It is probably the last place you’d expect to see soldiers from the army. But for these 8 guardsmen from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, usually based in Windsor – HMS Ocean is their new home. And they have been actively involved in helping with the relief effort for those affected by Hurricane Irma.
The Regiment is affiliated to HMS Ocean and when the ship sailed from Devonport in August to assume the role of Flagship to the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) they took the opportunity to send eight of their soldiers to sea in order to maintain the Ship’s strong affiliation with the Regiment and give them an insight into what the Royal Navy does.
HMS Ocean’s Commanding Officer, Captain Rob Pedre, said, “HMS Ocean is honoured to host members of the Coldstream Guards. They have been fully integrated into life onboard and we are rightly very proud of our strong affiliation with the Regiment.”
“I feel sure we have given our guests an insight into life at sea and the very joint nature of the operations we conduct on a daily basis.”
Sergeant Aaron Heath said, “We were invited on board to learn how HMS Ocean operates and we were due to disembark at Souda Bay. When we heard the Captain’s pipe about the change of tasking I ran up to the bridge to ask whether could we stay on board to go with them.
“I was hoping we could provide valuable assistance in the disaster relief op. It proves how the Armed Forces are able to work together across many different levels for a common aim.”
Aaron, 30, from Stoke-in-Trent continued, “When the Commanding Officer of Ocean said he’d be delighted for us to stay on board we thought it was great. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. For the Army to be on board for this sort of deployment is not really heard of. All we want to do is get there to help out in any way we can.”
They have been helping the onboard Reverend (known as the ‘bish’) in raising funds from the ships company and in their brief stop over in Gibraltar in order to purchase toys for the children affected.
Reverend Paul Andrew Royal Navy said, “A lot of the kids have been left with nothing other than what they were standing up in when the hurricane struck. I wanted to raise some money to buy some little toys for the kids in the Caribbean.”
“I mentioned this to Reverend Mike Wagstaff, the HQ British Forces Chaplain, and he put out an appeal in his Church.”
“The great thing was word soon got round and the people of Gibraltar were giving us things and donating toys. We ended up with over £1,500 to buy toys with, which was absolutely amazing.”
HMS Ocean arrived in the Caribbean on Friday 22nd September loaded with more than 60 tonnes of aid including: over 5,000 hygiene kits, 500,000 water purification tablets and 10,000 buckets.
Capt Pedre said within hours of arriving more than 200 people were already ashore “making a difference”, and said they just “wanted to get on with the job as fast as possible”.