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So others may live – for six decades

THE Royal Navy’s helicopter heroes kick-started a year of events to celebrate six decades of lifesaving at Britain’s biggest boat show.

Two days of demonstrations from 771 Naval Air Squadron at the London Boat Show raised the curtain on Search and Rescue 60 which will pay tribute to all Fleet Air Arm helicopter SAR crews and units.

The RN traces its current search and rescue mission back to January 31 1953 when a dozen Dragonfl y helicopters from 705 Naval Air Squadron in Gosport responded to pleas for help in East Anglia and the Netherlands after the ‘great fl ood’.

In the course of seven hours’ fl ying, more than 840 people were rescued; one single pilot accounted for 111 souls saved, while another lifted 102 people to safety.

Since then, the bravery and skill of Fleet

Air Arm crews has been demonstrated in incidents at sea large and small – the Fastnet race tragedy of 1979, the Penlee lifeboat disaster in 1981, the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in 1988, the stricken ferry MV Riverdance in the January storms off Blackpool in 2008. Of the original seven RN SAR units,

only two remain today: 771 NAS at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and, at Prestwick in Ayrshire, HMS Gannet – Britain’s busiest military Search and Rescue base. In 2011 – the most recent year for which annual statistics are available – Fleet Air Arm Sea Kings were scrambled 542 times and rescued or helped 459 souls from the Channel Islands and Western Approaches to the Irish Sea, Isle of Skye and Atlantic off the Irish coast. Events for SAR60 are still being planned,

but in the South West, this year’s Culdrose Air Day (July 24) will be Search and Rescue- centric. There’s a long-running SAR exhibition at

the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, where 771’s Lt Cdr Andy Watts will run through six decades of rescues in a talk on Wednesday February 27 from 6pm (call 01326 214546 or see for details).

A dedicated area on the RN website has been set aside to highlight upcoming events as well as SAR stories down the years. See Special-Events/SAR-60

Premier ship divisions

DOLPHINS all – and proud of them. Submariners form up at Faslane for divisions as the port crew of HMS Vanguard await inspection by Capt David Graham, Superintendent Fleet Maintenance at Clyde.

their home base form half the ship’s company of the strategic deterrent submarine. Each of the four Trident-missile- armed boats – Vanguard plus her sisters Vigilant,

– has two crews as part of the Silent Service’s enduring commitment to carry out deterrent patrols. When active (Vengeance is currently

Victorious and Vengeance

out of the line undergoing her mid-life refi t in Devonport) one crew is actually in charge of the boat, while another is back at base undergoing training, courses, perhaps enjoying leave, so that once a boat returns from patrol or training exercise, they can take

The 130 or so deeps on parade at

charge – and thus ensure a permanent presence at sea going back to the late 1960s. You’ll probably recognise the dolphins – a submariner’s badge of honour, the symbol that he knows his boat inside and out and is permitted to join an elite band of underwater warriors – these men are wearing. And there’s quite a few Golden Jubilee (blue ribbon with a red and white stripe down the middle) and Diamond Jubilee (red ribbon with a red and white stripe down the middle) on display.

Vanguard’s deeps wear the deterrent patrol pin – HMS Resolution, with a Polaris missile, wreathed in bands of electrons to represent nuclear power and bearing the motto ‘always ready’ – which recognises their unique service. The pin was introduced for V-boat crews back in 2010. Every serving man

Beneath them, however, not a few of

who has sailed on a deterrent patrol for more than 30 days is eligible for a silver pin – or recognition badge – while those who have completed 20 or more patrols have earned the gold version. And 20 patrols is a considerable commitment – when associated training and exercising is taken into account, it could add up to eight years below the surface. The design of the pin pays homage to the very fi rst deterrent boat, which conducted the fi rst patrol with Polaris missiles on June 15 1968. She and her sisters paid off in the 90s when the Vanguard-class and their Trident missiles entered service. Not a day has been missed since the

round-the-clock patrols began, with submariners past and present having successfully conducted more than 300 missions. Picture: CPO(Phot) Tam McDonald, FRPU North

A feather in Montrose’s cap

THE traditional pusser’s beret was adorned for one day only with a red hackle as HMS Montrose celebrated her affi liation with 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland – better known as the legendary Black Watch. For more than 200 years,

offi cers and men of the Black Watch have been granted the unique privilege of wearing a red hackle in their headgear – and every year Montrose also marks the tradition by granting sailors the right to wear the distinctive red vulture feather in their berets, for one day only which, in 2013, was Tuesday January 8. The origin of the Black

Watch wearing the red hackle is uncertain, although the most likely source is the clash in the French Revolutionary Wars at Geldermalsen in the Netherlands in 1795. A British cavalry regiment

retreated, leaving two fi eld guns for the French. The Black Watch promptly mounted an attack and recovered the guns, and as a reward, during a King’s birthday parade later that year a red hackle was given to every man on parade to wear in their bonnet. The tradition persists; the

Black Watch celebrate ‘red hackle day’ on or near January 5. “We are inordinately proud of our connections with the senior regiment of Highlanders, and our temporary deviation from naval uniform regulations is entirely justifi ed to commemorate the close friendship between the Black Watch and the most Scottish ship in the Navy,” said Montrose’s CO Cdr James Parkin, who fi xed a red hackle to his beret. “We embarked a team of Scots from the battalion at sea last year – something which was greatly enjoyed by all – and look forward to sending a group of my sailors to Inverness to experience life in the fi eld before we deploy overseas later this year.”


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