On Monday 1 September 2014, the ladies and gents of Royal Marines Band Troop 2014 (RMB 1/14) arrived at HMS NELSON, Portsmouth to start the ‘Foundation’ period of our Initial Military Training (IMT)- the first step to becoming Royal Marines musicians.
On arrival at NELSON, we were greeted by RMB 1/14’s Drill Leader (DL) who was there to oversee us in Foundation, as well as IMT and beyond. When everyone had arrived, we were removed from the comfort of the coffee (now known as ‘wets’) boat, to the Britannia Block where we were to spend our first few weeks in the Corps, prior to moving to CTCRM Lympstone.
Day 1 was primarily about finding our bearings around NELSON, being shown the locations of the ‘galley’ (canteen) and the NAAFI (café). The first day flew in, full of nerves and at the same time full of excitement as our new career had begun!
Day 2 was all about Attestation- we stood up, attested our allegiance to the Queen, and from that point onwards we were locked in for at least 28 days. We were IN!
From this point onwards, the learning curve just kept on climbing; we were seated in a blur of lectures about Corps History, ironing, cleanliness and the rank structure of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and how to recognise everyone. Throughout the first week, our inability to complete tasks quickly, efficiently and accurately backfired and the consequences were a serious lack of sleep!
We were introduced to our instructors and spent a lot of time with our two Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) in the gym. We undertook our basic swimming and fitness tests and learn the rules of the gym floor:
Under NO circumstances are we to a) scratch, b) itch c) fidget.
The second week of Foundation commenced with a very challenging gym session. The week was packed full of lectures on Corps History, personal security, alcohol and substance abuse and personal vulnerabilities. There was a lot of information for us to ‘take on board’ and having spent a lot of time revising whilst cleaning our accommodation and ironing all of our clothes, we were sure we had cracked it; the DL showed us that we perhaps had room for improvement…
RMB 1/14 had our first field experience on LONGMOOR. We were taught basic fieldcraft and survival skills, such as sentry routine, cooking rations with hexamine and the joys of cleaning mess tins. The exercise concluded with a tough PT session and carrying our two ‘Elsans’ back to the transport.
RMB 1/14 did quite a lot of drill and learnt how to slow mark time, slow march and turnings in slow time. Foundation ended with an almighty bang- a final inspection of us and our accommodation after near to no sleep. We were up all night, perfecting our equipment and our bed spaces, living space, ablutions until they were near perfect. Near perfect isn’t perfect though, as we found out yet again.
On Monday 15 Sept 14, after having spent 2 weeks at HMS NELSON, we were travelling at high speed to the Commando Training Centre, Royal Marines or CTCRM- our home until mid Dec 14. I was apprehensive and nervous as we arrived at the gates, looking at the rest of the troop, I realised I wasn’t the only one. After settling in to the accommodation in D Block (the same type of accom as all other RM recruits) our DL took us on a tour around camp, pointing out such iconic places as Bottom Filed and the Static Tank.
The next day we had our first introduction to the gym, with a Battle Swimming Test. I’m not the best swimmer and was really nervous and up to this point, had never jumped off a 3m diving board. As I began to climb the ladder, however, I managed to keep my calm. I got to the end of the board and jumped, eventually. Even though I wasn’t the fastest, I still felt pleased at what I had achieved by the time I dragged myself out the pool, having also completed the swim. We were also introduced to the gym floor at CTCRM, doing IMF like we had at NELSON. We spent 45 mins doing just rope climbing which was initially really awkward, grabbing the rope with both hands and knees but by the end of the session, most of us had managed to climb up half way (15’) or more. It was really demanding and there were PTIs on us all, really focusing on what we were doing and what we should be doing, but by the end of the session and 2x camp circuits later, the PTI said he was really shocked and impressed with the effort we had all put in.
We also had our first introduction to drill on the parade square. We learnt turns on the march in quick time and how to salute to the left and right. It was great to be on the parade square at CTCRM. We may not be able to match them yet at phys, but we can smash all the other recruits at drill!
Week four started with sky high morale because of the highly anticipated Families Day which was soon approaching. Rifle lessons were advancing and luckily we were too as the weapon handling test was quickly upon us.
In preparation for the upcoming field exercise, we began map reading lessons which was a completely new topic to all but a few of us. The first few lectures started off very basic; we were shown a huge compass, how geographical features look on a map, what the symbols on the key mean and how to read information such as relief. We then started to use other bits of equipment alongside the map, such as protractors and compasses. We used the roamers to read off six figure grid references. After a little confusion as to whether Eastings or Northings come first (you go in the house and up the stairs by the way- Eastings and then Northings) we all understood it.
Our Phys also stepped up a notch or two, especially now that we were responding well to the words of command and discipline on the gym floor in time for Families Day. At times we got frustrated at our mastery of the rope climbing technique, but the effort levels were plain for all to see.
The entire troop were buzzing on Thursday evening as we had all passed our weapon handling tests and we were but a mere 12 hours from seeing our families and ultimately a long weekend…
BOOM! Friday was on us in a flash and we were all hoping our hard work would pay off. First up was drill. As we marched onto parade in front of them, it was amazing to see the pride in their faces; it was 100% worth what we had endured over the past 4 weeks to achieve it. We even managed to get some of the audience on parade! After a quick change into phys rig we were on the gym floor, working as hard as we ever had but also being a little embarrassed as by the end of it, as we were a sweaty mess! You need to work hard to train hard. Next, it was back into our camouflage clothes (PCS) and finally time to be reunited with our families. Lots of tears were shed, but all were happy. None of them were due to us introducing our families to scran at the main galley.
By Wednesday next week, we will all be able to say we are a third of the way through IMT. There is still a long way until we are back at NELSON, but there is now the slightest bit of light at the end of the tunnel. It can only grow brighter.
After a glorious long weekend back home with the family, Monday was a little emotional for some members of the troop. But there ain’t no rest for the wicked and it was straight back to work with a vigorous IMF session down in the gym. The rest of the day was spent in between lectures about various topics, such as available qualifications and a chaplaincy lecture. The evening was spent getting sorted for an exciting week on our first proper field exercise on Woodbury Common-Ex BUGLE CALL.
Tuesday was all about hiding and ‘shnurgling’. We unpacked the SV 6 tonne lorry on Woodbury and were straight in to our first lesson about why things are seen and the acronym we use to help hide/see objects. This was followed by a judging distance lecture, seeing how objects appear at set distances and how the ground can make them seem further or closer than they actually are. The final lesson was on Camouflage and Concealment and our Band Corporal proved that cam and con was not just the perks of Commando snipers! We slept under ponchos in a troop harbour.
Wednesday started with a kit muster before a field PT lesson where we used some of the Endurance Course. When we returned to the troop harbour we learnt all about section attacks, lifesaver drills and had a hoofing (really good) demo from our DS. After the lesson it was time to practice on a small Close Quarter Battle (CQB) course, laid out on the Common, firing blanks on our SA80s for the first time. Thursday morning began with another kit muster with another good set of performances from the troop. It was then straight into another PT session before heading back to CTCRM. When we got back we all learnt the soldier’s mantra of ‘my weapon, my gear, my person’ or ‘gear before beer’.
Friday’s focus was the field kit inspection but we also bore-sighted our rifles, had PT and started the big task of bulling our boots for future parades. The PT session was (thankfully) not like other sessions; we didn’t do a camp circuit. Sadly, we also had a turnover of Directing Staff, but we’re all already impressed with the quality of instruction from these new members of the team.