I’ve been with the Royal Wessex Yeomanry ‘B’ Squadron officially since completing my Pass-out Parade in December last year. This year I have really focused on integrating more with the Squadron and the wider Regiment. Having considered that last year most of the communication was through webinars with limited numbers.

Where will we be conducting our training?

My first Annual Training Practice (ATP) loomed near the end of this year, and as it got closer so more information came through. Talk of two weeks in Germany, a country I hadn’t really experienced much. Based in Sennelager with multiple tanks and various Squadrons of the Regiment sparked images of wide-open plains. The dismounted troops would be conducting practical exercises alongside Challenger 2 tanks with pyrotechnics and commands being shouted across the land.

Unfortunately, with travel restrictions the deployment to Germany was canceled, but not ATP. It had been moved to Lulworth down in nearby Dorset. Having been there a month before with my civilian archaeological employment on Flowers Barrow Hillfort and staying at Bovington Barracks I knew something of what to expect.

After a two-hour drive from Salisbury, we arrived at Lulworth Barracks by late evening. The next day, once we had done all the admin; talks and lectures about what to expect and health & safety for the coming weeks we were split between dismounted and mounted. I was part of dismounted having not yet got my Challenger 2 driver’s course yet. 

Off to the ranges.

We were immediately escorted onto the ranges at Bovington for Glock pistol practice. Having only ever trained on the SA80 rifle I thought it would be a lot easier to aim at a target just 25 metres away. By the end of the day, I would be as smooth as Daniel Craig.

I was wrong. The kickback that results from the Glock was much more severe than I first thought. I would like to say there were other mitigating reasons for not being on target but I would be lying.

In the evening we headed off to a two-hundred-year-old Victorian fortification protecting Plymouth Sound, Tregantle Fort in Cornwall.

The fort itself is foreboding and the van we arrived in and its wing mirrors – just managed to get through the narrow entrance. Then I found that the rooms where we set up our camp-cots were stripped. Not only of paint but of any furnishings and the only way the room retained heat was the three-foot walls the block was made of.

The first morning brought crisp and clear vistas along the Cornish coast and a sample of the weather we would have in the week ahead. By first light, we were heading to the ranges on one side of the Fort. From the top of the 300-metre range, there was a steep decline to the sea and a view of the English Channel beyond and the Royal Naval Frigates cruising out from behind cliffs. You could certainly see and feel the depth of the military history of the area.

Over the next three days, we progressed from 100-metre to eventually doing 300-metre ranges in various positions. Standing, prone, sitting, and kneeling – then the whole lot again but with support.

A pleasant surprise

With the help, assistance, and support from the Skill-at-Arms Instructor and the Coaches, we all passed our Annual Marksmanship Test. At the end of the last day there, it was announced who the best shots were. One by one in ascending order. Originally, I thought they’d missed my name but to my utter surprise, I was awarded Top Shot at the 300-metre range.

I think it must have been at this point when I could relax a bit. I realised that the instructors and the supporting staff were from the same Regiment as I. Going through basic training I was taught by a Corporal who was a Commando, a Bombardier from the Artillery, and various others from different regiments. When it came to my first ATP I thought it would be the same format.

It doesn’t feel long ago I was on my basic training, getting frustrated with myself because I couldn’t understand my way around a rifle. I can certainly say I have come a long way from then.

Families Day

The middle Saturday was Family’s Day back at the tank ranges at Lulworth. Tents were set up for a BBQ, stalls for the public to get to meet Medics and understand the ammunition we used on the ranges. Tanks were posed, lined up with one set aside for the public to climb into and ask their questions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my parents in the driving seat – but maybe that was just as well – they’d never have gotten out.

This was the first time my parents had seen me in a military setting due to COVID last year no family was allowed at our Pass-out Parade. This felt like it was the best place to show them what we do as a Regiment and introduce them to the people I work alongside.

Near the end of the day, as everyone gathered round to hear the Colonel’s closing speech, one of the Corporals gave me a couple of minutes warning that I was to receive an award for my shooting earlier in the week. The Corporal briefly gave me instructions as to how I should receive it. My lack of drill experience combined with utter shock at gaining the award did nothing to diminish the experience. Sadly, my parents, unaware as I was that this was about to happen, had left a few minutes earlier, having visited all the exhibits and having spoken to those who were displaying them.

Out in the field

Unfortunately, the next day a couple of COVID cases appeared in our midst on the tank ranges so this meant our group, the Dismounted, packed our Bergens. We would be out in the field for 6 days instead of the planned 4. The week was focused on firing manoeuvres with lessons in pyrotechnics and orienteering. Once we got ourselves sorted out, we headed to our own side of Lulworth Ranges where we could hear the firing of the tanks occasionally. We put our basha-tents amongst the trees in a nearby wooded area.

The weather this week made the previous week seem it was eons ago. The week before I was swimming in the sea in Cornwall, and now I had visions of my tent swimming down the wooded hill, with us often woken up by the moaning of the wind amongst the trees as much as anything.

Early in the week, there were suggestions that HRH Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex, would be visiting but with the presence of COVID, I wasn’t sure. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to seeing a member of the Royal Family. It was arranged that we would do an exercise in front of him then he would speak to us afterward.

End Ex

Once we had neutralised the enemy firing position and the exercise had finished; head to toe covered in cam cream, foliage, and mud we traipsed up to the officers. HRH Prince Edward greeted us with smiles and warm welcomes and made everyone feel at ease. It was certainly a memorable way to finish my first ATP.

In retrospect, I learned a lot from the two weeks, not only from what the instructors taught us but also from my own mistakes and watching everything intently. However, it wasn’t as intense as I thought it would be as all the training was presented in a way that would allow for mistakes and be able to learn from them.

I would certainly recommend anyone who has just done their Pass-out Parade to get their name down for the APT within their first year.

I’m now looking forward to other opportunities that come my way with the Regiment. This training made me feel at ease within my Squadron and the Regiment, more confident in myself and my abilities, more comfortable in my being a soldier learning his trade. There’s much more to learn, and many more opportunities to take, and it’s out there waiting for me.

It was a fantastic experience.