Royal Marines help to reopen Virgin Island Schools

More than half a dozen schools in the British Virgin Islands are preparing to receive their first pupils in nearly a month thanks to the efforts of Royal Marines.

The marines, assault engineers and vehicle mechanics, medics and training officers of 40 Commando have toiled at schools, colleges and nurseries on Tortola and the small island of Jost van Dyke to clean classrooms, fix roofs, restore power supplies and generally make the buildings usable.

Many of the schools across the island chain were just two days into the new academic year when Hurricane Irma struck - and were still in a state of disrepair a fortnight later as the second Category 5 storm of the season, Maria, passed through.

St George's Secondary School in Havers was among the worst affected, battered by 200mph gusts - since when there have been no lessons.

On the first day of term everything was green - you looked out the window and green trees, leaves and grass. Now nothing.

Maria Springer

"On the first day of term everything was green - you looked out the window and green trees, leaves and grass. Now nothing.  

“Irma took everything green with her," said Maria Springer, the school's principal of business and accounts.

The commandos were asked to fix the generator and unblock the storm drain which had caused the building to flood so the school might re-open on 2 October.

Assault engineers cleared the drainage gulley, the vehicle mechanics fixed the generator to reinstate power… and Leading Photographer Joel Rouse mopped up the ground floor and porch.

In Road Town, teams got stuck in at St George's Primary, Isabella Morris School, End Scatlife pre-primary, and H. Lavity Stoutt Community College as well as the school in Cane Garden Bay on Tortola's west coast.

"I'm passionate about education and seeing the devastation in these schools is quite moving," said 40 Commando's Education Officer Sub Lieutenant Becky Carman.

"It's rewarding to be able to make these initial improvements and speed up the process of returning the local children to school."

Many schools have already resumed their teaching - a sign of the improving situation across the British Overseas Territory and the shifting emphasis of the military/civilian relief effort towards work, education and rebuilding communities.

No industry is more important than tourism but nearly five kilometers of perimeter fence around the islands' principal airport, Terrance B. Lettsome on Beef Island, were brought down by Irma.

It's meant no commercial flights into Tortola - which has not just hit the tourist trade, but severely limited the aid effort and the ability to move people and aid agencies around the islands.

Commandos from 40's Reconnaissance Troop and Bravo Company have been working around the clock to put it back up.

It took the two days, making use of individual initiative, sheer effort, and some technical guidance from their assault engineers to ensure the airport was ringed by a fence once again.

In addition to repairs at the airport, Bravo Company has focused their support in the East End on Tortola. "We've assisted the police in ensuring the night time curfew is enforced and helped patch up more roofs than I can count!" said Sergeant Stuart Mitchel from Reconnaissance Troop.

"The guys have worked hard and we're now setting our horizons onto redeploying onto HMS Ocean."

Once the Caribbean mission is over, 40 Commando - the UK's on-call Lead Commando Group - will join the helicopter carrier as she returns to the Mediterranean and resumes her programme of exercises and training in charge of a NATO task group.