Op ROSE: 22nd – 30th December 2020
Christmas, a time to spend with the family, however a phone call at 2130hrs on 23rd December changed this. We had been called to help the country. Being on 12 hours NTM meant that the call could come at any day. Watching the news in the days before, we saw how the lorry drivers trying to get back to Europe were blocked by the COVID 19 pandemic en route to the crossing at Dover. We had an idea of possible things to come.
By 0100hrs on Christmas Eve, the Company was back at camp. A final kit check and head count done, after very little sleep all round we left for Dover at 0600. A gruelling 5-hour journey in the back of TCVs during the winter, the soldiers had no choice but to wrap up warm in their sleeping bags.
Our first stop would be RAF Manston, for a lateral flow COVID 19 test and deployment briefs. As we got closer to the ferry port, we saw the scale of the problem at hand. Approximately 2000 lorries were firm on the landing strip at Manston, and the gridlock lanes of European were backed up for 30 miles in all directions. The Company had no problems with the COVID tests and soon enough we split down into platoons and got to work at the Dover Ferry Port.
However, getting there was going to be the first problem to navigate. With the roads fully blocked with lorry drivers (some of whom had already been there for days) tempers were flaring, and we couldn’t get anywhere near the ferry port. Through the darkness of the cold night, the illuminations of the local Kent polices’ lights came flying up the wrong side of the road to aid us. Quickly they resolved our gridlock issue and one lane emptied. With the escort it took no time to get the ferry port and that was C Company finally on task.
On arrival and a swift handover from the local Gurkha unit, we were set. With 2 points of entry, the civilian vehicles and the ‘dirty’ lorry lanes (untested vehicles), our task was to get those who needed a COVID test tested and away through to customs. With a walk of around 800m to the bays of lorries, the soldiers would go up and down the line showing and explaining how to do the test, on a negative test a certificate would be presented to the driver, not in an award show manner like they won something it was just a slip of paper, and they would be set free to leave for pastures new (or until they come back a few days later with a new load and start the process again). If they tested positive for COVID, they were to be moved back to the runway where they get retested and wait another 48 hours, as they had already spent a few days dotted around the UK beforehand, they didn’t want to do. Luckily C Coy didn’t encounter very many positive results. On the civilian gate, it was the same process and same paperwork. No certificate: no go. This area was a bit more civil as they hadn’t been sitting around days on end unable to leave their driving seat. There was a steady flow of traffic with some people more sociable than others with the occasional ‘Merry Christmas!’.
Christmas day! One I will remember for a while, after coming of shift at 0300 and back to it by 0900, we were greeted by Father Christmas and his not-so-elflike passengers, and a free burger from the local charity that set up to feed the hungry soldiers. Obviously, the boys had more than one through the day. Along with the now busy but steady stream of traffic through the Ferry port, there was a strong presence from the press. Some of the lads were very excited to see themselves in the newspapers. By lunch time (another burger time) civilian staff from the NHS had come to help, and we took this time to show them how we had been running the operation so far.
This task endured through the festive period and by the 29 Dec 20 we prepped to leave, and leave we did. After what was an unusual Christmas, we were home in time to see in the New Year with our families. More importantly, I finally got to have a Christmas dinner on return.”
Sgt Bradbury, 7Pl Sgt