Soldiers from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS), took to the beaches of Portobello this week to test life-saving metal detectors – just metres away from parents and children out enjoying a spot of spring sunshine.
Army chiefs confirmed their men took part in “routine” security training on Wednesday afternoon to develop essential skills aimed at helping them detect and avoid mines in war zones.
As the mercury jumped into the high teens, surprised locals said it was the first time they had seen a military exercise take place on their normally tranquil and family-friendly stretch of sand.
But they said it “made sense” for soldiers to use the beach if it meant nearby fields, parks and woods escaped being dug up or damaged.
One of Scotland’s best-known regiments, 2 SCOTS has a history stretching back to 1678 and conducted military operations in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Kenya.
Chris Watson, manager at Straven Guest House, which is located next to Portobello Prom, said: “It’s the first time I have ever seen anything like that. I just thought you might as well do what you can where you can. If you’re going to sweep for mines it makes sense to do it where you’ll pick up the skills you need.
“It was certainly an intrigue to see what they were up to. But I know there was a very relaxed air about them. It’s not that there was any urgency about it – you knew it was just a training exercise.”
And he said it was important soldiers were provided with a range of training grounds where disruption to the local environment could be minimised.
“They need to learn their skills somewhere,” he added. “With the beach you’re not being destructive in any great way.
“You’re not having to dig up some field somewhere to bury something. I would say that it’s a good use of the space.”
Sean Watters, joint secretary at Portobello Community Council, said the reaction of locals had been relaxed and supportive.
He said: “I certainly haven’t seen or heard of anything like that – it’s a surprise.
“It’s a big beach so as long as there were no explosions – that wouldn’t go down well – I think it’s fine. It doesn’t sound like it caused problems.”
Army leaders confirmed soldiers from 2 SCOTS were engaged in “standard security training” similar to that carried out by all other regiments.
2 SCOTS is a light role infantry battalion based in Glencorse Barracks, Penicuik, and completed an overseas exercise in Kenya earlier this year.
The regiment’s most recent operational tour in 2013 saw 400 soldiers sent to Afghanistan in an advisory and liaison role with the Afghan Uniform Police.
It previously deployed to Afghanistan with 16 Air Assault Brigade in 2008 and 2011, and Iraq in 2004 and 2005.