, said it hoped more respect will be shown in future.

Multiple calls were made to police, a spokesperson for Police Scotland said officers attended and spoken to the group who said they would move on in the morning and clean up after themselves.

Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Marines Association (RMA), Brigadier Richard Spencer, said: ‘While 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.’

In her open letter to the bikers, Susan said: ‘You desecrated, dishonoured and violated a hallowed and revered space.’

Susan’s grandfather William Harvey was just 29 when he was gunned down by the Nazis in 1944 while helping to liberate the Dutch town of Vlissingen. Although  buried  in Holland, her family has treated the Commando Memorial as his grave since it was built in 1952.

‘The Memorial is tantamount to a grave for us to visit, a special place that holds decades, generations of family memories associated with the Gramps I never knew, who trained hard on that ground in Lochaber to earn his beret. Nothing you did at the Memorial makes me feel that you honoured his memory or the sacrifice that he and so many he served with made,’ said her letter to the bikers.

Some posts on Facebook over the weekend also made claims the bikers were delivering PPE, while others said they were acting on information there were plans by Black Lives Matter to deface the monument and they wanted to protect it.

But Susan said there was no excuse for camping on a sanctified area.

‘Since 1952 countless families have gathered at the Memorial to honour the memory of veterans past and present. Countless families have chosen this site as the last resting place for their loved ones,’ she said in her letter, adding: ‘There are families across the UK who are hurting and distressed because they saw your tents pitched right over the very spot they chose to scatter their loved one’s ashes.’

Her letter read: ‘If any of the bikers happen upon my letter here, let me assure you – you did not honour the memory of my grandfather with what you did.

‘Did you not think when you read the numerous signs explaining the sacredness of the whole site, that perhaps this was not the best place to camp, eat, drink and goodness knows what else?

‘Did you really think that one portaloo for your whole group was suffice, especially in a pandemic when we still have to be mindful that any one of us could be a carrier?’

Susan, who signed off the letter as a proud commando granddaughter, ended by asking for a public apology ‘for the distress and heartache’ caused to the families of Commandos ‘through your selfish acts’.

There were reports that some of the bikers moved on to Oban on Saturday, urinating at the back of the Railway Station and being abusive when confronted by staff. Police were called.

Grieg Brown, who works at the station, said two of the bikers were caught on CCTV urinating  one in a recycling bin.

He said: ‘They didn’t apologise for what they were doing, they just got abusive and swore at me.’