During the long post GCSE holiday I embarked on the trip of a life time to South Africa with the Army Cadet Force. It had been a long time coming as the initial selection had taken place in early 2015 with the writing of a personal statement detailing our interest and motivation to want to be part of this expedition. From there the entrants were narrowed to down to group of around eighty Army cadets from all walks of life to take part in a weekend selection event, consisting of command tasks and fitness tests. After having taken part in this, the group was further scrutinised and some cadets were turned away. From here we had two separate weeks of training in the Lake District, further honing our self-reliance skills, hiking ability and capacity to work as a group. All this contributed towards the completion of our Summer Mountain Foundation course with daily excursions onto the hills and lessons in nutrition, first aid and emergency casevac procedures. These weeks of training allowed us to form close friendships with our fellow cadets and get to know our instructors which played a vital role when getting through some tough times. At the end of this process we were down to sixty cadets and were divided into two expedition groups of thirty cadets. I ended up in expedition group one with some good mates.
Finally the day for pre-deployment came but it wasn’t without some last minute completion of paperwork and dashes to the shops to complete the lengthy kit list. We were all finally assembled in London going through final checks before leaving for the airport the following afternoon. After almost 24 hours of travel we were on our way to our first destination, Zingela game reserve.
The expedition itself can be broken down into three weeks, the first week being an acclimatisation stage, the second being your choice of one of three excursions; Trekking the Zulu Trail, Trekking through the Drakensberg Mountains and a Kayak trip down the Tugela River all for roughly five days. The third week was rest and recuperation.
The first week was at Zingela Game reserve a four hour bus ride from King Shaka airport in Durban. We spent just under a week working on our bush craft skills ranging from cooking in the bush to tracking wild game. We stayed in a tented camp and with temperatures reaching minus five at night it was a sprint from sleeping bag to outdoor but pleasantly warm showers in the mornings. Despite it being African winter, day time temperatures reached the thirties.
Quite suddenly after a relatively comfortable introduction to the expedition we all began our three separate excursions. I chose the Zulu Trail expedition, a brand new 85 kilometre trail through the Bushveld and Zulu territories following some of the British Army’s tracks from the Anglo-Zulu war. We were to complete it in five days. After an initial trek to visit and stay the night in a Zulu homestead we embarked on the first day. It was a 27 kilometre trek, the first and longest day of the trail. I and a friend were tasked with leading the group that day and managed to complete it in under nine hours. The rest of the trek went very well and I ended up the only one of the group not succumb to blisters.
Before we knew it we had got through the trek and found ourselves in a German Christian retreat in the region of Elandskraal, it was an eerie place as storms rolled in and we said goodbye to the good weather thankful to have escaped trekking in the rain. It was from here that we took part in some Zulu pottery classes, dancing and went on battlefield visits. We visited Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, these were both deeply moving places and held much significance within the Army cadets’ minds. Mid-way through our R&R week we moved location to the Twin streams eco reserve. Here we learnt about the biodiversity and importance of the St Lucia Wetlands. We visited a crocodile sanctuary, the Kruger national park and went on a river cruise.
Finally the day to leave came around all too quickly. After having such an amazing time it was hard for everyone to say goodbye to South Africa and each other.
Cadet Sergeant Alex Harris, Stowe School CCF (Army Section)