SOLDIERS from the Wiltshire based Household Cavalry Regiment have spent two weeks in Kent helping to clear a backlog of lorry drivers and hauliers bound for continental Europe.

A total of 26 soldiers from the regiment travelled from their home at Ward Barracks in Bulford to the former Second World War Royal Air Force fighter base at Manston to support the Department of Transport conducting Covid-19 tests on the drivers as part of on Operation ROSE.

The vast expanse of runway now serves as a location for the many thousands of Europe-bound lorry drivers to call into and get themselves checked for Covid-19 before heading off to the nearby channel ports and across to France.

The troops worked around the clock operating a two 12-hour shift patterns. Trooper Jack Braithwaite, 21, said: “Yes, the hours are long and it does get bitterly cold out here on the airfield, but it has been quite satisfying to be able to say I’ve done my bit to help the country during this time.

“We’ve had a bit of a laugh with some of the drivers – it can be very funny seeing their reactions when we are trying to explain to them how to take the test.”

Maintaining the flow of lorry traffic through the Channel Tunnel and the UK’s south coast ports has been critical in keeping the UK’s shops stocked with produce and the wheels of commerce turning.

Since the advent of the Kent strain of the Coronavirus, all those crossing the Channel to mainland Europe are required to be tested for the virus.

The troops at the Manston site processed in excess of 1,000 lorries a day and across all the other sites in Kent that figure rises to over 2,500 per day.

The Government initially turned the military to support the massive logistical challenge of testing and registering the tens of thousands of lorry drivers that pass through the Channel Tunnel and Port of Dover.

Their task was to initiate and run several large-scale testing sites in Kent to be handed over to civilian contractors as early as possible.

The troops had to instruct the lorry drivers on how to conduct the Covid-19 lateral flow test. This involves preparing a phial of solution, demonstrating the taking of swab samples from both the back of the throat and each nostril, how to combine solution and sample and then the actual method of dripping the solution onto the indicator and reading the outcome of the results.

Speaking on their penultimate day at Manston, Corporal Andrew Kennedy said: “We are very busy at the moment, because not only do we have to keep processing the lorries coming through, but we are training the civilian crews who are now about to take over from us.”

Despite having to endure working in sub-zero temperatures as Storm Darcy’s icy blast swept across the south east many of the soldiers said their biggest challenge was having to communicate to so many differing nationalities – they also revealed it provided the greatest amusement to both them and the lorry drivers.

With a combination of improvised sign language and a selection of pre-loaded images on their smart phones they managed to explain their way through the testing procedure.

The military have now completed the training of their civilian counterparts who have now taken over the running of the site.