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Highland Council is being urged to abandon part of its plans for an extension to the memorial garden at the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge to allow for further consideration and consultation with veterans groups.
The call came from Bill Harvey, a Highland member of the national committee of the Commando Association, who is objecting to the design and the proposed area of the extension, which he says would see granite boulders placed in the area where there are memorial plaques and where the ashes of a number of former marines have been scattered.
Mr Harvey’s own father was killed while serving with the Army’s No 4 Commando in the Netherlands in 1944. As a widow of one of those commemorated by the memorial, Mr Harvey’s mother, Margaret, was among those invited to the unveiling of the memorial in 1952 at which she was introduced to The Queen Mother.
The Highland Council recently explained that proposed redevelopment is a result of discussions between the Commando Veterans’ Association – now replaced by the Commando Association – and the Royal Marines Association, with whom it manages the famous site under a tripartite agreement.
The council said the proposal will provide a more protected, fitting environment for tributes being laid and will also help those with mobility difficulties and give a little more social distancing.
The middle of the garden will be infilled with rough boulders appropriately sourced from nearby Achnacarry Estate – where the main wartime commando training depot was located – and the tributes moved to the ‘outer circle’ providing more space for them to be properly displayed.
Prior to the works, the council says all the existing tributes will be carefully removed, stored and then put back in the garden once works are complete as it did when it last extended the garden.
However, Mr Harvey, who made it clear his objection is personal and not an official one from the Commando Association, has now contacted local MSPs and Lochaber MP Iain Blackford over his concerns.
Speaking to the Lochaber Times from his home near Oban, he told us: ‘I have been coming to the memorial for years and you would find ashes scattered all over the site. There was a specific area for scattering ashes but I know that many of the Commandos wanted their ashes beside the plaque in the central area [of the garden] and their relatives put them there fulfilling their wishes.
‘I have been an associate member of the Commando Veterans Association since it was formed and nobody contacted me or members about the proposal.
‘I was shocked to see the planning notice in the papers. This is a national memorial to the Commandos and plaques are in the centre area from many nationalities who were in their countries’ Commandos. Proper consultation has not been done with all those people who put plaques and scattered or buried ashes in that centre area.’
Mr Harvey said he agreed with enclosing the area with a low wall to provide some shelter from inclement weather and also to the upgrading of the small bridge and footpath.
But he added: ‘Please Highland Council abandon the plans for the centre area as it will cause hurt to relatives of those heroes who fought for our freedom. The granite would be fitting if it was placed outside the memorial area.’