A month-long Caribbean mercy mission by Royal Marines earned them the military’s highest humanitarian award – the Firmin Sword of Peace – for an unprecedented fourth time…

The men and women of 40 Commando received the Firmin Sword of Peace – recognition for providing life-saving aid, assistance and security to communities across the Caribbean when a succession of ferocious storms battered the region in the autumn of 2017.

The commandos, based at Norton Manor near Taunton, were among the first people on the ground in Anguilla, the British Virgin and Turks and Caicos Islands in the wake of devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

They delivered food and fresh water, set up makeshift medical centres, cleared roads, restored power supplies, helped local authorities maintain law and order, patched up homes, secured an airport so flights could resume, rescued stray dogs and cleaned schools of debris so classes could resume.

Colour Sergeant John Dixon led a team of assault engineers who were heavily in demand for clearing debris, rebuilding and restoring vital services. “Every single man stood up to the mark when required – it was quite humbling. We had to get a result in such a pressure-keg situation – and we did,” he said.

40 Commando’s work was part of a major effort by all three of Britain’s armed forces in response to the natural disaster – codenamed Operation Ruman – which also saw helicopter carrier HMS Ocean which dashed across the Atlantic.

It was 40 Commando’s efforts which stood out above all others, however, according to those who award the coveted sword, presented to the military unit which has done the most to promote or sustain peace or provide humanitarian assistance. Originally known as the Wilkinson Sword of Peace, it has been presented since 1966 – though only if a unit was deserving.

It fell to the country’s most senior serving Royal Marine – General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and Commanding Officer of 40 Commando during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – to present the sword to Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard on his final day in charge of the Norton Manor unit.

General Messenger said he had followed the marines’ mission in the Caribbean from his office in Whitehall with admiration. “This is a huge achievement and this unit should be proud. Every new member of 40 Commando who sees the four swords in their display case should take enormous pride – it speaks of 40 Commando over the generations.”