Royal Marines have stepped in to help rescue cars stuck in Cornwall after a wall collapsed, by ferrying them on landing craft usually used for beach assaults.
On Christmas Day motorists in Calstock on the River Tamar were cut off from the national road network after a retaining wall carrying the highway collapsed.
The only way to return the estimated 50 cars to the road network was by ferrying them down river to the next nearest slipway and road connection.
After a request for help by Cornwall Council on behalf of villagers and Christmas visitors, the amphibious experts of the Royal Marines have spent the day in torrential rain transferring the cars by landing craft watched by crowds of interested villagers.
1 Assault Group Royal Marines, based in HM Naval Base, Devonport, took the vehicles (including a tractor and tradesman’s vans) one by one with their owners to be off-loaded at the National Trust’s Cothele Quay slipway.
Vanessa Southcott, whose car was stranded and whose son Charlie, 10, suggested asking the Navy for help, said: “It’s really great that the Marines have given up their time to help us out.
“The whole village is really grateful. It’s been a real problem for us who commute to work that we can’t easily get to our cars. We don’t see the Marines in a quiet place like Calstock and it’s been a big event. Loads of people have come out to watch.’’
She praised her son for his initiative: “Charlie saw a senior navy officer at a Christmas carol concert and had his contact details already from then.
So when the landslip happened later he suggested the Marines help out and passed the contact details onto a councillor who made the request to the Navy.’’
Colonel Garth Manger, Commanding Officer of 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, said: “This kind of operation is nothing new to the Royal Marines.
“We train to move vehicles and personnel by landing craft on and off beaches and slipways like this. We do this for combat scenarios and for disaster relief and similar humanitarian reasons worldwide.
“This is not strictly a humanitarian issue, but it is a great opportunity to put our skills to good use – helping the community on our doorstep and also helping refine the results of our training.
“This is only a few miles away and the Royal Navy is delighted to come to the aid of the civilian authorities who would normally assist the public.
“However, we don’t normally move civilian cars, we are more used to moving military four-wheel drive vehicles which are higher riding.
“This produces extra challenges in making sure cars can safely get on and off a slipway via landing craft.
“There’s also the fast running river and the tide to take into account. But it is all within our expertise and my Royal Marines are taking it in their stride – they are ideal for this kind of work.’’
“It is fantastic that in a moment of great difficulty, public services can work together in such a positive and creative way. Brilliant!,” said Councillor Bert Biscoe, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Transport and Waste.
“I am delighted to have the marines come to our rescue and I look forward to seeing the rescue effort,” said Councillor Dorothy Kirk, Cornwall Council local Member for Gunnislake and Calstock.
“The residents have been wonderful in working together to support each other and with us and I am sure they will be delighted to have this assistance.”
The car owners had a chance to accompany their cars on the specialist landing craft normally used to transport troops and amphibious vehicles.