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As nation prepares to remember the fallen, a military man looks forward

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

  • The Devon Festival of Remembrance of 2012 was held at the Great Hall of the University of Exeter on Thursday night, with servicemen from across the region in attendance

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At 11am tomorrow in cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the Westcountry we will stand with heads bowed in solemn contemplation for the two-minute silence.

The anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918 is a day to remember all servicemen and women who fell in conflicts serving their country.

For Major General Andy Salmon CMG OBE, his thoughts will turn to a patch of desert in Iraq near the Kuwaiti border where in 2003 a British helicopter crashed, killing all 14 on board.

The 53-year-old married father-of-three said: "It was Remembrance Day 2008 and we gathered at the crash site. The desert was completely silent with only a stone to mark where the men had died.

"Some of the lads had had friends onboard that day and they shared their memories and thoughts with the rest of us. It was incredibly emotional and poignant.

"Tomorrow is really about sparing a thought and reflecting on all the people who have laid down their lives in all campaigns for their country and who are continuing to do so."

It was in 1977 when Major Salmon buttoned up his Royal Marine uniform for the first time. In 1982 the Falklands War had broken out and he found himself fighting Argentinean forces to recapture the islands.

The bloody streets of Northern Ireland became familiar turf during several tours there, then northern Iraq beckoned in 1991, followed by Angola. The following year he was in Sierra Leone. In 2003 he was unpacking in Baghdad and later in 2008/09 he served as Commander of Coalition Forces in Basra, South East Iraq.

More recently he was given the role of Commander UK Amphibious Forces and Commandant General Royal Marines and is now at NATO, preparing forces for operations across the globe.

Major Salmon, who used to live on Dartmoor and now lives in Cheltenham, said: "When we were on the Falklands I saw soldiers being blown apart. I remember walking through a minefield and the young officer in front of me stepped on a mine and lost a leg – he was just 19 years old.

"It could so easily have been me – it could have been any one of us that day."

Such horrors on the battlefield have clearly left their mark on the officer and no doubt served as the impetus to start a charity to help wounded marines.

Founded in 2008, the Lympstone-based C Group charity is a collection of business people who help wounded marines overcome physical difficulties. It also helps them to either find a career back on Civvy Street or a role back in the corps.

The Major is honorary president of the charity, which has so far raised more than three-quarters of a million pounds.

He speaks with passion and unflinching conviction about the charity and on Wednesday he will take to the podium as the keynote speaker at this years' WMN Business Awards ceremony at the Great Hall, Exeter.

The origins of C Group are well and truly fixed in the world of business. "I was speaking at a dinner in London for businessmen and was talking about the worrying increase in the number of casualties throughout 2006 and 2007 in Afghanistan.

"Afterwards, several businessmen approached me to say they wanted to help the wounded.

"That night we raised £75,000 – it was unbelievable. Today we have a network of business people who help our injured marines – some members give free dental reconstruction while others mentor or teach.

"We help find them jobs – we've got a former marine working at the Bank of England and others in construction in charge of building sites."

Like any charity, fundraising is an essential element in its success as well as the non-business volunteers who generously give their time.

"A trader from Goldman Sachs paid £10,000 at one of our adventure auctions. She went on to raise £250,000 in the process, which she gave to C Group for an educational trust to pay for former marines to study.

Central to the partnership are the shared qualities required to overcome difficulties and succeed. "Marines are military entrepreneurs – they get an idea and are determined to make it happen. They're focused on delivery and they care about their customers – they provide a brilliant service and want to make a big difference. C Group is a great military/civilian partnership – it's very powerful and very infectious."

For more information visit www.thecgroup.org, or call 01392 414639.

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