THE heroic efforts of Royal Navy personnel who risked their lives to save others while fighting the deadly Ebola outbreak have been honoured.
The Royal Marines Band Service, family and dignitaries, gathered in the shadow of RFA Argus for the presentation.
A total of 70 personnel from the Royal Navy Medical Service collected the new medal, designed to recognise the courage undertaken by military and civilian personnel who risked their lives to battle the epidemic in Africa.
And tributes to their heroics came from the Duchess of Cornwall and David Cameron.
The prime minister said the Ebola outbreak was one of ‘the most devastating epidemics in a generation’, and the medal would pay tribute to the British people who risked their lives to fight the virus.
‘Thanks to their efforts, many lives were saved and the outbreak contained,’ he added.
Chief Petty Officer Anne Evans, of Gosport, was among those to receive the accolade at the city’s naval HQ for her work as an infection control nurse.
The 41-year-old said: ‘I feel incredibly proud and honoured to be recognised for the work we did in Sierra Leone and the neighbouring countries with their Ebola crisis.’
Camilla was due to present the award but was forced to withdraw after contracting gastroenteritis.
But in a speech she wrote, read out by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the Duchess expressed her ‘admiration and heartfelt thanks’ for the ‘magnificent work’ during Argus’s deployment.
She said: ‘The work they undertook during their six-month deployment was truly exemplary and, although at times it must have been extremely arduous, their professionalism and skill were a key of the UK support to the international Ebola crisis in west Africa and, in particular, Sierra Leone.
‘Although they were there to provide medical support purely to deployed UK personnel, Argus’s ever-present grey hull, sitting close in-shore and working helicopter loads, reassured the people of Sierra Leone that support and aid were never far away during that extremely anxious and difficult time.’
Ebola is a highly infectious illness. It killed more than 10,000 people in Africa.
RFA Argus was first sent to Sierra Leone in September 2014, at the height of the crisis. She stayed for six months providing vital medical supplies, support staff and treatment facilities.
I feel incredibly proud and honoured to be recognised for the work we did in Sierra LeoneChief Petty Officer Anne Evans, infection control nurse
On board the medical ship was a detachment of Royal Marines from 1 Assault Group Royal Marines, as well as three Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron and a team from the Royal Naval Medical Services.
Many of those in the aid effort, which was called Operation Gritlock, faced a risk of contracting the deadly disease, particularly when on the mainland.
The bravery off all those involved in the operation inspired Mr Cameron to call for a new service medal to honour their efforts. A total of 3,000 people will be awarded the medal.