Troop 156 (Week 13)
After an agonising and tense two weeks on straight point ranges, the lads were keen to get our stuff together as we were preparing to set off to France for a Battlefield tour with our training team. I was particularly excited, not only because it’s a weekend away from camp but as a back-trooper from 155 troop, it was my first sociable weekend with the lads.
We arrived on the ferry at 2300 hours. The mood amongst the troop was good as the trip looked to be slightly more relaxed than what we’re used to in Lympstone, however we were quickly reminded that we had to stay professional and sensible as we were representing the Royal Marines in the public eye. I met Captain Ashcroft for the first time and told him a bit about myself, he seems to be a fair Troop Commander and it also settled my nerves hearing his local scouse accent!
We docked at 0600 hours and met up with our tour guide ‘Smiler’ around 0800 hours. He was clearly keen and loved doing the job he was doing. We first hit Bayeux and learned about German tanks. At around 1000 hours we entered into the British cemetery, which put into perspective how many British soldiers sacrificed their lives in the battle for Normandy. We all got to lay a Royal Marine cross on a gravestone, which was touching and afterwards we set of to La Cambe which was the German Cemetery. La Cambe was interesting, seeing 21,222 gravestones, the majority being those of prisoners of war with some interesting background stories from Smiler.
We had ‘scran’ and set off at 1300 hours to a town called St Mere Eglise, Utah Beach where the Americans reclaimed a famous victory here, Pointe Du Hoc, Colleville Mer and Omaha beach, the location where one of the most famous battles of World War 2 took place. It was incredible learning how strong a resistance the Germans set up there. They had such a strong force here it was incredible to learn how the Americans actually claimed this beach. After a lot of information to take in for the day and all the travelling, we were driven to Shelto De Perron where we were staying the night and I was anticipating a good few ‘wets’.
At 1900 hours we all sat down, including the training team, and had a 4 course meal followed by a few drinks and games! It was a good night as I got to know the lads a lot better. It was an early night as I had to be up early for our 2nd days tour of the Battle of Normandy.
I jumped up at 0630 hours and ready to take on the day. With the terrible weather outside I wasn’t going to let it spoil the day that lied ahead. We set of for the American cemetery where 9,387 hero graves were situated. Entering the cemetery can be very overwhelming, it was an honour to visit the graves of the heroes that died for our freedom that day and the acres of graves made up only 39% of the Americans that died in the battle of Normandy. We hit Port en Bessin which 47 Commando captured the from the German Unit 352 infantry division. This was a vital battle and a major success in the battle of Normandy. We then hit Longs Battery where 3 out of 4 colossal 152mm guns still stood today, and gold beach with another major capture from the British troops. As time pushed us we set off and left our weekend adventure at 1500 hours to Lympstone. We got to camp about 0200 hours in the morning and straight to bed to prepare for the thing I’ve looked forward the most since day one – bottom field!
I woke up this morning anticipating the challenge of the famous ‘bottom field’. I was excited and nervous at the same time. We completed the assault course, rope climbs, learned rope technique, got muddy, worked hard and learned the principles and rules that apply within bottom field. After the session the lads were exhausted and this wasn’t with weight, this was meant to be the easiest session we would complete in training!
Straight after bottom field, Cpl Presneil gave us the impossible task of getting changed, showered and into CBRN kit within 8 minutes. It was crazy, kit was everywhere, lads were panicking! As the troop marched to the gas chamber, Section 1 were the lucky bunch to be thrown in first, and it did not look pleasant! I stood to attention and took my respirator off inhaled the gas and tried to report. It was the most ‘gopping’ (disgusting) thing I have ever done in my life. I felt like my face was burning, my eyes watered, my nose was dripping with snot, it was without question the worst thing I have done since I stepped foot on camp. The rest of the day consisted of lectures and functional skills lectures. I was hanging out and was looking forward to getting my admin cracked before bed.
Tuesday involved a more relaxing day with the majority of the days lectures on Signals and Communications. I found this very interesting as I had thought it would be rubbish! The Cpl who gave the lecture really sold it to us by explaining the experience and qualifications you can have from it, so if you were to leave the Corps you can actually get a well paid job on civi street with it.
Wednesday was more lectures. In the morning we had Electronic Sigs & Comms lectures, but I was looking forward to learning about Grenades which was to follow in the afternoon. Cpl Preneil and Cpl Nikolov gave a lecture on preparing us for grenade throwing on the Friday, we learned about parts of the grenade, safety constraints and the handling test. Afterwards we set off down to the weapon stances, myself and the troop would be practising drills for grenade throwing. We had dummy L111 grenades to practise drills with Cpl Nikolov, which turned out to be hilarious. I asked the question if we could throw them to get a feel for the weight of the grenade and also I was eager and keen to see how far I could throw one of these things. A few recruits had very ‘girly’ throws and hit the road numerous times so Cpl Nikolov told us to aim for a wide open field. Rct Bonheyo stepped up and hit the next weapon stance along! The troop was in tears laughing and Rct Bonheyo then proceeded to crawl after the grenade across the mud!
I was up bright and early as we set off early to practice ‘dunker’ drills and to rehearse helo drills from a Sea King Helicopter! As we arrived we were taken to 845 Naval Squadron Unit were we had a brief from a Sgt on the drills on how to board and vacate the chopper. It was ‘hoofing’ in the Sea King and it would have been great if it had lasted longer, afterwards however, we had the underwater dunker, which for me couldn’t go quick enough!
Inside was a model of a helicopter in a swimming pool, we had a lecture on the usual Health & Safety procedures and I was becoming more and more nervous. We had to pass this criteria test and so after being dunked underwater and escaping, we were then dunked a second time, although this time the mock helicopter flipped upside down. The third time we did it in darkness! When I was told I would do it all a second time to help build my confidence and ability to hold my breath longer, I was gutted! Being claustrophobic when you can’t see when everyone else is also trying to escape is horrible. However, I’m glad I overcame the challenge as it was one of my biggest fears – it really is ‘A State of Mind’.
As Friday arrived I was exhausted and the weekend couldn’t come quicker. However I was excited about another tough session on bottom field with ‘The Regain’ to learn. This was a technique used on the rope if you’re to be hanging from it and you need to get back onto it. A few lads fell of and got wet in the tank, I made sure I stayed dry after seeing this!
In the afternoon we were at Woodbury Common to throw live grenades. There was a lot of waiting around but once we got to do it, it was ‘hoofing’. I was given two L109 live grenades to throw, Cpl Jackson wasn’t impressed by my first attempt as I put too much of an arc on mine and it blew before it hit the surface, I think the quote was “Have you been watching Saving Private Ryan Rct Dowd!?!”…I actually did the weekend before going to France!!
As a whole I believe a good few individuals put the effort in and worked hard this week but a lot of lads had let the troop down with failed locker inspections etc. Im excited about the future and what Troop 156 will bring, the training team are keen to teach and the lads are keen to learn. There’s still along way to go but I am eager, enthusiastic and anticipating the hardest challenge yet to help me achieve that green lid and become a Royal Marine Commando.