They’re the elite Green Berets, the soldier’s soldier, at the forefront of some of the toughest missions known to humanity.
And the 45 Commando Royal Marines are also the pride of Arbroath, their base for the past 50 years.
The battalion formed in 1943 from the original 5th Battalion, raised in World War One.
After distinguished service throughout World War Two, 45 Commando continued to serve in global hotspots throughout the 50s and 60s, including Palestine, Suez, Malaya, Aden and Cyprus.
The Commando finally returned to the UK in 1967, after 24 years operational service abroad and moved to its current base in Arbroath in 1971.
The Condor Barracks date from around 1940, after being established in 1938 as a Fleet Air Arm facility.
The base was used for training in World War 2.
The airfield was bombed by the Luftwaffe, operating from Norway in October 1940, though the damage was not severe.
Naval air squadrons used it as their home base throughout the war, while their carriers were based in the Clyde or Forth.
Once 45 Commando moved in, the base was known as RM Condor, or the Condor Barracks, and it remains an operational base to this day – despite attempts by the Ministry of Defence to close it.
It’s home to 45 Commando Royal Marines and 3 Commando Brigade, alongside the 7 (Sphinx) Battery, part of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, 2 Signals Squadron from 32 Signals Regiment and 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group Royal Military Police Detachment.
Together these units are referred to as 45 Commando Group.
The 70s saw them start Arctic training in the first of many winters in Norway.
The Commando were deployed in Northern Ireland, and in 1982 took part in Operation Corporate, the recapture of the Falkland Islands.
In the 90s, the Commando deployed to Northern Iraq on a humanitarian assistance mission and in 1994 it was dispatched to reinforce the Kuwaiti border against renewed Iraqi aggression.
Afghanistan has also been the scene of 45 Commando deployments.
New support troop formed
In 1971, a new troop to support 45 Commando was established from Royal Engineers throughout the British Army.
Condor Troop would become much loved in Arbroath during the 16 years they were based there, for their friendliness and fundraising in the community.
They were an independent commando group, drawn from “troublesome” lads who struggled to get on with a regiment, and high-flyers looking for something challenging.
One of them was Londoner Ray Elliott.
Fresh from serving in Germany he considered himself fit, doing 30-mile cross country running, swimming and weight-lifting – so it was a shock when he realised he wasn’t commando-fit.
Even James Bond would wilt at the gruelling training Ray and his comrades undertook to earn their coveted Green Berets, from June to September 1971
Ray also arrived with plenty of his own troubles – a stab wound between his shoulder blades from a knife fight in Germany which saw him put two lads in hospital and throw another out the window.
He was sent to the 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers as they trained for what would become Condor Troop.
But he was up for the challenge – and it wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
Miles of yomping daily, in full uniform, fighting order, carrying a 60lb backpack and camping gear.
“We were told only a very few would succeed,” Ray said.
‘Each week was pure hell’
But that was only the start.
Many “pure hell” assault courses, ambushes and exhausting challenges later, Ray had made it, along with only six others, onto the All Arms Commando Course at Lympstone where training intensified.
“Each week was pure hell, each day gets harder, forcing sleep deprivation to make us quit,” Ray went on.
The extreme training included setting ambushes, which saw the group being captured in an “enemy” ambush, where they were treated roughly, semi-tortured and humiliated until the Marines arrived to rescue them.
It was followed by helicopter training, field tactics and more endurance courses, by which time Ray was the only hopeful left standing from all his Royal Engineer comrades.
The final Commando Test was on Dartmoor: 14 miles running across moors and 16 miles on roads, “blisters on blisters on blisters”, with more ambushes to contend with.
But Ray made it and on October 1, 1971, he was given his Green Beret.
Ray said: “I was told I wouldn’t last a week with my shoulder wound. I started with 20 others and survived them all, why?
“My girlfriend lived near Glasgow, I wanted Condor Troop badly.”
The secret of Ray’s success was love, pure and simple.
He had met his future wife Jean Lees from Blantyre through a pen-friend scheme, and knew she was the one the minute he clapped eyes on her at Glasgow station.
Condor’s base was a mere 120 miles from Jean and that made it very attractive in Ray’s book.
Facing horrific events
A tour in Northern Ireland now lay ahead of him.
Condor Troop supported 45 Commando and had the horrific duty of clearing out blown-up buildings, recovering the dead, severely wounded and walking wounded.
Ray’s experiences were horrendous, but he had many reasons to thank his gruelling Commando training for his physical and mental resilience.
Ray said: “We had no counsellors after witnessing horrific things, none of us suffered PTSD as we shared a room with up to 17 others.
“The lads would gather around anyone who was ill or showing signs of stress and talk them through it.
“We knew what the problem was and could help them quicker.
“Modern lads have individual rooms so they can avoid many and thus fall down to PTSD.”
Condor leaving Arbroath
Condor Troop left Arbroath in 1987 with a “tartan farewell” and long faces at the thought of going to Plymouth.
The Dundee Courier reported: “Although almost 90 percent of the troop came from south of the border, Arbroath became their ‘home’ and they were proud to call themselves Scottish soldiers when they carried out tours of duty elsewhere.”
The troop was disbanded in 1988, then re-formed around 1998 and is now based in Chivenor, Devon.
Ray left the service in 1974 to be able to spend more time with his young family.
He’s now the life and soul of his old brothers-in-arms, always there with a listening ear and busy organising memorable bi-annual reunions in Arbroath.
“I’d go back again tomorrow,” he said.
Despite battling considerable health challenges, Ray says he’s winning because of his mental attitude.
“45 Commando taught me mind over matter – I don’t mind and the pain don’t matter.
“What matters is you’re looking after your brothers, your mates.
“I still live by that.”