Monday, 6 August 2012

'HELL'S GLEN' Revisited

If you follow the link below, it will take you to BBC iPlayer, and an episode of 'Great Railway Journeys' that takes you right into the heart of 'Commando Country'; more specifically to Lochailort and the first taste for young recruits to Special Service of the arduous and often dangerous training that would turn them into Commandos. New for its time, the same training regimes are used for today's Royal Marines Commandos and, worldwide, for all those seeking the ultimate in fighting skills, physical and mental endurance, and clarity of though in extremis.

For 'raw' recruits to this new form of training/torture, the sheer toughness of it all prompted some to use the term 'Hell's Glen' for this mountain fastness in the far north of the country. However, as remembered by General Corran Purdon, there was also a wonderfully elemental quality to training that took men to what they perceived were their limits, only to then demonstrate how much there was still to come.

The following quote is from his book 'List the Bugle'.

'Led by Colonel Stockwell, we splashed through hip-high freezing sea-loch estuaries, forded icy torrents holding boulders to combat the force of the rushing spate, climbed seemingly interminably high mountains and ran down steep scree-slopes. We were carefully instructed in the science of demolitions by Jim Gavin and his fellow sapper Captain Gabriel.

'Fairbairn and Sykes, looking like two benevolent square-shaped padres, took us close-combat shooting in their sandbagged basement range where moving targets suddenly materialized from the gloom. We were taught how to live off the land by Lovat Scouts and on one exercise we had to kill, skin, cook and eat some unfortunate sheep.

'We ended our course with a splendid exercise during part of which I remember following a track, white in the moonlight, round the side of Loch Morar, and wondering if we would see its monster in the glittering water. First light found us seated on the platform of a railway halt, the seats of our battledress trousers seemingly stuck to the ground by frost. And how marvellous that hot, sweet porridge tasted, which was brought out on trucks which came to take us back to camp!'

(Passage as quoted in Chapter three of 'Storming St Nazaire')

For a map of the area, see this link -