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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
'Long, hard struggle' for green beret
Pip Tattersall on assault course rope
Capt Tattersall on her way to a green beret
The first woman to win a prized Royal Marines' green beret says she was "absolutely awestruck" when she realised she had achieved her ambition.

After two failed attempts, Captain Philippa Tattersall overcame physical and mental challenges to make it third time lucky.

Captain Tattersall, from Tarland in Aberdeenshire, passed the nine-week all-arms commando course, widely regarded as one of the toughest in the world.

She said: "It's still sinking in I think, it's been a long hard struggle. It's certainly a good feeling now."

Nine-week ordeal
30-mile yomp in 8 hours carrying 35lb pack and SA80 rifle
'Tarzan' assault course involving ladders and ropes
Second assault course, scaling 6ft-high wall with 31lb pack and rifle - both to be completed back-to-back inside 12.5 minutes

However, her feat will not see her involved in hostilities because of the Ministry of Defence's ban on women being in the front line.

She will only be able to work in 3 Commando Brigade performing combat support or combat service support.

Captain Tattersall, 27, who is serving in the Adjutant General's Corps, passed the course at the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon.

She failed in her first two attempts to complete the course last year.

Dartmoor weather

At a news conference on Friday, she admitted: "It's certainly the toughest thing I've done so far and I think that's probably because of all the elements that are encompassed, both the physical and the mental and the duration."

Asked what the low point had been she laughed: "Dartmoor weather.

"When you're sat in orders at two in the morning, knowing that you're going out on a patrol at four and the rain's going sideways, upwards, downwards and you know you've got another five days to go, all you can do is smile and that's cheerfulness under adversity.

Pip Tattersall on a wall
Walls were among the challenges

"It's tough going but you get each other through it."

On Wednesday, Capt Tattersall completed a 30-mile yomp over Dartmoor in less than eight hours, carrying a 35lb pack and an SA80 rifle.

But, having failed the assault course, she had to watch as 47 male colleagues received their green berets at the finishing line.

To win the coveted green beret she had to return to two assault courses and complete them back-to-back within 12.5 minutes.

She said that when she finished them, she was "absolutely awestruck".

'Disruptive influence'

Major General Julian Thompson, a former commander of the Royal Marines Commandos and Parachute Battalions during the Falklands, praised Capt Tattersall.

"I congratulate her, but I am neither pleased nor unhappy that a woman has passed the commando course," he said.

"She must have been very good to get through."

Despite her success, she is prevented by the ruling from Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon that it would be too risky for women soldiers to serve alongside men in combat.

Pip Tattersall receives her green beret
Finally, the proud moment arrives

Major General Thompson added: "I'm not in favour of women being on the front line.

"I am sure there are women who are strong enough, but we are talking about cohesion of the unit.

"Warfare is often in the most hostile environments and close combat situations can be bloody and dirty with hand-to-hand fighting and bayonets.

"Women would be a disruptive influence on the team."

Two other female soldiers, Capt Claire Philips and Lance Cpl Joanna Perry from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, failed the commando course earlier this year.

A Royal Navy officer, Surgeon Lieutenant Katy Bray, dropped out earlier this month and must decide within 14 months whether or not to make another attempt.

Captain Philippa Tattersall
"It's been a long hard struggle"
The BBC's Richard Lister
"More than half of those who attempt this course fail to pass"
The BBC's Colin Wight
"This was the third and final attempt at finishing the punishing schedule"
See also:

31 May 02 | Scotland
22 May 02 | UK Politics
13 May 02 | England
27 Mar 02 | England
04 Jun 01 | UK
26 Apr 01 | UK
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