Fishing on Tweed helps injured soldiers get back on right lines

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THERE were plenty of fish in the River Tweed last week, and it was almost as if the salmon were jumping just to taunt the three injured Coldstream Guards who were up for a day’s fishing.

Salmon fishing on the Tweed at this time of year is at a premium, and yet for the second year running generous fishermen gave up a day’s angling themselves as a thank you to the servicemen for their service to their country, and also as part of their rehabilitation process as they recover from injuries sustained while fighting in Afghanistan.

Last year two injured Coldstream Guards enjoyed fishing at Lennel followed by great hospitality from the people of Coldstream, and this time around it was David Lockhart and Gavin Kelly who donated the day’s fishing at the Wellington Pool, just upstream from where the River Till joins the Tweed, to Lance Sgt Richard French and Guardsmen Scott Cooper and David Atherton.

The generosity of David Lockhart and Gavin Kelly was matched by others keen to support the men who had risked their lives – the soldiers were given free accommodation at the Newcastle Arms in Coldstream, The Collingwood at Cornhill provided lunch at the riverside, Eyemouth Leisure Centre allowed them to use their facilities free of charge for a training session, and the local Coldstream Guards Association put the whole programme together with a great deal of help from Bill Quarry of the Tweed Foundation, who hosted the day out and also brought the Foundation’s wheelyboat that is used to allow disabled fishermen to continue with the sport.

When the two 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards were fishing on the Tweed last year a number of local people made generous donations, and around £2000 was raised. Chairman of the local branch, Tommy Hermiston, said: “People in the town were very generous and I can assure them that none of the money will be wasted. The Coldstream branch has kept hold of the money rather than sending it to the central fund. This day’s fishing is the first thing we have spent some of it on and we are hoping to do other things with the rest.”

Lance Sgt French and Guardsmen Cooper and Atherton were all injured during the Coldstream Guards tour of Afghanistan in 2009-2010, where the Guards lost five men and suffered 36 casualties. Lance Sgt French sustained facial injuries when a grenade went off and has partial loss of sight in one eye, Guardsman Cooper lost a leg after an IED (improvised explosive device) went off and Guardsman Atherton was shot in the neck and still has an operation to go before he is fully fit to resume duties, although he is still a working soldier in the storeroom at the regiment’s new headquarters at Windsor.

All three are still in the Coldstream Guards, and Lance Sgt French is now fit enough to return to the battlefield as a section commander and is on two weeks notice for his fourth tour of Helmand as a battlefield casualty replacement.

However, last Thursday they were doing battle with the salmon in the River Tweed at the Tillmouth beat and the odds seemed to be in their favour as it often yields the biggest catches on the river during a year. According to Bill Quarry both the Tillmouth beat and the Tweed Mill, on the Scottish bank of the same stretch of river, can often yield up 250-300 fish each per season.

On arriving at Coldstream on Wednesday afternoon the soldiers were given a casting lesson from salmon and trout fishing instructor Neil Truelove, who had travelled up from West Yorkshire, and on the Thursday morning as they were heading off to the river they were given more advice, this time by keen angler and retired footballer and football manager Jackie Charlton, a regular Tweed fisherman.

“It was a privilege to teach them casting,” said Neil, “and they picked it up incredibly quickly. They’re naturals.”

Yet despite their expert tuition, casting skills, the prolific catches usually to be had at the Tillmouth beat and the number of fish in the river, the trio eventually had to admit defeat and be pictured with a salmon brought along for such eventualities “just in case”.

Which leaves the battalion’s bragging rights with Guardsman Greg Dunnings so far. Along with Guardsman Billy Robinson, Guardsman Dunnings visited Coldstream last year and hooked himself a salmon.

Guardsmen Dunnings and Robinson had also sustained injuries during the Coldstream Guards’ tour in Afghanistan, the former suffering serious leg injuries when a fellow soldier stood on a roadside bomb as the two of them carried an injured comrade to safety, while Guardsman Robinson was caught by shrapnel and suffered numerous injuries including damage to his spine after a colleague stood on another roadside bomb.

Just like the three soldiers visiting Coldstream this autumn for a spot of salmon fishing, Greg and Billy were taken by surprise at the warmth of the hospitality they received during their stay, reinforcing the links between the regiment and the town, which are now ‘nulli secundus’ (second to none).