British Army troops came to the rescue of thousands of weary truckers this Christmas as stranded drivers finally started to head home after days of being stuck in their cabs on a Kent airfield.
The soldiers sacrificed their own time with their families and loved ones to help more than 8,000 drivers get their vehicles on to ferries heading back to Europe.
As these pictures show, the huge queues at Manston airfield on Christms Day, right, were cleared by Boxing Day, far right, as troops processed the lorries that became trapped after France suddenly closed its borders last week.
Last night, several angry truckers blamed French President Emmanuel Macron for the delays, with one accusing him of ‘dirty politics’. The French government closed the border between Dover and Calais last Sunday after a new mutant strain of the coronavirus was discovered in London and the South East, feared to be 70 per cent more contagious.
After pressure from the UK, French ministers finally agreed to let truckers leave for Calais provided that they tested negative for the virus.
These pictures show, the huge queues at Manston Airport (left) are almost clear right), as soldiers missed family time to process more than 8,000 lorries that became trapped after France suddenly closed its borders last week
More than 1,100 soldiers joined civilian staff, French firefighters and the Polish military’s Territorial Defence Force to set up a testing system for the virus on Friday.
By last night, some 15,526 tests had been conducted on hauliers and more than 8,000 HGVs had passed over the border. Half of those lorries left after being processed on Christmas Day. However, many hauliers were furious that they failed to make it back home in time for Christmas, and accused Mr Macron of using the news of a new Covid strain as a political stunt as Brexit trade talks entered the final hours.
Mikhal Dometoro, 25, from Bucharest, Romania, had been in the UK for the past three days with his girlfriend, Alexandra, 25, who is also a trucker. The couple, who share the driving, had travelled to Hereford to drop strawberries at a depot.
He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The Army is good, they are good people. They worked on Christmas Day as well, I am very happy. It’s Macron, it’s dirty politics. I don’t like politics.’
Sauleus Norbetto said he was from a small town called Venta in Lithuania. He had come to drop off chocolate and supermarket food in Manchester.
The 47-year-old, who waited in Kent for four days, said: ‘It’s Macron’s fault. Because of the test, I am here, it’s all politics.
‘I come to UK all the time. Never have I seen anything like this. I have been coming to the UK for 20 years.’
Soldiers sacrificed their own time with their families and loved ones to help more than 8,000 drivers finally get their trucks on to ferries heading back to Europe
Manston airfield, about 20 miles from the Dover port, had become a spillover holding pen for thousands of HGVs parked on its 1.7mile-long runway on Christmas Day. By yesterday it was clear, although HGVs that had put off making the journey over the Christmas period were beginning to queue on the M20.
Craig Mackinlay, Conservative MP for South Thanet, Kent, said: ‘We’ve seen Britain at its best in managing and clearing the unexpected crisis arising from France’s precipitous closure of Channel routes.
‘Credit must go to the Army who, as ever, stepped up to the emergency but also to local councils and Kent emergency services who’ve worked long hours throughout this holiday season.’ Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, said ‘traffic is flowing’ at the Port of Dover but cautioned he expects more lorries to queue again within the coming days.
‘Next week is a normal working week so I would expect the vehicles to increase then too,’ he added. ‘It’s not over yet and we will see what happens next.
‘I want to pass on a thank you to everyone who has helped look after the drivers by giving them food – a lot of people have done a lot of hard work, and it’s really good to see so many people helping.’
Army troops came to the rescue of thousands of weary truckers this Christmas as the stranded drivers finally started to head home after days of being stuck in their cabs on a Kent airfield
Volunteers, including individuals from nearby communities, the Salvation Army, Muslim group Al-Khair Foundation, the Sikh community, HM Coastguard and Kent County Council, have been delivering thousands of warm meals and water to the drivers.
Even British-based truckers who were on holiday, broke off their vacation to come to Kent to donate food to fellow hauliers.
Emil Klatt, 25, from Birmingham, arrived in Kent in a van laden with food and drinks, and was handing out tea, bread, cakes and even non-alcoholic beer to truckers.
He said: ‘It’s Boxing Day, but I saw the queues on the TV and thought to myself, I have to come here and help. I just had to do it.’
Nacor Cue, 30, a trucker from northern Spain was stranded in the UK for five days after dropping a consignment of vegetables to a store in central London.
He said: ‘I was going to be back home for Christmas, but I was here. I had food, but there was no toilet or shower, so it is difficult.
‘I have never seen queues like this in my whole life.
Even British-based truckers who were on holiday, broke off their vacation to come to Kent to donate food to fellow hauliers
‘The Army were very good, they were incredible. They did the test and they gave me two tubs of warm food, I think it was turkey.’
Out of the 15,526 tests administered, just 36 were positive and those drivers are now in isolation for ten days at a Kent hotel. Natalie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, said: ‘The Armed Forces did a fantastic job. They were pivotal in keeping Dover clear with their Covid testing and ensuring the flow of traffic.
‘But it has been a combined effort with the police and the national testing teams, which made sure that the queues ended.’
She added: ‘We were faced with the problem due to the unreasonable French behaviour in closing down the border.
‘I hope the Armed Forces and others manage to keep Dover clear in the coming days as the border remains closed.’