Friday, 17 December 2021, 19:04
Andrew Holder, a veteran who served with the Royal Engineers, lived in Gibraltar for several years and loves it so much that he still thinks of it as home. So when he met an elderly man, Peter Moffatt, at a veterans social group in Burnley where they both live, he was delighted to find that they had a love of Gibraltar in common.
"Peter had been a member of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, a regiment which is now defunct because of amalgamations and so on, and he had been posted to Gibraltar for about four years, during and after the Second World War. He was demobbed in1947 and had never been back since, but he had always wanted to," Andrew says.
The two men decided to make a very special trip to Gibraltar together, to attend the events commemorating the granting of the Freedom of the City to the Royal Engineers regiment, and Peter couldn't wait. He was so excited and it was all he talked about. "But then Covid hit, and we couldn't come," says Andrew. "It broke his heart".
Sadly, Peter died in June 2020, not of Covid but due to other health problems.
"We draped his coffin with the flag of Gibraltar, in honour of his service," says Andrew. "He was a really good friend. I missed him terribly and still do. And it kept playing on my mind that I hadn't kept my promise to him. I had promised to take him back to Gibraltar, and I hadn't been able to do it. I felt I had let him down".
And then Andrew came up with an idea. He went to talk to Peter's daughter, Laura. Peter had been cremated, and Andrew wondered how she would feel about him bringing a small container of some of his ashes to Gibraltar and scattering them there, if he could get permission.
Laura thought it would be a lovely idea, and so Andrew contacted the Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes, to see whether it would be possible. And it was. So last year, in the presence of a few well-wishers and some media, Peter's ashes were scattered by Andrew near the Moorish castle, in a moving ceremony which included the Last Post played by a bugler, a two-minute silence, and then the Reveille.
As he scattered the ashes Andrew, very emotional, told his old friend "Peter, I love you. You were like a dad to me. Bless you. I'll never forget you, sir. Rest in peace, my man".
Nor was that all. One year later, on Remembrance Sunday this year, Andrew returned to the Moorish castle to lay flowers for Peter in the place he had scattered the ashes.
"I had to bring him back to the Rock of Gibraltar. He was so special. He loved the Moorish castle, there was a barracks somewhere near here and that's what he used to talk to me about. He loved this place. I feel he's at rest here," he said.
Andrew is from a military family; his father was also in the army and lost quite a number of friends in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in the 1970s. He says the support given to others by former or serving soldiers is immensely important. "We are a family. No matter where you serve or how old you are, you form part of the military family and we all look after each other when it is needed. We support each other," he explains.
This year, Andrew laid a wreath on behalf of the Royal Engineers Association at Gibraltar's Remembrance Day commemorations. "It's a day when we have to remember the people who gave their lives. We must never forget, so we can continue to speak freely like I am to you now," he said in a TV interview afterwards.
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