The Olympic ‘wheel’ turned full circle as the Royal Navy delivered the flame to the capital for the final leg of its journey around the UK – just as the Senior Service began the relay event two months ago.
Marine Martyn Williams rapid roped with the Flame from a Junglie Sea King of the Commando Helicopter Force into the Tower of London.
Pictures: PO(Phot) Mez Merrill and LA(Phots) Jason Ballard and Simmo SImpson
NOW there’s a sight you don’t see every day.
That’s right, a Junglie with a huge RN logo emblazoned on the side door – and Royal Navy writ large in white, not the usual black, on the tail.
Oh, and rapid roping commandos delivering the Olympic Flame to the host city. Almost forgot that.
Just as the Fleet Air Arm delivered the symbol of the Games to Land’s End two months ago – in the full glare of publicity – to begin its never-to-be-forgotten relay around our Sceptred Isle, so they brought it to the capital. In style. Of course.
This time it was two Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force based at Yeovilton, not their brethren in 771 Naval Air Squadron, who carried the flame.
By the time the flame, secured in a gold lantern, was loaded into one of the helicopters around 7.30pm on Friday evening in Guildford, an estimated ten million people had seen it pass from torch to torch around the land since it arrived at Culdrose back in May.
Its arrival in the capital wasn’t exactly low-key either: big crowds on the banks of the Thames and on Tower Bridge, in the grounds of the Tower of London one of Britain’s greatest Olympians, Dame Kelly Holmes, plus the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and other dignitaries – and once again that omnipresent live television coverage.
And so, a little after 8pm, the throng got what they were waiting for: the first 9.5-tonne helicopter manoeuvred into a 60ft low hover above Tower Wharf, allowing four Royal Marines Commandos to fast rope from the cargo door to the ground.
The green berets from the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone marked the area for the second Sea King from 846 NAS which came into a hover at 180ft just moments later to allow Marine Martyn Williams – who’d overcome a leg injury caused by a mine in Afghanistan – to abseil down with the flame strapped securely to his chest in its lantern.
He then handed the precious cargo on to Dame Kelly – the first torchbearer in London as it began its week-long trek through every borough, a trek which will end on Friday with the lighting of the flame cauldron in the Olympic Stadium.
“I am honoured and thrilled to have been able to do this – what a buzz,” said the 23-year-old from Ipswich.
“I just had to make sure it was absolutely bang on and luckily it was.
“It’s hard enough when you are doing this in training, and even more so in theatre, but to know that I had custody of such an important load, as well as the fact that we were being filmed and photographed from all angles by the media and watched by millions adds in a whole different dimension to it all – it was a bit nerve-wracking.
Martyn continued: “I’m still very humbled that I was selected for this – I have overcome an injury sustained in Afghanistan, but so too have many others, and others still have paid the ultimate price. Only one person was able to carry the Flame – I’m lucky it was me. But I looked at it as a chance to quite literally hold a torch for all my fellow Servicemen and women.
“And to be able to then hand the Flame on to Dame Kelly Holmes, a superb Olympian, was amazing.”
Mne Martyn Williams poses with legendary Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes after igniting her torch
The green beret served in Afghanistan with 45 Commando in 2008 and was left with a leg injury when a road mine detonated.
Now fully recovered, he will deploy to the region again in 2013. He was subsequently awarded the Operational Service Medal (Afghanistan) and International Security Assistance Force Medal.
If rapid roping with the flame was a bit tense, it was equally so for the air crews.
“This is a never-to-be-repeated experience which we’re all justifiably proud to have been part of,” said Lt Cdr Jake Wilkinson, Commanding Officer of the Commando Mobile Air Operations Team, Commando Helicopter Force.
“My teams have performed impeccably under an enormous amount of scrutiny, demonstrating to gathered crowds and media just some of the roles we undertake for real on the frontline and how we remain cool, calm and collected in the face of immense pressure to get the job done.
“Having the iconic landmarks of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge as a backdrop is sensational – but, without doubt, the biggest responsibility was being tasked with the safe delivery of the Olympic Flame and I’m delighted to say my team and the Royal Marines excelled in this duty! We couldn’t be more delighted.”
Two torchbearers – Dame Kelly and Abul Kasam – carried the flame around the Tower of London to be welcomed by Mr Johnson and Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets and invited guests.
At the Jewel House, eight State Trumpeters from the Band of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment played a dramatic fanfare before the flame was handed to General the Lord Dannatt, Constable of the Tower of London, where it remained overnight for safe keeping.