A year of supporting COVID response

As the country marks a year since the start of the first UK-wide lockdown, it’s an opportunity to look back at all the ways the Army has supported the COVID response.

Military assistance to civilian authorities (or MACA) tasks are part of the British Army’s remit, if official requests are made by other Government departments. Previous MACA tasks have included things like support to the London Olympics, the firefighters’ strike, or flooding emergencies.

This year has been one like no other, in that the Army’s response to COVID – known as Operation Rescript – has been such a big part of the day-to-day work of soldiers. As some training and overseas deployments were paused, soldiers turned their attention to the pandemic; the most challenging issue faced by the country for a generation.

Across the UK, soldiers have taken part in a huge variety of tasks, stepping in to help wherever they were needed.

We take a look at just some of the things troops have turned their hand to since last March – from testing whole cities, to delivering babies  – and at some of the remarkable stories demonstrating community spirit and strength during the last 12 months.

Hundreds of Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, based in Wiltshire, put Christmas on pause when they went to help stranded lorry drivers in Kent get home to their families for the festive season.

The Battalion, which deployed at 2am on Christmas Eve, was responding to a request of support from Kent County Council and the Department of Transport to conduct COVID-19 testing at Manston Airfield and on the M20 with additional marshalling duties at Dover Ferry Terminal, to help clear a backlog of hundreds of lorries caught up in the French border closures.

In the South East, throughout Op Rescript Military Co-Responders were mobilised, crewing emergency ambulances with South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) paramedics, on a full-time basis.

Military Co-Responders are a group of medically trained volunteers who, when off duty, support the SCAS by providing additional cover in rapid response cars. The group are not MOD medics but are governed, trained and funded by the NHS.

About half of the 160 Co-Responders were mobilised; one of them, Colonel Richard Collinge, assisted with a patient who had gone into cardiac arrest. The patient recovered in hospital.

In Northern Ireland, 110 Combat Medical Technicians were deployed for five weeks in support of frontline nursing staff across three NI hospitals. The deployment was called Project Baird, after the famous local Mary Baird, who was a military nurse in WWII.

In Liverpool, around 2,000 troops facilitated 200,000 tests at almost 50 testing centres, with around a third of the population getting tested. The Coronavirus infection rate in the city was reduced from 680 per 100,000 people to under 100 in the space of around six weeks.

The entire force was generated, trained and deployed in less than a week and the extraordinary logistical effort enabled Liverpool and the wider city region to become the first area in the country to move down from Tier 3 to Tier 2 when the second lockdown ended last December.

A 20-year old Trooper, Conor Heffernan, usually based in Wiltshire with The Royal Tank Regiment, returned to his home town in Cornwall as part of a Mobile Testing Unit, one of many Army teams deployed around the country to provide nationwide testing capability in support of the Department of Health and Social Care.

1 Rifles were part of Defence’s COVID support force in Wales, after training at Sennybridge. Serjeant Wayne Delahunty and Lance Corporal Dan Ells both helped to deliver babies during shifts supporting paramedics.

Sejeant Delahunty is a former nightclub manager from Leicester, and has served tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He said: ‘I set up the gas and Entonox for pain relief and was helping to reassure the mum when the midwife came in to take over. I realised my calf was also involved in providing pain relief because, even though I didn’t offer it, the mum gave it a proper squeeze.’

LCpl Ells was working out of Tredegar in a rapid response vehicle at around midnight when the baby he helped deliver made its appearance.

In Scotland, the Scots Dragoon Guards set up vaccination centres in support of the Scottish Health Boards and Civil Authorities, before handing them over to NHS Scotland. Their 50th site was at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh.

And in London, Private Maddy Oliver, assisting with the vaccination roll-out, gave a dose of the vaccine to an Auschwitz survivor. The injection was administered in his upper arm, above the tattoo he was given at the concentration camp 76 years earlier.

Every part of the Army, Regular, Reserves and Civilians, contributed to UK-wide response to COVID. Under Future Soldier, the Reserves will be trained in warfighting roles, as well as taking the lead in national resilience tasks. For more information, visit Future Soldier.