Category Archives: Officer

On tour with 135 Independent Geographical Squadron Royal Engineers

Thelma in Helmand Province

Hello from Afghanistan!

I am now over 70% of the way through my tour and have just under two months left in theatre. However my return flight is yet to be confirmed so I am not pinning too many hopes on getting home by a particular date! I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support (and food!) that I have received from friends and colleagues so I wanted to provide you all with a bit of an update on what I have been up to. I hope this finds you well.

The arrival of our team out here was staggered over two and a half months with LCpl Wadlow the first to arrive five weeks before me and WO2 Coleman the last to be in post in mid January. During the past couple of months we have beenrotating through R&R, with at least one person out of theatre most of the time.

We are now a complete team for only a few more days before WO2 Coleman goes on R&R, by the end of which Lcpl Wadlow will have finished his tour and his successor will be in place. It’s these milestones that help us keep track of timeas otherwise most days are pretty routine and it can all blur together!

In February I managed to get to Kandahar for a two day visit and to see the Theatre Map Depot where another colleague from my TA unit is working. It was good to catch up with him and to see another base; it is completely different to Bastion which feels really quiet in comparison. Kandahar is based around the airfield and there is a lot more permanent infrastructure there including brick buildings, tarmacked roads and the famous Boardwalk which is an area of shops and restaurants (including TGI Friday’s!) on a raised wooden walkway surrounding a square where they play basket ball etc. It has almost a village green feel to it. Kandahar also has it’s very own tourist attraction in the form of a poo pond where all the waste is deposited and aerates and bubbles away. It is the done thing to go and have your photo taken next to the biohazard sign and I even managed to find a T-shirt advertising the Poo Pond Cafe (I was disappointed not to find the actual cafe though!) Kandahar generally felt a lot more sociable than Bastion as there was definitely a lot more to do outside of work.

At the Poo Pond, Kandahar

At the Poo Pond, Kandahar

I also managed to get out to Lash Kar Gah for a day a few weeks ago. The city is in the Green Zone, about a twenty minute helicopter flight away from Bastion. I went down to deliver some maps and to meet the Geo Cell that are based there. The flight was by Chinook and I took the opportunity to film it from the window. The loadie saw me with my camera and I thought he was going to tell me to stop filming but instead he invited me to sit up next to the door so I could get a better picture! He then spoke over his mic to the pilot who then flew us low over the town and for the first time I saw normal Afghans going about their daily business. There were people on bikes, in trucks and walking their donkeys. At one point we were so low that the wash from the back of the helicopter was making peoples washing flap up violently around on the washing lines in their compounds. It gave me a very brief glimpse in to the world of the every day Afghan and made me wonder about the challenges they face dealing with the insurgency that are all around that area.

Being stuck on base at Bastion can be frustrating at times and I would love to be able to get out more but the job I do does not warrant it. I can’t complain though; at least the chances of me coming home in one piece are pretty high. The base at Lash is tiny in comparison to Bastion and the perimeter fence is only a mile or so long but it seemed friendly and more relaxed Also there were flowers there – tulips, marigolds and poppies (of course). It was the first time in three months that I’d seen any form of vegetation as opposed to just sand, dust and rocks and it was delightful. We travelled back that night by Merlin helicopter in pitch darkness; they switch the lights off to make it less of a target for anyone aiming an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at us.

Arriving at Kandahar Airfield

Arriving at Kandahar Airfield

I had my R&R during March and it was great, but over far too quickly. Amazingly the RAF got me back to Brize Norton on schedule and we landed at lunch time on my birthday, which was a lovely birthday present in itself. On the way to Salisbury and within an hour and a half of landing I managed to do a skydive, still in my uniform (we were passing Netheravon Airfield anyway and the sun was shining so I took the opportunity!). I visited my family in Somerset and then I went skiing for a week in Austria, where the snow was fantastic and I treated myself to a new pair of skis with my hard earned army wages! I then just had time to see some friends for dinner in London before driving up to Brize Norton and flying back that same night.

All this was lovely but the dashing around took it’s toll (a rookie mistake I’m told – the more experienced, wiser ones just go home and do nothing!) and I returned to theatre ill with a cold…and then got worse not better! After a week of trying to “griz it out” I eventually dragged myself to the med centre where a doctor listened to my chest, confirmed bronchitis and prescribed 7 days of penicillin and as much rest as work would allow. It took another two weeks to start feeling anywhere near 100% again though and it took me a long while to get back into any kind of routine fitness wise with a lot of ground to make up! Sadly there has been another vigil service to attend for another lad who was shot by a rogue Afghan soldier. He was only the second British soldier to die in the time that I have been here which I believe is an improvement on last year but we are only really at the beginning of the Taliban fighting season so incidents could start to increase again soon. However the move towards the transition of power over to the Afghan Army is continuing apace and they are now in the lead for the majority of operations. This means that there are less of our boys out on the ground doing the actual fighting than previously so hopefully the numbers of deaths and serious injuries should remain low. However it also means that the afghans are the ones taking the brunt of the casualties now as the insurgency are not simply giving up. Every so often we get an IDF attack on the base (Indirect Fire – someone trying to rocket us) The loud bang is preceded by tan alarm as there are instruments which detect incoming fire and we have to don our body armour and helmets and get ourselves to the nearest blast shelter (which are located pretty much everywhere). The last one was at 2am on Sunday night and it was the bang and not the alarm that woke myself and my room mate up (although we’re told it did sound). We had to leave our room and congregate in a shelter at the end of our pod while a register was taken and we waited for further information. Apparently there were six rockets in total and eventually the all clear was sounded and we were allowed back to our beds after about 45 minures. Sunday was the Mujahadeen Victory day and we were told to anticipate some kind of action as it is the day that marks the official beginning of the fighting season for the Taliban so things could get more interesting from now on in!


The future of this country relies on the Afghans being able to run effective operations against the insurgency and it is no secret that huge numbers desert the army every year when they have enough of battle conditions. At the end of next year ISAF (international Security Assitance Force – ie us, the USA etc) support will be withdrawn all bar special forces and small mentoring teams so everyone is feeling the pressure.

The team I work in is training a small group of Afghan soldiers to be geo technicians so they can produce their own mapping. These people however did not grow up with computers so it takes them a long time to grasp even basic concepts so the training objectives are constantly being revised and adjusted to fit in with what is feasible as new challenges come to light. Also they do not have the same levels of discipline and timings are not as key in their culture as in ours so they turn up when they feel like it. The training is all conducted through our interpretor, Abdul, a native Afghani who escaped to Canada with his family when the Russians invaded. He is a lovely man who is very patient and humble and is excellent at his job which he has been doing for three years so has worked with many versions of our team. The other day during a tea break in the training he was interpreting for one of the soldiers who was telling us a little about his life. I always want to ask more but there is never enough time. Here we are enjoying a break in training with the Afghans and partaking in tea and some of the cakes and treats sent by friends and colleagues at both Southwark Council and the City of London.

In other news our team chill out area that we started working on before R&R is now finished – complete with decking and hammocks! My contribution was to source all the materials from around the camp and I managed to acquire decking wood, nails, paint, paint brushes and rope. Lcpl Westhead and WO2 Coleman did the construction work and Lcpl Wadlow added the finishing touches by painting Royal Engineers Crests on the walls. We also acquired a barbeque and have had a couple of Saturday evenings eating al fresco, which has made a pleasant change to the noisy and over crowded chow hall!

Also on the entertainment side of things, every so often there is a CSE show (Combined Services Entertainment) for the troops. Celebrities and entertainers arrive and travel round to the different bases for a few days doing a show in each location. Katie Melua was over here a while ago did a gig outside the NAAFI which was very good and drew quite a big crowd. The comedians who did the warm up act though were probably the highlight for most people as they had the whole audience in stitches. Needless to say the humour was pretty rude and appealed to squaddies of all ranks. In the cookhouse after the show I found I was in the queue next to one of the comedians and he invited me to join him on their table for dinner where I got to meet Katie herself.

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Nordic Ski Team

Exercise Ski (RLC) 2013

Nordic Ski Team 

Returning to the Nordic Ski Team after two years ‘on the beat’ as a Metropolitan Police Officer, Corporal Graham Foster skied brilliantly throughout to finish 7th overall in the TA and 38th of 120 in the Corps. Keen not to be outdone by his son, Staff Sergeant John Foster’s stamina won through as he achieved a personal best result in the 15km Classic which helped him towards a 14th overall in the TA and 55th in the Corps. Leading out the Military Patrol Race Team to an outstanding 3rd placed TA Team was WO2 John Skinner who also achieved 13th overall in the TA and 52nd in the Corps. Private Gareth Walsh returned for his second season and improved with every race, his best being the 10km Freestyle where he did a top job for the Team. Gareth placed 10th overall in the TA and 43rd in the Corps, a great result for an inexperienced skier. The ‘old man’ of the team was Captain Terry Hall whose body just about held up for some key races and that enabled him to finish overall 11th in the TA and 48th in the Corps. The Team’s ‘Nordic Novice’ was Craftsman Luke Doe REME who has not skied before this season; yet he trained very hard on rollerskis and produced a series of gutsy performances on snow to finish 2nd TA Novice and well up the overall rankings but sadly was not eligible for individual prizes. Thankfully that did not matter when it came to the team event because as the only Novice Luke had to ski in every race, including the Military Patrol, so he contributed wholeheartedly towards the superb 3rd overall in the TA Nordic Team Competition and the excellent overall Corps Alpine and Nordic Combined TA Runners-Up (Silver Medals) that 151 (London) Transport Regiment RLC (V) won. It was a truly tremendous team effort throughout, the dedication from all was immense and consistency won through to enable the squad to produce a top result.

151 Nordic Ski Team

151 Nordic Ski Team

Alpine Ski Team

The Regimental Alpine team was formed from Maj Paul Gotobed (Team Captain), 2Lt Simon Sykes, SSgt Drew Johnston, SSgt David Bond, Cpl Ben Bray and Pte Tarj Sevier. The competition started with a couple of training days, an opportunity to find your ‘ski legs’ and for our novice, Pte Sevier, who had had only 2hrs of ski tuition in a snow dome prior to the competition, to realise what he had volunteered into… After a couple of days all the competitors were seeded into their start positions; a ‘one-off’ Giant Slalom race to work out those who could and those that will learn quickly! For those skiers that have skied socially this is the big awakening as they stand at the top of the course in the starting gate with the timing machine emitting the tell-tale beeps that your turn has come; with a push out of the gate down the slope you career trying your best to get the right way around the gates as the slope of the hill gets steeper and steeper and the speed increases. With a first refusal by our newest skier, he soon sorted himself out and down he went, adrenaline flowing. The duck had been broken and now the competition started in earnest; The first full day of racing was the individual Giant Slalom; unfortunately Cpl Bray had a disaster on the slope and this counted against him for the remainder of the competition as his seeding points pushed him further back in the start list. The second race day was the team Giant Slalom, where all the team skied well however the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Regiments all were in front; a friendly competitive rivalry and competition had started… The next race is the ‘Super G’ for this the competitors moved to Goetschen for the one only attempt at the Super G – the one race counted to both the individual and team scores. With the whole slope closed to the public and the German National Female Youth team showing us how it should be done we started from the top and threw ourselves down the mountain, most avoiding the man-made jump after considering the strategy of team completion and points – well we need an excuse! The weather was fantastic and the course was great however, as always, it is only after the run that the nerves have settled that you are ready to give it another go and your all – unfortunately not an option in this case. SSgt ‘Speedy’ Bond definitely came to the fore on the Super G! We now entered the realm of the Slalom; a shorter more technical course with more gates and tighter turns now the competition changed as the speed merchants fell to the wayside and the technical skiers come forward. Race three is the individual with Maj Gotobed finding himself No 3 out of the gate in the second race of the day; a position he wasn’t used to! The final race of the competition is the team competition and the most critical; where podium places are won and lost… With all the team captains keeping notes and updating where their competitors were currently standing.

151 Alpine Ski Team

151 Alpine Ski Team

The Scots were still way ahead; the Welsh dropping behind and unfortunately for the Irish a non-finisher and disqualification saw them fall by the wayside – the competition was now open to the final run and with instructions to ‘ski fast but safe’ off the team went. Where did we finish? Well we made it onto the podium just (only due to the disqualification of the Irish) with third place (TA) Alpine. Though in the overall competition with those teams who enter a team into both disciplines (Alpine and Nordic) we fought through into Silver, TA runners-up; an unexpected and welcome result! So well done to the team especially our novice; Pte Sevier who soon found his ski-legs and his way down the hill. Want to know more or see the results and photographs? Log onto

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Combat Logistic Patrols (CLP)

The LAD’s role on CLP’s

As previously explained the CSLR’s primary role are CLPs (Combat Logistic Patrols). The LAD is expected to provide support for every CLP. We have a REME wagon, manned by two VMs (Vehicle Mechanics), which deploys out of camp with each CLP.

The vehicle we use is a Mann SV with crane – a HIAB. We carry spare tyres, a toolbox, oils, lubricants and various other items enabling us to attempt to fix any problems with the vehicles that may occur on the Op. If the problem is not something we can readily repair, there are also Recovery Assets to recover the problem vehicle back to CampBastion.

Local children seen in the CLP

Local children seen in the CLP

As I am based in CampBastion, CLPs are the only opportunity I have to get out of camp and go ‘outside the wire’. I have been on 4 CLPs so far and have to say, I have enjoyed each of them. For each Op we go on, we are given a set of Orders well in advance, fully briefing us on all aspects of the CLP. Once we know exactly where we are going and when, we ‘battle prep’ our vehicle i.e. get the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) for the top cover, ammunition, rations, water, radios, night vision devices etc. The Drivers have to do the same for their vehicles. On completion of battle prep, drivers and vehicle commanders go on Enforced Rest. This allows them to get plenty of downtime and sleep before driving for the Op ahead.

The CLPs go out of Camp Bastion at various times. All those deploying on the Op have to be at their vehicle 2 hours before the Op goes out to rectify any glitches which are usually vehicle faults and comms problems. Everyone is also given an update on any changes to the route or destinations. Due to the potential vehicle problems there are also two members of the LAD (a Class 1 and Class 2 VM) that are on hand to fix any vehicle faults. The LAD’s role is therefore vital to the smooth running of the CLPs.

The LAD wagon with myself and Lcpl Angus from the LAD  and Lcpl Nicholson, Recovery Mechanic

The LAD wagon with myself and Lcpl Angus from the LAD and Lcpl Nicholson, Recovery Mechanic

Each CLP varies in length and can last anything up to 36 hours, which might include an overnight stop at a FOB or MOB.. As things change on the move, timings often change too. It is important that the drivers on the Op get enough rest if the CLP overruns to avoid them being overtired at the wheel.

As VMs, we are often called upon during the Op. The faults that occur can be simple, such as a tyre change or broken door ram, or they can be more complex such as a snapped belt or electrical faults. If the problem is not something the VMs can fix relatively swiftly with the tools that we have to hand, the Recovery Mechanics will hook the vehicle to one of their Recovery Vehicles (SV(R)) and tow it back to CampBastion to be dealt with by the LAD. The Recovery call signs are provided by 1 (CS) Battalion REME. Each Recovery asset has a Vehicle Mechanic as well as a Recovery Mechanic. As the CLP usually breaks up into smaller packets to attend different locations, there is a Recovery asset with each packet. We have only one LAD wagon which will always go to the furthest location on the CLP.

I enjoy the opportunity to get out of Camp and to see parts of Afghanistan. There is, of course, a risk of enemy contact on each CLP. That is why there is always  enough personnel in each wagon, including top cover observing their arcs. When I went on my first CLP I was surprised to see the living conditions of the locals. I have to say, it was a humbling experience. The more you go out though, the less surprised you are by what you see. Our wagons are constantly ‘stoned’ by the local children. This causes damage usually to the light clusters at the rear, mirrors and window screens. The feelings of sympathy soon fade. It is clear that there are mixed feelings amongst the local Afghans as to our presence here.

CLPs are vitally important out here, as I have highlighted in previous editions. The LADs role is essential to the continued maintenance of the vehicles. If the vehicles are not road worthy, the CLPs would not exist.

Time has gone very quickly for me on this tour. Having come back from my R&R the time is going quicker than ever. We will be leaving theatre next month as Herrick 18 takes over. The vehicles are up to a good standard for the handover/takeover and we are officially on our countdown to going home. However, it is important for us all to not get complacent. We still have a job to do and our tour does not finish until we are all back safe in the UK.

5th Edition: End of Tour

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The LAD and our Primary Role

2nd edition from LCpl Sian Davies 128Fd Coy REME

I am now over two months into the tour and things have really started to settle. Having spent the first month finding my feet and getting used to my new surroundings, work is the main focus.

12 CSLR’s main effort is to provide logistical support to the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and Patrol Bases (PBs), based around Task Force Helmand. This support is in the form of Combat Logistic Patrols (CLPs). There can be up to 80 vehicles in a CLP. There are a variety of vehicles used and it is the LADs responsibility to maintain the CSLR vehicles and keep them ‘taskworthy’. The LAD is split down into sections. Our role is to carry out ‘first line’ repairs, i.e. jobs that can be completed within 4 hours, as well as modifications and servicing.

Enhanced Platform Loading System (EPLS)

I work as part of the EPLS section. The EPLS is a Man SV and makes up the bulk of the CLPs. There are approximately 60 EPLS within the CSLR and they are divided over two sections. Approximately 40 EPLS go out on each CLP. The EPLS carries loads to the FOBs and PBs. These loads consist of ammunition, medical supplies, rations, welfare parcels, post and various other items. It is vitally important that these loads are delivered regularly to ensure the FOBs and PBs have all the essential kit and also to keep morale high. Loads are often collected from these locations and brought back to camp.


Me working on one of the EPLS

Combat Support Tanker (CST)

The CST is an Oshkosh and the fleet is made up of fuel tankers, water tankers and Ilets (trailers). As well as resupplying fuel and water to the FOBs and PBs, the Ilets are used to transport heavy loads. The Ilets can move up to 45 tonnes worth of vehicle, such as Foxhounds and Mastiffs.

Force Protection (FP)

The FP section comprises of Ridgebacks, Mastiffs and Minerollers. These are protected mobility vehicles and their primary role is to lead the CLPs.

Craftsman Tuckwell with one of the Force Protection vehicles

Craftsman Tuckwell with one of the Force Protection vehicles

Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET)

The HET vehicles are also Oshkosh but on a much larger scale than the CST. The American designed vehicles can carry abnormal loads. They are used in the CLPs to take such loads to the FOBs and PBs as well as collect loads and return them to CampBastion. These loads are often other large vehicles. The HET can carry up to 72 tonnes. For example, they are able to carry all helicopters currently out in theatre.

Heavy Equipment Transporter

Heavy Equipment Transporter

Each vehicle type has its normal wear and tear and common faults. Each section is manned by a Corporal and has 2-3 ‘Class 2’ vehicle mechanics. We work between the hours of 0800-1900 daily with a late start on some Sundays. These hours may change depending on work loads. Getting the vehicles back on the road is the main priority so working late is sometimes essential.

Everyone on the shop floor has their job to do and it is not unusual to see the section heads in coveralls working on the vehicles. I am enjoying working at the LAD and I am learning more as time goes on.

December 2012 – Christmas in CampBastion

For more information contaqct 128 Field Company REME : or tel no: 02392675803





Exercise Cockney Etrangeres

Tech Task

Whilst on annual camp, 135 Geographic Squadron RE was tasked with carrying out a live technical task – to produce orienteering maps of four areas on the island of Jersey in order to practice our core GIS and Data Collection skills. This essentially involved two disciplines in three stages, Data Survey and map production using ARC GIS 10 (Geographic Information Systems).

The first stage involved the GIS team to conduct a desktop study of existing geographic data.  The field computer banks were transported from Ewell to Jersey Field Squadron HQ via MAN trucks and set up as a working Geo cell.  Using existing aerial imagery of the designated orienteering areas, the GIS team interpreted and plotted overlays on top of the imagery according to the international orienteering map standards.  Due to the fact that the imagery was five years old, features, both manmade and natural had to be verified.  Interpretation of the imagery could be incorrect and there was a requirement to go into the area to confirm and gather information.  For example, what looked like a grassy field on the imagery could now in fact be an impenetrable field classed ‘as wooded area’.

The Hon Col Dr Vanessa Lawrence being shown one of the new orienteering maps by SSM Les Hunt

The second stage commenced with the data survey team going into each of the four areas to be mapped to collect data, armed with the image maps compiled by the GIS team.  Each area was recce’d to choose two suitable base station locations which are fixed in position for the duration of the survey.  Their job is to take continual readings from satellites and between each other to make error corrections in position and then transmit these corrections to the roving GPS poles which are used to collect data.  This improves the accuracy of the positions being surveyed.  We found the perfect location for base station one, on the top of the tallest hill above a second world war bunker. Unfortunately this also meant we had to keep traipsing up and down said hill!

Base station two had to be on the other side of the area being surveyed as there were no obvious high points so we had to settle with a sand dune.  The next day we returned to commence the task, only to find that the wind had picked up, so much so that the instrumentation that we had set up on tripod legs blew straight over.  Down we went to the Land Rovers, retrieved the sandbags and shovel and weighted down the tripod legs, having used the convenient abundance of sand from the dunes all around us.  To minimise the likelihood of a passer by stealing our base station survey equipment, we hid all of the survey equipment boxes (used to transport it) within the bunker.  Base station two was assembled and we were off, capturing data.  Two hours in and the satellite signal died; the battery powering the base station antenna had died. We learned our lesson and opted for the bigger battery the next day.  On top of all this, it was raining each morning but by the time base stations were set up, the Jersey sunshine came out for us.

Cpl Carl Presswood setting up on site

Two survey teams worked in conjunction in each area, communicating by radio.  Comms were critical since requirements were updated throughout the day including location of transportation vehicles and logistical challenges; we had to transport people from camp HQ to survey area and vice versa; this used up resource and slowed up the progress of the task in hand.

Second World War bunkers and gun emplacements were a strong theme of interest throughout our data collection and acted as useful markers and interesting history lessons!

A memorable highlight was when the survey team came to the aid of a lady stranded on the beach in her car. Like good Sappers, we safely recovered her vehicle before the incoming tide swamped it.  She turned out to be the daughter of the founder of Butlins but unfortunately we weren’t offered any free accommodation for next year’s camp!

Myself and Cpl Morley were busy ‘pinging; points when to our horror, as we were approaching our base station being guarded by our sergeant we saw him, stripped to the waist, his pale white body glistening like a beacon as he took in the radiant Jersey sun.  Embarrassed by our heckling since he thought no one could see him hidden in the undergrowth, he quickly got his top back on before any more blinded sea gulls fell out of the sky.

Cpl Carl Presswood and Spr Kieran Terry

This tech task was also a training exercise and the time taken to overcome problems rapidly diminished as the team became slicker.  Once all the information was gathered in the form of GPS linked photographs and GPS data points, they were transposed onto computer and read in conjunction with the existing imagery. The time consuming task of creating the correct international orienteering standardised symbology and correctly classifying parcels of land to the ease of movement was a challenge, especially as we had very little experience of using orienteering maps previously. By day five, tensions were rising in our makeshift Geo Cell; French spellings were being scrutinised, debates on whether bunkers were bunkers or gun emplacements got technical and Naafi breaks had been cancelled. However we were kept entertained throughout by the Radio Jersey karaoke by the chefs in the kitchen next door!

Cpl OJ kept morale high in the Geo cell; as an invaluable asset to the team, he also made certain that it was easier to get into FortKnox than locating the files we were working on!

Sergeant Windle kept us motivated and encouraged us, with comments like ……. unrepeatable in print, and “get this kit set up”.

Cpl Presswood took overall command but like all good leaders, he omitted to tell us that the witness marks had not been taken and then flapped when we told him we didn’t have time to cover for him…haha, funny – we sorted him out after letting him sweat.

LCpl Walmsley did a smashing job in creating the orienteering map and then died of shame when the visiting CO pointed out that there was a spelling mistake.

This same CO caught Cpl Presswood and Sgt Windle eating lunch; the exact time when they downed tools for a brew was the exact time that he rocked up in the car park to see them ‘working’ flat out – busted.

Sgt Trepanier (American exchange) did a great job in collecting survey data on vegetation until she found that she had used the wrong base point and she had to do it all again – next time check first

We had all checked that each team had the correct kit before leaving base, and then one team promptly drove off without the booking sheets meaning that they had to write everything up after the days surveying, doh – special. All good learning points for the next time!

By the end of the five day task, we had captured over 2500 GPS points, taken over 400 photographs and successfully produced two orienteering maps to officially handover to the Combined Cadet Force and Jersey Field Squadron. The customers were happy and we had all learned a great deal.

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Trafalgar Day Parade 2012

Trafalgar Day

On Sunday morning 125 Sea Cadets and Royal Marine Cadets from Sea Cadet Units across Berkshire gathered in Maidenhead town centre to commemorate Trafalgar Day. Each year a different unit plays host and this year it was Maidenhead Sea Cadets turn to invite cadets from Basingstoke, Henley, Newbury, Reading, Slough and Windsor. Although it meant an early start for some, there was an excellent turn out and the sun shone throughout the parade.

The inspecting officer was Commodore Gerry Thwaites RN Rtd, who now lives in Cookham Dean, he was ably assisted by Councillor Andrew Jenner, the Deputy Mayor; they both spent time talking to all the cadets on parade. After inspecting the cadets Commodore Thwaites congratulated them on their smart appearance and awarded prizes for the best dressed cadets. He also presented a cup to Maidenhead Sea Cadets, performing best overall in competitions throughout the year they are the top Sea Cadet unit in Berkshire.

Following the parade the cadets and guests made their way to TS Iron Duke for lunch, which was generously supported by Sainsbury’s, Taplow branch.

Maidenhead Sea Cadets was formed in 1942 so this year is the 70th anniversary of the unit; thanks to the recent publicity by the Maidenhead Advertiser several former Sea Cadets joined the party to swop stories and share memories of the good times they had when they were cadets.

Commodore Gerry Thwaites with members of the Guard

The occasion also had a slightly poignant side as Lt Cdr Dick Boardman was remembered with the unveiling of a picture of him on the ‘memorial wall’; Dick Boardman passed away in February this year after a short illness. Dick was a member of the Sea Cadet Corps for well over 50 years and in January he received a 50 year medal from Captain Mark Windsor, Captain of the Sea Cadet Corps.

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HMS King Alfred Reservists sail to victory

Just another day in the Royal Naval Reserve

Sailors from HMS King Alfred achieved success in the Royal Navy Reserve regatta held in Portsmouth harbour. Able Seaman Rachael Asquith from Gosport, with her crew Leading Seaman Liz Grady, sailed their Bosun dinghy into overall second place but won the prize for the highest placed boat sailed by ratings. Rachael beat off stiff competition during the 9 race series in conditions that varied greatly, the later races proving testing for even the most experienced crews.

Another King Alfred crew among the prize winners, AB Alex Snow, won the Novice Cup, for being the highest placed helm that had only learned to sail in the last 18 months; he was ably supported by CPO Ian Chown from HMS President.

HMS King Alfred prize winners, LS Liz Grady and AB Rachael Asquith, celebrate their success

The RNR regatta is held at the Royal Navy Sailing centre on Whale Island each year, the centre runs a fleet of sailing dinghies, teaching Naval personnel and Sea cadet and their families how to sail and handle small RIBs . Units from all over the UK took part from HMS Eaglet in Liverpool to HMS Flying Fox in Bristol. In all there were 16 boats taking part, many with experienced helms and crews, but also some novices.  For 2 of the crews, this was their first weekend ever being in a dinghy, it was “an amazing experience, great fun” one was heard to say.

With 16 boats in the fleet the starts were keenly fought. Start lines always look much longer than they are, with the wind direction constantly varying, one end of the line is almost always favoured, with the strong winds making the starts very lively, there was plenty of white water splashing about, loud shouts of “water”, “Starboard” and a fair number of bumps thrown in.

One boat got accidently “T boned”, which is when one boat crashes straight into the side of the other (ramming in all the movies), causing damage to the rubbing strake which needed to be replaced. Due to the superb skills of the Sailing centre staff; the boat was all fixed and ready to race only an hour after being pulled from the water.

Every leg and mark on the course was keenly fought for, the heavy conditions catching out even the top boats. One boat that had been in second place found itself with its mainsheet wrapped around the first windward mark, the helmsman holding a disconnected rudder, the rest of the fleet then had to navigate their way around this unusual obstacle! A few boats did capsize but in the end every boat much to the credit of the novice sailor’s went on to finish.

The wind strong as it was, produced a great weekend of sailing, there’s nothing like a testing weekend to get the blood going, but then that’s life in the Royal Naval Reserve.

For more information on the Royal Naval Reserve see:

Adventure Training with Southampton University Air Squadron


During the summer of 2012, students from Southampton UAS took part in a week named “ASPT 1”, which combined adventurous training in the Snowdonia region, before returning to Boscombe Down for flying instruction. There were a wide range of activities covered, including rock-climbing, kayaking and mountaineering – a great week was had by all; rounded off by the annual delight, which is the SUAS Summer Ball.

From the beginning the weather looked unpromising, but when we arrived at Capel Curig Training Camp near Betws-y-Coed (North Wales), although cold, the rain held off. On the first day, the group split into two, and half of us accompanied Officer Cadet Pirkis for a dip in the nearby lake for some kayaking, whilst the rest of the team went off for a day of rock climbing. Despite the cold, everyone had a good time and learnt new skills, as well as improving on existing ones. We practised individual skills of rowing, and then set up some team games, which were great for building confidence for capsizing. There was a great community spirit of everyone getting involved and helping one another, regardless of the range of abilities.


All set for some kayaking

One the next day, the groups swapped activities, so those who had been kayaking went rock-climbing, and vice versa. Due to early morning rainfall, the climbing group decided to head over to Anglesey to the Indefatigable Climbing Wall, where we got to practice our skills on the different grades of wall. As the clouds cleared up, we spent the afternoon enjoying some outdoor rock climbing. This gave us the chance to apply skills that we’d learnt on the indoor wall, which was the safer environment for the beginners in the group. The next day, our last in Capel, was spent mountaineering. Everyone got to practice some basic navigation as we set off across the fields, through a forest, around a lake, and up the mountain. As the weather conditions improved, we got some glimpses of the spectacular Welsh scenery. The day was a great show of team-work and bonding.

During mountaineering and basic navigation

With the first half of the week now over, we drove back down South to Boscombe Down. Unfortunately, the Snowdonian rainclouds accompanied us, which meant over the next couple of days not much flying could be done. Thankfully we were able to make use of Indoor Climbing Wall at the Tidworth Leisure centre, meaning the first day was not wasted. Many people attempted more technical moves, and the overall experience was a positive one. The next day, around 6 Officer Cadets got the chance to fly before the weather once again degenerated. The day was not wasted though, as students were able to spend time learning about metrological conditions and the NOTAM system.

The final day started off clear enough for more SUAS personnel to partake in flying, and those who didn’t were able to help decorate the Lower-Anti room for the Boscombe Summer Ball, which had a great attendance and was a fitting send off for the third years whose time on SUAS had sadly come to an end.

A big thank you to Officer Cadets Edwardes, Pirkis, Williams and Musgrave for organising and running the week so successfully.

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Oxfordshire the (Rifles) Battalion ACF Tour of France & Belgium 2012

Guest of the Robin Hood Rifles Corp of Drums, Nottinghamshire ACF

Day One Thursday 28th June 2012

We made our way to South Mimms service station to meet up with the Robin Hood Rifles, Corp of Drums, Nottinghamshire ACF, we all had a short break and boarded the coaches and made our way to the Euro Tunnel. At 12.30hrs, we left the UK for Calais arriving in Calais at 13.05hrs; we then departed for the final leg of our journey to the Royal Astor Hotel Ostend Belgium, our home for the next five days. We viewed our rooms and unpacked. After our evening meal, we had a briefing for the next day then spent the evening visiting the local town and of course, the beach, this was a stone’s throw away from the Hotel.

Day Two Friday 29th June 2012

This morning we went onto the promenade to rehearse our marching displays, this was well received by the locals and tourist alike. At 11.30hrs, we boarded the coaches and departed for the Town of. Dikesmuide to visit the Dikesmuide Tower Museum. This posed a great opportunity for the Buglers to play the last post and reveille on the top of the tower, it was a very proud moment for the Buglers, especially seeing the public stopping in the streets, and getting out of their cars.

Buglers from The Robin Hood Rifles Corp of Drums, Nottinghamshire ACF,& the Corunna Band & Bugles of Oxfordshire the (Rifles) Battalion ACF, on top of the Dikesmuide Tower.

We then went to Fromelles Cemetery, which is the newest commonwealth war grave, which was opened officially in January 2010. Most of the Soldiers laid to rest here were from the Australian Army. We laid a wreath on the monument whilst the Buglers played last post & reveille. We then departed for the hotel and returned just in time for dinner.

Day Three Saturday 30th June

This morning we had rehearsals on the promenade, again to the delights of the locals & tourist. We departed the hotel at 11.30hrs and were en-route to visit the Town of Ypres, seeing the Menin Gate was a first for many of our Cadets & Adults, we had a chance to look around the shops, to try the local cuisine, to visit the Cloth Hall Museum, Flanders Fields’ Museum, and St Georges Memorial Church. We departed Ypres and took a short journey to Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the largest British Cemetery on the Western Front with 11,500 war graves a memorial wall at the back of the cemetery that has 34,888 names of soldiers from many different regiments that were killed between 16th August 1917 and the end of the war. We laid a wreath, whilst the Buglers played last post and reveille, while the buglers played everyone in the cemetery came to a standstill to pay their respects.

The Robin Hood Rifles Corp of Drums, Nottinghamshire ACF & The Corunna Band & Bugles of Oxfordshire the (Rifles) Battalion ACF, At Tyne Cot Cemetery.

We then departed for Langemarck the German Cemetery, within the cemetery, it contains the remains of 44,000 German soldiers, and 25,000 of these lie near the entrance in a single mass grave. At 16.45 we departed for the hotel, after dinner at 19.45hrs we did a full dress rehearsal on the promenade for our big day tomorrow.

Day Four Sunday 1st July 2012.

Sunday was our big day. It was an early start, as we had to depart the hotel at 08.00hrs for the two and half hour journey to the French Village of Foncquevillers. When we arrived at Foncquevillers, we had to change into our uniforms ready for our first parade to the British War Graves a great sense of pride was felt by all, as we marched off to the  cemetery, a short service was delivered in English and French and wreaths laid to honour the fallen. We then had a short march to the French Resistance Memorial and the Monument of a Canadian Plane that was shot down over the Village during the Second World War. After we had finished our parades, the locals put on a delicious three-course meal, which we all enjoyed very much.

Parade and Service at the British War Graves Cemetery in the Village of Foncquevillers.

We departed Foncquevillers at 16.00hrs and headed for our final parade at the Menin Gate Ypres Belgium, We had time for a short walk and refreshments in Ypres before we began our final parade. At 19.30hrs, we needed to be ready and formed up at the Menin Gate by 20.00hrs. The amount of people from so many different countries was amazing to see, and the atmosphere of the Menin Gate was quite over whelming. As we marched off to the whole crowd clapping and cheering, I do not think any of us had ever been as proud as we were then. At 21.00hrs we departed Ypres for the hotel for our last night in Belgium and too McDonalds.

Marching through the Menin Gate

Day Five Monday 2nd July 2012.

After breakfast, we loaded the coaches ready to set off at 09.00hrs for our return journey to the UK. We arrived at the Euro Tunnel and departed Calais at 13.00, having arrived in the UK, we headed off to South Mimms service station to pick up our transport to take us back to Oxfordshire and say our final good byes to the Robin Hood Rifles, Corp of Drums.


The tour gave all us an experience of a lifetime, and opened our eyes to the day-to-day challenges endured by the Service Man during the Great Wars. This tour was an opportunity not to have missed; the parades we undertook left us all with a great sense of pride to be able to honour the fallen and our Service Men still serving in the Armed Forces today.

For more information contact Peter Broome on

Future Reserves 2020

What is FR20 about?

The Secretary of State for Defence recently responded to the Review of the United Kingdom’s Reserve Forces which was published on 18 July 2011.  He said:

The Government accepts the broad thrust of the Commission’s recommendations, which encompassed the Army Reserves – the largest Reserve component – the Royal Naval and Royal Marines Reserves and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

To achieve the redesign of the Army required by Army 2020 will require us to expand the volunteer Army Reserve to 30,000 trained strength and better to integrate the Regular and Reserve components of the future Army.  Army 2020 has defined the Army Reserves’ role and we are establishing more predictable scales of commitment in the event that Reserves are committed to enduring      operations.  In the past, the Reserve was essentially designed to supplement the Regular Army; in future, the Reserve will be a vital part of an integrated Army.  The principle of greater integration was established in the Commission’s report and, based on their findings, our concept for Army Reserves sees them ready and able to deploy routinely at sub-unit level and in some cases as formed units.  They will be trained, equipped and supported accordingly.  Officers and      soldiers will have command opportunities which have not always been      available in the recent past.

The process of reshaping the Reserves for their future role has already begun: we are recruiting Reserves now for all three Services.  The Army has started overseas Reserve training exercises at company level (26 this year, and increasing in number significantly by 2015); we are putting in place routine partnered training of Army Reserve and Regular units, including for operational deployments.  More equipment is arriving in the form of modern support vehicles, the Wolf Land Rover and Bowman radios. We plan that, over time, the personal equipment of Reservists will be on a par with that used by Regulars.  The greater reliance on the Reserve envisaged in Future Force 2020, and the      additional £1.8Bn over 10 years that we have committed to the Reserves,      ensures that Reservists will receive the kit and the training they need.  But in exchange we expect them to commit to specific amounts of training time and, for the Army in most cases, to accept a liability for up to 6 months deployed service, plus  pre-deployment training, in a five year period, dependent on operational      demand.  There will be opportunities for shorter periods of deployed service commitment for those in some specialist roles.

The Navy’s Maritime Reserves will expand to a trained strength of 3,100 to deliver a greater range and depth of capability, within its well established and integrated model, to provide individual augmentees to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in specialist and generalist roles. Key areas of growth will be in a range of command and communication, intelligence and surveillance disciplines, including cyber, support to the Fleet Air Arm and the exploitation of niche      capabilities in the role of maritime security. The aim is to build Maritime Reserves that are fully integrated and able to provide the Naval Service with a range of flexible manpower, including greater access to civilian skills.  The expansion will  be supported by an infrastructure programme to provide modern and efficient training facilities.


The Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) provides resilience and strength in depth to the Royal Air Force contribution to Defence capability by providing individual augmentees t0 Regular Forces.  It will grow to a trained strength of 1,800.  The principal growth will be in the specialist areas of logistics, flight      operations, medical, intelligence, media, RAF Police and cyber; individual      augmentees will be trained to a sufficient standard to be fully integrated with the Regulars as part of the Whole Force Concept. Five new Reserve Squadrons will be established: No 502(Ulster) Squadron will form at JHC Station Aldergrove; 611(West Lancashire) Squadron will form in Liverpool and 614(West Glamorgan) Squadron will form in South Wales, most likely at RAF St Athan.  These squadrons will be general service support squadrons representing various trades and branches from within the RAF.  At RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, 2624(County of Oxford) Squadron will re-form in the force protection role and 622 Squadron will stand-up as the Reserve unit for aircrew augmenting the RAF’s air mobility force.

Delivering this step-change in the size and role of the Reserves will require a change in the relationship between Defence, the employer and the Reservist.  Many employers already give excellent support to Reservists, for which we, and the nation, are  grateful.  But we need a new framework of partnership, with public and private sector employers, that gives us the confidence that trained      Reservist manpower will be available when it is really needed.  We are examining how this might work through, for instance, the ‘Partnering for Talent’ programme, which seeks to identify clear business benefits for  employers who support the Reserves.  The public sector is already a major employer of Reservists, and should set an example.  Cross Government work, led by the Head  of the Civil Service, is promoting the benefits of employing Reservists      within Government.

This scale of change needs the support of society as a whole and of employers in particular.  I intend therefore to publish a consultation paper in the Autumn, setting out our detailed proposals.  Following consultation, we will be able to make informed decisions early next year on terms and conditions of service, employer engagement, the Government’s own commitments as an employer, and on any legislation necessary to underpin and support our vision for the Reserves.  I have also set up an independent external scrutiny team to assess progress in implementation of our vision for the Reserves.  This will be led by Lieutenant General (Retired) Robin Brims, who will make his first report in the summer of 2013.