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WELSH GUARDS CHRISTMAS COVID DEPLOYMENT
THE PRINCE OF WALES’S COMPANY

by Major C E B Starkey
Welsh Guards

The Prince of Wales’s Company experienced an alternative Christmas celebration in 2020, along with many others across the country.  The vast majority of the Company, supported by elements of the Mortar Platoon, spent Christmas day, and the few days after, on the M20, Covid testing haulage drivers to enable them to cross the English Channel, and helping Kent Police and Council clear the miles of backlog.

Some lorry drivers spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse that emerged when French authorities closed the border in an attempt to stop the spread of the new Covid variant discovered in the UK
Welsh Guardsmen deliver tests to a group of lorry drivers. The tests give a result in 30 minutes

Having spent the final few weeks in work, completing a busy period of infantry training in windy Otterburn and live firing in snowy Brecon, The Prince of Wales’s Company departed Windsor to enjoy some well received stand down with their families. However, as we had been placed on standby for possible tasking over the Christmas period, there was always a chance we would get called back.

Unfortunately for those ‘on the list’, Christmas preparation was tarnished on Christmas Eve with a phone call from the Battalion Second-in-Command, informing us that we needed to return to Windsor and deploy on Christmas morning to Dover. For those who live in North Wales it was a real case of move now; not the news that anyone wants to share with their family whilst preparing the Christmas stuffing…!

The operation was aided by the ability of the Guardsmen to break down the problems associated with language barriers
The scale of the haulage backlog was substantial. The Prince of Wales’s Company alone managed to complete in the region of 4,700 tests in a 48-hour period in challenging conditions that included the wind and rain from Storm Bella

0700hrs on Christmas morning was not a discovery of ‘Santa has been’, but one of probably even better news: everyone we needed for the task had successfully made their way back to Combermere Barracks, rather sadly for them and their families. No mean feat, but over Christmas a really brilliant effort from all involved.

The Prince of Wales’s Company Group was directed to deploy to Manston, just west of Ramsgate, on Christmas morning, to conduct some initial training. This was primarily focused on how to conduct the Lateral Flow Covid-19 test, a simple NHS test that involves the painful experience of choking on an earbud and waiting 30 minutes for the result.

Whilst the clearance of the runway at Manston sat with the Royal Welsh and Irish Guards, The Prince of Wales’s Company were sent further south to the M20. The motorway was shut from Junction 9 all the way to just south of Maidstone, with two lanes of haulage traffic nose-to-tail; one lane awaiting Covid testing in order to hop on the ferry from Dover and the other stacked up to join the EuroTunnel.

A Welsh Guardsman conducts a Covid test. Alongside testing, the military organised welfare facilities and the distribution of food and water to the stranded lorry drivers

The Prince of Wales’s Company were under the control of 36 Engineer Regiment, working alongside 70 Field Squadron with testing on the M20, before being reinforced by another infantry company from the Royal Welsh. The performance of the Welsh Guardsmen was truly second to none. It was estimated that The Prince of Wales’s Company alone managed to complete in the region of 4,700 tests in a 48-hour period in challenging conditions that included the wind and rain from Storm Bella. The revised mechanism used by the team was extremely efficient, aided by the ability of the Guardsmen to break down the problems associated with language barriers. As well as helping with clearing the M20, almost more importantly it enabled drivers from across Europe to ‘move on’ having spent, in some cases, six days sat on the hard shoulder of the motorway.

Throughout the period that The Prince of Wales’s Company were in Dover, the Commanding Officer remained in close contact with the Company Commander, gathering feedback and ensuring that any support required from back in Windsor was in place. The Company received much support from friends and family and a welcome support from the Drapers’ Company, with whom the Welsh Guards has an important connection, in the form of funding for recreational activities for the Guardsmen. Once Covid-19 restrictions enable something more exciting, we will be able to have an event to mark the Company’s efforts.

The Prince of Wales’s Company remain on standby to support any further tasks. We have now, however, switched our training focus to preparing for a deployment overseas in the summer months, so we are very busy up until Easter 2021.


 

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