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Sandy Bartlett

Royal Naval commando.

Born: May 23, 1924; Died: January 10, 2014

Sandy Bartlett, who has died aged 89, was one of the toughest of the tough, a hardy young Highlander who became one of the elite Royal Naval Commandos of the Second World War.

Having volunteered after just six weeks in the navy, he found himself in at the deep end on his first day of training - on a march into the sea where he was ordered to remain until the last man was up to his neck. It was November, in a west coast sea loch.

However brutal the exercise, it served its purpose, preparing the 18-year-old for combat in the North African and Italian campaigns and a particularly bloody assault on Elba that saw his troop disbanded through heavy casualties.

Wounded by shrapnel in an arm and leg, he spent some time in hospital in Italy before serving in Holland. He was there for Victory in Europe Day, but there were no celebrations for the commando units were to be shipped to the Pacific. However, he had home leave to take before the scheduled sailing and the war with Japan came to a swift conclusion before they were needed - with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

On being demobbed, Mr Bartlett returned home to Contin, Ross-shire, where he was born and where he spent the rest of his days, still in the company of his shrapnel.

The son of rabbit trapping contractor William Bartlett and his wife Annabella, he attended the local school until leaving at 14 to start a butcher's apprenticeship in nearby Strathpeffer. He was still there when he was called up four years later in 1942, the year the Royal Naval Commandos were established as a lead force to land ahead of and clear beaches for troops.

His basic navy training took place at Chatham in Kent and soon afterwards, when volunteers were being sought for the new units, he stuck his hand up on hearing training was to start in Scotland a week later. Exercises began at Ardentinny on Loch Long at HMS Armadillo camp where hundreds of men were put through their paces practising amphibious landings, beach, reconnaissance and survival skills.

He then moved on to Achnacarry, known as Castle Commando, north of Fort William, where arduous training took place in the ice and snow of the Scottish mountains. Few dropped out and failed to collect the coveted green beret of the commandos, whose Royal Naval units relished their motto First In, Last Out.

Training completed, he served in North Africa before taking part in the Allied amphibious landing at Anzio, on the western coast of Italy, with O unit.

He went on to take part in Operation Brassard, the invasion of the island of Elba, in early June 1944. Despite extensive pre-op exercises the units were unable to overcome the enemy's coastal defences, coming under heavy fire in the bay of Marina di Campo. The commandos suffered some of their heaviest losses that day with the result that O unit was virtually wiped out and disbanded.

Other Allied troops fought on for two days until the German commander capitulated and the island was taken but the operation went down as a "bloody little sideshow".

Young Bartlett, still just 20, was wounded at Elba, but recuperated to join M unit in Holland. The unit took part in another major amphibious landing, the invasion of Walcheren, the Dutch island at the mouth of the River Scheldt, and the crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem.

By VE Day, he was stationed at Nijmegen with the looming prospect of joining South East Asia Command. He and his companions were not to know that the war would soon be over and that it would also bring to an end the Royal Naval Commandos. Although they ceased to exist in name, their roles have been revived under different auspices down the years.

Like the majority of his comrades, he spoke rarely of his exploits and simply returned home to his old life, taking up where he had left off in the butchery trade in Strathpeffer.

He married his wife Marion in 1954 in the local parish church and they had a son and daughter.

After retiring at 65, he continued to work for a while, using his passion for gardening by looking after the garden of a local hospital where his wife had worked as a nurse. Although he suffered a stroke 14 years ago, he remained independent, enjoying a dram and the craic of a family gathering.

He is his survived by his wife, son Alistair, daughter Dinah, nine grand-children and several great grandchildren.

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