New Sheffield Royal Marines branch keeps the 'brotherhood' of elite unite going back home
“You can’t talk about what we did to people who weren’t there and so we need to meet as former comrades to support each other, share our experiences and be part of supporting our City of Sheffield”
A new Royal Marines Association Branch in Sheffield is taking off after delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Royal Marines Commandos, or ‘Bootnecks’ as they’re more widely known, are the toughest and best trained fighting unit in the world and are the Royal Navy’s own amphibious troops.
They’ve been called to arms in some of the world’s most heated trouble spots, often with tragic consequences.
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But, when it is time to pack up your kit and return to civilian life after belonging to a tightly knit unit where your life has depended on the vigilance and support of your comrades, it can be equally tough.
In 2019, a few former members formed the Sheffield Branch of the Royal Marines Association to organise social events and to share their unique experiences of life in the ‘Bootnecks’.
“We first talked about it following a chance meeting at the WWI Centenary event in Sheffield in 2018 when I bumped into Mark Wilkinson”, said RMA Secretary Mark Horry, who spent eleven years in the Royal Marines 45 Commando in 1997 and served as an armourer in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, becoming a Lance Corporal.
Mark, from Handsworth, has been a train driver with Northern in Sheffield for the last four years and now lives in Woodthorpe with his wife and two daughters.
He added: “There’s never been a Royal Marines Association in Sheffield before and we wanted a network to support and help each other in ‘civvie’ life, because we know a lot of guys do struggle after such an intense experience as a marine, but also to organise around and be represented at remembrance events.
“After a staggered start, we’ve now grown to more than 65 members, mainly through the power of social media and its’ been so astonishing to see everyone getting together once a month at the Benjamin Huntsman pub on Cambridge Street in Sheffield.”
New chairman and ex Falklands veteran Mark Wilkinson, a former member of 42 Commando, also spent 30 years in the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
He said: “We had a few meetings and then the pandemic struck, and we had to abandon it until this year.
“I made so many lifelong friends in the Royal Marines and no-one else quite understands the depth of the relationships you form with people serving alongside you.
“We are a brotherhood, and that level of comradeship just doesn’t disappear after you’ve left, so we would like to keep building our branch to continue to provide that.”
Last month’s remembrance event in Sheffield was a case in point.
Ahead of next year’s 40th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, the family of Sheffield Royal Marine, Rob Griffin, attended the recent remembrance event in Barkers Pool. Rob’s sister Mandy Kazmierski was invited to lay the wreath on the Cenotaph on behalf of the newly formed Sheffield Branch of the Royal Marines Association.
Rob was serving in the Falklands on HMS Fearless in June 1982 and was ferrying troops ashore on landing craft known as ‘Foxtrot Four’ on June 8 when it was attacked by an Argentine aircraft.
A bomb struck Foxtrot Four, killing Rob and five of his colleagues and wounding other crew. The landing craft was taken in tow but sank before reaching shore.
Rob, who grew up in Crookes, was also a former member of the Sheffield Sea Cadets and he made lots of friends in the Royal Marines, many of whom still stay connected with the family.
He joined the Royal Marines in 1977, and after training at HMS Indefatigable, was posted to 40 Commando and spent time in Northern Ireland and various countries including Norway. He was returning home from the West Indies when he was told his unit would be going to the Falklands.
Mandy said: “I was so honoured and proud to be asked to come to Sheffield to do this for the first time but I was so nervous. “However, all his mates made me and my sister Jo Bond, who lives in Burncross, feel so welcome.
“Our dad would have loved to see us all coming together for Rob supporting the Sheffield RMA and remembering all the fallen comrades from the Royal Marines.”
‘Something special’ is being planned for next year’s 40th commemorations and the branch wants former members of the Royal Marines to come and join them.
Mick Carr, aged 65 and from Firth Park, won a military medal for bravery during his time with the Royal Marines in Borneo.
He said: “I had no idea there was an association in Sheffield until I found them on Facebook, says Mick.
“It’s great to meet up with ex-comrades who have the same mindset and to talk about things you can’t explain to people who haven’t been there.”
Anyone with a family connection to the Royal Marines can join the branch, including family members.
To find out more about the new branch contact Mark Horry on 07803 134424, email [email protected] or look up RMA Sheffield on Facebook.