A former Royal Marine wears his poppies with pride all year long – with seven tattooed on his back in memory of comrades he lost in Afghanistan.
Rob French’s back is adorned with the large tattoo, featuring silhouettes of seven Royal Marines killed in the conflict during 2008 and 2009.
The piece is framed by seven large poppies to remember the fallen servicemen, who became known as the “magnificent seven” by colleagues.
Mr French, 35, served as a Royal Marine from 2006 to 2013, when he was medically discharged having reached the rank of lance corporal. The father-of-two, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, is raising money in aid of The Royal British Legion and in honour of his fallen friends.
“Around this time of year, the public start wearing poppies to show that they remember the fallen, but for me and all the other servicemen and women who have been to war, every single day is Remembrance Day,” the swimming instructor said. “That’s why I will always wear my poppies.”
Married Mr French, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had his tattoo started in November 2015. He described how he was particularly close to three of the Marines it features – L/Cpl Steven “Jamie” Fellows, L/Cpl Ben Whatley, and L/Cpl Jason Mackie.
“I decided to get the tattoo to place the reminder on my back so that they are with me and behind me pushing me on, rather than in front and holding me back,” he added.
Mr French was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, breaking his wrist badly while serving as a machine gunner during that tour. He was flown back to the UK four months into his deployment to have the injury examined.
“I have always carried the weight of Ben Whatley’s death on my shoulders as he was killed on Christmas Eve two weeks after I was sent home,” he said.
“I have always felt that if I was there I may have been selected to take that position on the same roof top, and therefore taken the round that hit Ben. I still live with that guilt now.
“I have used Ben’s name as my first born son, Joseph’s middle name and I will make sure he knows where the name came from and what price Ben paid so I could come home and become a dad.”
Mr French underwent an operation on his wrist in 2009 and completed the full Operation Herrick 12 deployment in 2011. Further operations were required on his wrist following that tour.
In March 2013, he was medically discharged due to his wrist injuries and PTSD.
Mr French became a beneficiary of The Royal British Legion in 2014 when a money and debt adviser from the charity represented him during a tribunal.
It also directed him to counselling to help with PTSD and his transition to civilian life. He is a regular visitor to the charity’s drop-in centre in his home town.
Mr French has released a poem in tribute to those who have fallen in conflicts.
Part of it, addressed to L/Cpl Whatley, reads: “I owe you my life so I will make it a good one, full of love and happiness and a lot of good fun. I hope to live till I’m old and die peacefully in bed, with that soft pillow under my head.
“I will see you again be it hot or it cold, until then I will make sure your story is told. I hope you will be waiting holding open the gates, all I want is a slap on my back and to see all of our mates.”
Both of Mr French’s grandfathers served in the Second World War – one in the RAF and one in the Army. He hopes to take part in a swimming event at the Invictus Games in the future.
:: Mr French’s fundraising page in aid of The Royal Marines Charity and The Royal British Legion is: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/2minutesto2minutes
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