The crowd is huge today, they stand waiting patiently in the autumn sunshine. It won’t be long now, the aircraft passed overhead some 30 minutes ago.
Amongst the crowd stands a Royal Marine, his Green Beret positioned perfectly on his head, the Globe and Laurel cap badge highly polished. The sunlight glints off both the badge and the row of medals on his chest. As you would expect he is immaculately turned out. His shoes highly polished, the creases in his trousers razor sharp, no fluff on his jacket. He stands tall, his shoulders back, chest out, back straight, his bearing unmistakably military. His now white hair and moustache neatly trimmed, his bright piercing blue eyes alert as he glances down the road waiting for the first glimpse of his brothers car.
Meanwhile, just a few miles down the road all is ready his brother is about to disembark from the RAF Hercules Transporter plane. In his mind he knows that his brother will be greeted first by seven of his younger brothers. They will board the aircraft, proud but nervous, lost in their own thoughts and memories. They will touch the simple casket and then slowly and reverentially they will cover the casket with a union flag before placing a green beret above their brother head. They will slowly and carefully slow march down the aircrafts loading ramp and they will place their brother into the waiting hearse so that he may complete the last few miles of his journey to the arms of his grief stricken family. As the casket is placed they lower bared heads in respect and grief at the loss of a fallen brother.
As the hearse moves slowly away they give knowing glances to each other. They know that their brothers story will never be known to the wider world. They know that as a member of a family within a family the details of their brothers death will never be revealed to the press and never be discussed outside of the Special Forces Base at Poole in Dorset. In the operation centre a photograph and a plaque will join the others on the wall, it will give only the time and place of his death no details. The full details will only be known by those from his unit of the Special Boat Service. To the rest of the world he will be known simply as a Royal marine who died on active service. The details of the operation kept secret lest it provides the enemy with intelligence that could endanger his brothers later.
The hearse moves away with it’s Police escort, blue lights flashing as it drives the couple of miles to the memorial garden in Norton Way. Those lining the roadside stir as the cortege approaches. As if by telepathy the old men come to attention and the Marine raises the standard of the Royal Marines Association. Dozens of standards are raised as the men and women from veterans associations the length and breadth of the country come to pay their respects to the fallen. There may be over fifty years separating these brothers, they have no blood connection but the grief is palpable. The Green Beret that they have both been proud to wear a badge of honour and a bond of friendship that will never be broken. In this, the 350th Anniversary of the formation of the Royal Marines, the bond of tradition and shared history is even stronger.
As the cortege reaches the memorial it slows to a crawl. The standards are lowered in salute and people leave the crowd to place flowers on the hearse. Thousands stand to honour a young man who fell serving his country, united in respect and grief. The Marine cannot even remember how many times he has done this, he has attended almost every repatriation for well over a decade. He has stood in silence to honour the fallen hundreds of times, first at Royal Wooton Bassett and now at the memorial gardens. He is 74 years old now but he stands straight backed and head held high to honour his brothers in arms. it gets a little more difficult on every occasion but he will continue to do it for as long as is necessary or until death or infirmity stops him. On every occasion he marvels at the dignity and shared sense of loss of those who gather. On every occasion he hopes it will be the last time that they have to gather. On every occasion a tear forms in his pale blue eyes and his heart swells in pride and gratitude to the fallen and to those who come to honour them. As always he feels particularly sad when the fallen comrade is a Royal Marine for the loss is the loss of a family member. Those who have earned their Green Beret share a lifelong bond, they are a family and each time a brother falls a little piece of them dies too.