Category Archives: British Army

From Strength To Strength


Veteran-Mark Smith

I served 10 years with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, but whilst overseas in 2011, I was shot several times, resulting in the loss of my right leg and part of my right shoulder.
I was subsequently medically discharged in 2013, this was after 10 weeks in Hospital, over 20 operations and being resuscitated six times! Due to being nil by mouth fairly often, I lost over 20kg during my time in Hospital and after seeing myself deteriorate every day that I looked in the mirror, I vowed I’d never look that ill again.

Myself on stage

Myself on stage

Fast forward to the present day and I kept my promise to myself-Since November 2014 I have been competing as a Disability Bodybuilder and it has been amazing so far. I won my first competition last November, then received an invite to compete in America, which I took up and in March, competed and won in Texas and best of all, I was invited back on stage to pose with current 4 times Mr Olympia, Phil Heath! Since returning, I have competed in an able bodied Novice class, where I took Best up and coming bodybuilder and now have 3 competitions in the next 3 weekends.
When I left the Forces, I went through what most lads go through-Missing being a Squaddie, but being stubborn, I stuck it out and getting involved in this sport has been my own anti-depressant.

Phil Heath and I

Phil Heath and I

I have appeared on various radio stations, national newspapers, TV documentaries and been signed to a management company, as well as becoming a sponsored athlete and I’ve even been invited to be involved in this years Body Power Expo at the NEC. The interest in myself and the potential have been overwhelming and I’m keen to share this with other veterans who have been injured, who perhaps aren’t aware that there is a Disability Bodybuilding class. I’m convinced it’s the perfect transition for Squaddies-The routine, discipline and physical nature mean the strengths of coming from a military background make it feel similar, which I think has helped me overcome missing being a Soldier.

I have my own bodybuilding page and I’d be more than happy to talk with any lads interested in finding out more. It would be a very proud moment to step on stage with a veteran that I have inspired to become a bodybuilder.

For more information you can visit
https://www.facebook.com/MarksmithBB

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The End of my Tour


Rifleman Jones 7RIFLES

I left in the summer, two weeks before the end of Trinity term. Oxford is at its most beautiful then. Long evenings, village cricket, garden parties, balls; these were my last impressions of the University and the town. No doubt it would have been easier to leave in the grey drizzle of winter.

I joined Sydney University Regiment of the Australian Army Reserve in 2010, in the last year of my undergraduate studies. In 2011, when I was awarded a scholarship to study at Oxford, I decided to continue my service with the British Army in the 7th Battalion of the Rifles Regiment (7RIFLES). It may come as a surprise to some readers that there are still a large number of Commonwealth soldiers serving in the British Army. In 2010 one in ten soldiers serving in the British infantry was from the Republic of Ireland or the Commonwealth. I’m now in Afghanistan with Gurkhas, Fijians, Ghanians, South Africans, soldiers from the Caribbean, as well as two other Australians.

Rifleman Jones

Rifleman Jones

In the middle of last year I volunteered to suspend my studies at Oxford and deploy to Afghanistan. With twenty other reservists, I joined B Company, 2nd Battalion of the Rifles, to provide force protection to British forces in Kabul. We arrived in theatre in the first week of August.

Kabul is a city of sharp contrasts: the most polluted city in the world, set against a spectacular natural backdrop of mountains; million pound, of state-of-the-art military vehicles driving past overladen donkey carts; soldiers and police everywhere but ever deteriorating security. Through conversations with our interpreters, guards and other ‘Locally Employed Nationals’, I am constantly reminded what a shame it is that we are in Kabul at such a difficult time in its history; this city has a rich culture and history that its inhabitants are justly proud of. It also has a long history with the British army, something that is difficult to forget in Camp Souter – named for Captain Souter, one of the few survivors of the army’s disastrous, 1848 retreat from Kabul.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our life as force protection troops in Kabul has been largely governed by a three-week rotation, between patrolling, standing guard and providing the ‘quick reaction force’ (QRF). Of these three, patrolling is the upheld as the Riflemen’s favourite. On patrols week our job is to protect British and NATO personnel as they move around the city. It is a chance to employ our training, escape the claustrophobia of camp, see the city and – not least of all – hopefully visit an American dining facility (‘DFAC’). Guard week is tiring, although you get an interesting perspective on the city by standing and observing over long periods from Camp Souter’s sangers (guard towers). Some truly strange things have been reported on guard, which has coloured our appreciation of Kabul. Although, I suspect if you stood and observed some point on the outskirts of Oxford (or London, or Sydney) for hours on end you might see some equally strange things. QRF week is a chance for us to administer our kit and conduct training…and watch movies, while waiting for a call-out should a NATO call-sign get into trouble.

Now, at the end of our tour, the prospect of returning to Oxford looms. I suspect that the University town holds a special place in every student’s heart, but for me it has become even more idyllic by contrast. All its idiosyncrasies, which I recall being occasionally frustrating, only make Oxford seem further gloriously removed from troubled Kabul. And, although I confess to pining badly for Sydney’s beaches – particularly during the Afghan winter – Oxford has never been far from my mind.

For more information you can visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/armyreserve/bhq7thbattaliontherifles.aspx

Army Reserves Prepare for the Commonwealth Games


Mobilised for the Commonwealth Games

More than 2,000 military personnel from all 3 services, including hundreds of Reserves, have been tasked to assist with venue security as well as undertaking a number of ceremonial roles. We intend to deliver to you a weekly Blog from a Reservists perspective…..

2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

Lieutenant General Sir Nicholas Carter, the Standing Joint Commander, said:

The armed forces have always provided support to the civilian authorities in the UK whenever it is needed. We are ready to assist in whatever contingencies may arise and have done so during the 2012 Olympics and more recently during the floods crisis. We are extremely proud to be able to provide support to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as part of a task that reflects the flexibility, capability and adaptability of our armed forces. As part of our shared commitment to ensure a safe and secure Games, the UK government will fully fund this military contribution, with no costs being incurred by Police Scotland.

RTMC Chilwell

RTMC Chilwell

All personnel mobilising for the Commonwealth Games made their way to RTMC Chilwell to start the mobilisation process on 10th July 2014 – At 0800hrs the mobilisation begins with briefings on the task ahead and the mobilisation process:,J1 administration and a medical.  All personnel from 103 Bn REME and 3 PWRR successfully passed. 11th July 2014 – All personnel move to Grantham to commence the training package. 12th July 2014 – After a few short briefings all troops were split into small groups and the SIA (Security Industry Authority) training began .

Security Industry Authority Certificate

Security Industry Authority Certificate

Perseus a civilian security company took the lead role in the training, they trained us in “Working in the private security industry” and “Managing conflict and challenging behaviour” both of which were to City & Guilds level 2 standards and consisted of 4 theory exams, 1 theory assessment and a physical assessment. 15th July 2014 – After a long and tiring few days of training, most of the mobilised personnel head off to Grantham town centre for a well-earned and deserved social evening. 16th July 2014 – Currently waiting to move to Glasgow, moral is high and everyone is looking forward to the challenge ahead. The mobilised personnel from 103 Bn REME and 3 PWRR wish to thank all the staff from RTMC Chilwell, Grantham and Perseus for all their kind help and advice during the mobilisation process and training package.

LCpl Arkwright, 103 Bn REME

 

103 Battalion REME, the Army’s equivalent to the AA


Ex Southern Bluebell

It’s not every day that you get the chance to get up close and personal with a Coyote!  But that’s what I was doing yesterday.

It was with a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation that I pulled up outside the Army barracks at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain for a day with the 103 Battalion REME, the Army’s equivalent to the AA.  Not one to know an axle from a drive shaft, I was thrust briefly into the world of petrol heads and greasy mechanics and it was important they thought I knew what they were talking about!!

The Army reservists from the Battalion which has units in Crawley, Hilsea, Ashford and Redhill, were all taking part in Exercise Southern Bluebell, an integrated training weekend designed specifically for REME Army Reservists to undertake training to improve their currency and competency trade skills so they are able to support the Regulars in terms of being fit to mobilise.  With a variety of different trades being showcased, from armourers, to vehicle mechanics and recovery specialists, and with Regulars and Reserves sharing their wealth of experience I knew I was in for an interesting day.

Sorting the problem !!

Sorting the problem !!

From what I could see when I entered the hangar, it was every car mechanics dream!  When and where else would you get the chance to remove and replace a drive shaft from a Coyote, change a bulb on a Mastiff or repair a power steering fluid reservoir on a Jackal?  From my inexperienced eye, I could see that I was standing amongst several millions of pounds worth of heavy duty and specialised military equipment in the hangars – all with bonnets up and innards exposed!

WOII Adie Leah, 37, part of 5 Battalion REME in Sheffield is a Regular Permanent Staff Instructor responsible for training the Army Reserves.  Having served for 19 years, his experience of carrying out battled damage repairs is second to none.  “Having the skills to get a vehicle back on the road quickly is the priority, and the Vehicle Mechanics (VMs) need to think creatively, using whatever they have available.  It could be a coke can or a bandage – you’d be surprised at how ingenious our VMs can be to get the vehicle and the crew out of a situation and back to safety.”

British Army's answer to the AA

British Army’s answer to the AA

It struck me very quickly that these members of the Territorial Army, which is soon to become the Army Reserve, have vocational skills training that takes years to accumulate.   I was in the presence of soldiers, regular and reserve, who have actually saved lives – not by administering first aid, but by having the confidence and skills to think “outside of the box”, repairing vehicles on the side of the road, under extreme pressure and often under fire and using anything at their disposal.  Corporal Reece Hancock, 44, serves with 128 Field Company in Hilsea, Portsmouth.  A DT school teacher on civvy street, he swapped the classroom for six months in Afghanistan supporting the Regular Army’s 6 Battalion Close Support.   Clearly extremely passionate about his role in the Army Reserve, his enthusiasm was hard to contain when telling me about the time he carried out an improvised repair to the fuel pipe on a Husky.  “This training exercise is really important.  The more knowledge you have about different vehicles, the better you become at cross-servicing and that in itself gives you confidence to make good repairs under extreme pressure.”

Sergeant Catherine Moat, 44, works for the Border Force and serves with 133 Field Company in Ashford.  With more than 20 years’ service under her belt, she confessed to the Army Reserves having changed her life.  “It’s tested my mettle that’s for sure.  But I’ve travelled the world and gained skills that will mean that I’ll never be out of a job as getting all my driving qualifications means that I can drive a bus, a coach or an HGV.  Better still, I can service my own vehicle and no garage will manage to hoodwink me as I know what they’re talking about!  You get out of the Army Reserves what you put in and I have made great friends who I know will support me through thick and thin!”

The exercise wasn’t all dirty and hands-on.  Corporal Sian Davies, 34, a Solicitor from 128 Field Company in Hilsea, was on hand specifically to give an honest and objective view from her most recent tour to Afghanistan with the Light Aid Detachment.  “Giving the guys the benefit of our very recent experience from theatre is all part of the training process.  By giving them a short presentation with photos, we can talk knowledgably about what it’s really like out there – anything from the accommodation and food to the handing over processes and how we integrated into the Regular units.  For instance on my tour, it was several months before they actually realised I was a Reservist.”

For the afternoon session we left the vehicle mechanics and their spanners to it and made our way to a training area on Salisbury Plain that looked like a scene from one of the Mad Max movies.  In plain view was a petroleum truck – on its side – and not looking in very good shape.  The task set was to right the 30 tonne vehicle back on its four wheels without damage to either the vehicle or the personnel involved.  Well this team of recovery mechanics or “rechy mechs” as they’re affectionately known, made it look easy!  However it was far from that and the skills required by the experienced Crew Commander were plain to see.  Demonstrating calmness and confidence, he got the team to assess the situation, put their plan together, attach winch lines, strops and then with incredible authority, and because he knew exactly what he was doing and his team had complete faith in his experience, the truck was expertly tipped upright and back on its wheels, almost kissing the ground beneath it.  No thuds, no shouting, just pure skill, precision and experience at work!  Lance Corporal Ian Bewers, 44, from Benfleet, serves with 150 Recovery Company in Reigate and is a very experienced Recovery Mechanic.  On civvy street he trains drivers of petroleum vehicles.  It’s a demanding job in itself, which he combines with a busy family, but he clearly loves his part-time role in the Army Reserves too, up to his arms in mud and grease and lugging bits of heavy metal around.  “I get so focused on the skills I need for my civvy job, so coming on this training weekend has been great for getting me thinking about other strategies and refreshing and using different skills.  I’m hoping to do my Class 1 Course in March, which will enable me to become a Crew Commander, and instruct the other soldiers and supervise these type of tasks.  It’s a tough course and I’ll be able to draw from the experiences of this weekend.”

And so, after a really great day and with my introduction to 103 Battalion REME complete, I am off to my car – I’m out of window washer fluid, does anyone know how I open the bonnet .….?

If you are interested in joining the REME check out http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/rhq103bnreme.aspx

 

 

 

Sword of Honour awarded at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst


Ex Army Cadet considered best

Every year ex-ACF cadets attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and pass out as Officers in the British Army. There are 3 pass out parades each year and at each parade the cadet considered best overall by the Commandant is awarded The Sword of Honour. On the 9th August 2013 222 cadets passed out as Army Officers with 2Lt Peter Gornall, an ex cadet from Hampshire and Isle of Wight ACF, presented The Sword of Honour by The Countess of Wessex.

2Lt Peter Gornall who was a cadet in A Company at Fleet and Church Crookham detachment joined the ACF when he was aged 12 with a friend who suggested it would be a good idea. At 16 he decided that a military career was what he wanted. Peter said “having done some time with the cadets it confirmed that it was a job I would enjoy and gave me the motivation to attempt Westbury for an Army Scholarship. My father doing a Short Service Commission in the 15/19th King’s Royal Hussars also played a part and I always knew I wanted to be an officer as it was always leadership that I enjoyed and the opportunity to lead a troop of soldiers is the ultimate challenge and responsibility.’

2Lt Peter Gornall presented The Sword of Honour by The Countess of Wessex.

2Lt Peter Gornall presented The Sword of Honour by The Countess of Wessex.

In 2007 Peter attended Westbury and qualified for an Army scholarship which he recommends to anyone else considering an Army Officer career “it’s a fantastic support through college and university and allows you to go on some excellent trips in the summer breaks. In my opinion the sooner you start engaging with the regiments or corps you hope to join the better and this allows you to look at areas that you might be interested in pursuing.” Peter commissioned into the The King’s Royal Hussars and following the next stage of his training, the RAC Troop Leaders Course in Bovington, will assume command of four Challenger 2 tanks and a troop of soldiers in March next year. He will then be qualified to lead his first Troop well and he hopes attend an operational tour.

Describing Officer training as challenging Peter said “the lack of sleep and pace of life through junior term is relentless and operating with little to no sleep on exercise added a challenging element and is something you certainly get better at with time. However the opportunity to lead your peers when in command appointment and receive feedback from the best staff that the British Army has to offer is very rewarding. It is also great fun living in a platoon of 30 Officer Cadets. The experiences you go through as a group certainly produces some friends you will stay in touch with for the rest of your life.”

Asked how he felt about being awarded the sword of Honour Peter said “It certainly was a surprise! You don’t know that you’re in contention until the final exercise in Scotland and the Commandant keeps his cards close to his chest until 10 days before commissioning. I am incredibly grateful and hugely honoured to be awarded this prestigious prize.”

In his final year in the ACF Peter was the Lord Lieutenant Cadet for Hampshire as well as cadet RSM which was his proudest achievement.  He said “being in the ACF gave me an early taste of leadership and I learnt a great deal that has helped me in both military and civilian spheres. I am incredibly grateful to all the staff that volunteered their time to instruct us.”

For more information on the Cadets as an Adult Instructor or Cadet please visit http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/cadets.aspx

 

Turkey – Gallipoli Battlefield Tour 23 – 26 May 13


135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers

In the very  early hours of the 23 May, 15 soldiers from Ewell based 135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers  made their way to Luton airport for the trip to Istanbul. Having been briefed on the visit, it wasn’t long before somebody got found out for not paying attention to the finer points of the joining instructions.

When boarding the flight, 14 of the 15 got on ok, but I didn’t. Packing lightly isn’t something that comes easily to me so I ended up shelling out £40 to Easyjet as my bag needed to go in the hold, due to its weight and size. What I wasn’t expecting was that this charge would mean that Easyjet didn’t do anything with it, as it turned out they wanted me to take it to the plane – what was the charge for again?

After a 4 hour flight we arrived in Turkey, all wide eyed to what we were about to experience. The trip to the hotel was achieved by boarding almost all forms of public transport, starting with a bus trip then a boat ride and ending with a tram journey.

On arrival at the hotel everyone seemed keen to get a shower and fresh clothes, but this was delayed when the hotel manager could only inform us that our booking was cancelled and we had no rooms.  After many phone calls and haggling we managed to get a hotel in a neighbouring street, which actually seemed better than the original.

The Sqn at the Çanakkale Martyrs Memorial

The Sqn at the Çanakkale Martyrs Memorial

I had pretty much learnt that Turkish people are quite friendly people who are big on hospitality and making there guests welcome. It was also very evident about  their national pride, as most of the Turkish flags are big enough to be seen for miles.

We also made sure the trip was packed with cultural visits to various places of interest within Istanbul. Sgt Walshe being the tour guide was a bonus, as it made visits to the Hagia Sophia and the city walls come to life……The man is a walking encyclopaedia!

We were also all tasked in teams of three with answering questions related to the Gallipoli conflict a few weeks before the trip, this was to encourage us to study more about the history and the understand the purpose of the trip. Many of the presentations were very well put together, and each team took it in turns to present theirs throughout the visit.

On the last full day of the trip we made the long journey from Istanbul to Gallipoli, which was only interrupted by the mini bus having a cam belt snap.  Once the trip resumed we could look forward to seeing all the beaches that the Allied Forces landed.  Here we saw the difficult terrain the Allied forces had to fight on, and were better able to appreciate why the landings had resulted in such huge casualties and the ultimate failure of the campaign.

I for one hadn’t realised the task ANZAC forces had in taking the cove. Having seen the film of the event, and now actual visiting it I could now fully understand why they struggled to move forward. The Turkish forces had tactical supremacy as they occupied the high ground.  I had also learnt from the trip that allied forces may have actually been successful if the British had continued to make ground and keep momentum, of which they didn’t.

At the British forces memorial WO2 Hunt was able to locate the name of a family member who fell all those years ago. Whilst it was interesting to see all the different Regiments and units that no longer exist, it did remind us of the huge loss of life that was a result of the failed mission of taking the Gallipoli peninsula.

The visit to one of the beaches that British forces landed on turned out to be quite an experience. Craters still exist in the soil along with pieces of shrapnel, and bullet cases. I even found some pottery but was quickly told that it wasn’t that old and I was just picking up rubbish.

Having seen the film about Gallipoli I now know that visiting is a lot more beneficial to learning about history. It gives a sense you were there, and also the conditions the men were in.  Hopefully we can all learn something from the mistakes made all those years ago.

Battlefield tours have a huge role to play in education. Sometimes a book or film isn’t enough, seeing the very place and understanding the reasons for the outcome can become more apparent from a visit. I would recommend anyone to attend a battlefield tour, not just to learn, but also to pay our respects to those who fell.

LCpl Will Dawe

For more information on 135 Independent Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers please visist http://www.serfca.org/en-gb/reservists/ta/135independentgeographicsquadronre.aspx

Reservists raise money for MacMillan Cancer


MacMillan Longest Day Golf Challenge

MacMillan Cancer support run several events around the country to raise funds for their charity. One of these events is a 72 hole golf challenge taking place on the longest day of the year. Their charity is very important to myself as my mum, Barbara Hollis, had been suffering from cancer for 20 years and sadly lost her fight against this disease two weeks before the event happened so never got to see how we got on.

Six golfers, all with varying handicaps but all with one goal, to raise as much money for MacMillan Cancer Support. We split into two groups to tackle the challenge.

Group 1:

Chris Hollis- 266 Port Sqn RLC

Ian Hollis- Civilian

Neil Munro- 266 Port Sqn RLC

Group 2:

Stuart Downing- 17 Port & Maritime

Andrew Lindsey- 17 Port & Maritime

Dave Goacher- 17 Port & Maritime

Group 1 all set to Tee off

Group 1 all set to Tee off

We tee’d off at 0500hrs after sharing a bottle of champagne and toasting my mother and wishing each other the best of luck for the day. Our first round was completed at 0800hrs, still feeling fresh we stepped back up to the first tee for our second round. This was completed at approx 1115hrs and still the sun was shining and the standard of golf getting better. After a quick lunch and alcohol refreshment kindly sorted out by Becky who works at the golf club we all got showered and refreshed for the afternoon.

The afternoon rounds started at 1200hrs, we were joined on this round by my Dad and Capt Marlow for some moral support walking round with us to enjoy the scenery, take the mickey and generally see how golf should be played. This round finished at 1530hrs, after the offer of another pint to get us through the final round (which we declined!)  We were then stood back on the 1st ready for the final round of the day. We finally finished the fourth and final round of the day at 1830hrs. After putting out on the 18th green, a quick look to the skies to give my mom a kiss and we were finished.

We were met at the clubhouse by family and friends where we all discussed the day’s events and had a couple of well deserved drinks.  After a quick interview for BBC Radio Solent, courtesy of Tristan Pascoe, we finally packed our clubs away for the day and headed home.

A remarkeable event and a truely great sum was raised. If you are interested in supporting or making a donation to Macmillan please use the following link http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Donate/