Does UK’s Telegraph Online reporter Iain Hollingshead have what it takes to wear the Marines’ green beret?
If you want to visit the Royal Marines at their training camp in Devon, and prefer not to mount an amphibious assault from the River Exe or a fast-rope descent from an Apache helicopter, you have to take the train.
It chugs south from Exeter along the coast towards Exmouth, via Lympstone Commando, the Marines’ own railway station. Lympstone is a request stop, which means you have to pluck up the courage to inform the conductor of your destination in front of a packed carriage.
“Are you sure?” she asks, looking me up and down in disbelief.
One other person alights, a lean, mean Marine on crutches. I follow at a safe distance as he lurches swiftly towards the armed guard at the end of the platform, past the huge recruiting posters: “Your mind is a weapon. It can beat heat, overcome hunger, eradicate pain, turn soft flesh into hard muscle. Want to know what it takes to earn the green beret? Start with what’s under it.”
I wasn’t visiting Lympstone to earn a green beret – that takes 32 weeks and far more determination and courage than is possessed by this lily-livered desk jockey. I was, however, invited for a day to get a sense of this elite force, some of whose members are taking part in the Windsor Castle Royal Tattoo, a four-day event that opens today.
“We are the thinking man’s soldier,” says Major Jules Rawles, my escort. He introduces me to Lieutenant Colonel Matt Jackson, 37, who is in charge of recruitment and who combines arms like tree trunks with a degree from Cambridge.
These bright, charming, highly trained killers live up to their motto of Per Mare Per Terram, operating everywhere from the Arctic to the desert, Iraq to Afghanistan to the Falklands, where 22 of them famously took on an entire Argentine invasion force. Although constituting only three per cent of the Armed Forces, they make up 40 per cent of Special Forces, after further training. They are also entrusted, at American insistence, with looking after Trident.