Crowds of well-wishers, a Royal Marine band and senior Royal Navy officers gave a rousing send-off to a team of Royal Marines beginning a million-pound charity march from Plymouth today (Thursday).
The team, led by organiser Lance Corporal Ram Patten (Royal Marine), was the first of four teams of serving armed forces personnel to start the epic March For Honour (M4H) across the country dedicating a mile each for every British life lost in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns to date.
Their target is to raise a minimum of £1 million for The Royal British Legion which works supporting families of those fallen or injured in combat. The Royal Marines team aim to complete the most gruelling leg – 44 miles across Dartmoor by tonight.
School children, Plymouth City dignitaries, Commander-in-Chief Fleet Admiral Sir Trevor Soar and armed forces veterans witnessed a dramatic beginning to the launch event on Plymouth Hoe. LCpl Patten and his team fast-roped (slid down a rope) from a Sea King helicopter onto the ground and were cheered by the crowd. They then took part in a religious service in front of the Plymouth Royal Naval Memorial taken by a military chaplain including the Last Post and one-minute silence.
LCpl Patten, of 3Commando Brigade HQ, Plymouth, laid a wreath at the memorial and said: “I am hoping my enthusiasm will rub off on the people of Plymouth beyond right across the country and that their empathy for the people helped by the Royal British Legion will help us reach our target. We are more than half way there.
“I have had enormous support from the MoD, from the Falklands veteran Simon Weston, from senior Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers without which this would not have been such high-profile, enabling us to reach so many members of the public. The public has really taken to this, it has caught the imagination. It would be really great if people could show us their support along the way.”
The M4H teams will converge at Wootton Bassett in order to pay their respects to the town and all the veteran and RBL associations for their unfaltering dedication during repatriation ceremonies. The Lord Mayor will present them with the Book of Remembrance, which they will then deliver as a column of eight representing each Service, to the Royal Albert Hall in London for the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday 13 November.
The other teams and their starting points today (Thursday) are the Royal Navy from Portsmouth, the Army from Cardiff in Wales and the Royal Air Force from RAF Wittering. Teams will complete the events in combat trousers, boots and carrying Bergen rucksacks weighted as if on operations.
LCpl Patten said he was motivated to dream up and organise the march to give something back to the Royal British Legion after he and his family, wife Candice and daughter Melanie, benefited from its care.
He said: “Following my most recent deployment to Afghanistan, I found myself struggling to re-adjust to everyday life in the UK. I was later diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was very well looked after by the MOD with nine months of therapy. My family was also helped by the Royal British Legion which gave fantastic support.
“The Legion spend millions of pounds a year on caring for families in similar need and I thought it was time someone of my generation paid back some of this. The Legion is often thought of as older people from the world collecting and benefiting – but they were my age when they fought for their country. But there are now many younger people like me who have relied on the Legion. This is my way of saying thank you and paying some of it back to help others. “My aim is to turn this enthusiasm being shown today into a wave of public awareness and charitable donations, which help look after those affected by war.”
The Royal British Legion safeguards the welfare, interests and memory of those who are serving or have served in the Armed Forces.