214 Tp Recruit Diary
Saturday (the calm before the storm)
To wake up naturally is something that most take for granted, however to a Royal Marine recruit (nod), sleep is a currency worth more than any pound, dollar or euro. As we awoke on that crisp Saturday morning to no detail other than block jobs, morale was high as the thought of just one week between us and Christmas leave lay in our heads. The whole day we prepared for the unknown, packing bergan as we had done numerous times before but in the back of our minds, we all knew that this exercise was like no other we had experienced previously.
Sunday (deployment to Dartmoor)
0600, alarms go off all around the grot (bedrooms). Showers full of anxious lads ready to get the day started. All morning we attended lectures about Dartmoor, sitting briefs on the dos and don’ts when on deployment in such a unique place as Dartmoor. With all these warnings in the back of our minds and the chit chat between us and more mature nods who had operated on Dartmoor before, we were all very nervous, yet keen and ready to get on that bus.
1300, bus arrives. “Bergans on the truck! Webbing, rifle and day sack on the bus! GO!” When you hear these words, you feel a little like a deer in the head lights as everyone blindly loads up. Within 20 mins, we were all accounted for and on the move. 1.30 hrs pass in a flash as everyone wakes up as we hit the pothole of the pub carpark. “Everyone off the bus! GO!” We step out to what seems to be a lovely day considering all the rumours we had heard previously about the notorious Dartmoor weather. Webbing and day sacks on, we split down in to our Sections. 1 Section, 2 Section, 3 Section and 4 Section. We were told we would be navigating our way to the scout hut around which we would be bivi-ing up for the first few days. Breaking the nav down in to 8 legs, everyone in the Sections would have to nav at least 1 leg. In 10 minute intervals the sections set off. Weather on point, visibility clear and morale high.
After a long 3 hours of navigating the alien terrain of Dartmoor, we got to the scout hut just as darkness approached with everyone in the Troop accounted for. We were immediately briefed on the night ahead. We would undergo a supervised night nav with our Corporals. We were confident in day navigation but the thought of night navigation on Dartmoor is a pretty daunting thought for even experienced navigators. 1700 we set off, with our Corporals, starting at the scout hut we walked deep in to the heart of Dartmoor. Bearings set, check pacers all in check, we all got back 6 hours later in one piece with no dramas or casualties. We occupied the harbour, bivi’d up and got our heads down, exhausted yet satisfied with the day’s events.
Monday (the clag)
Now Monday, regardless of who you are or what you do is pretty depressing to say the least. That in mind, and the thought of a whole day and night of navigation and yomping, you can only imagine that everyone was a little apprehensive in their pits. But due to the upcoming kit muster for which you only have an hour to prepare for, and the dreaded thought of the flank, we could not relax. We stood to for 30 mins 0630-0700 and then it was all hands on deck. That Dartmoor kit muster was ‘gopping’ (awful) to say the least, as sideways rain covered our clean rifles and soaked us to the skin.
After the kit muster was over, we formed up and set off for a full day of navigation training. That notorious Dartmoor weather of which we had heard so much about took effect immediately as the clag (thick fog) came in and surrounded us like a virus. It was impossible to see landmarks or contours in the hill sides. You could barely see the man in front of you at times. Relying on the troop Captains navigation training lectures and the experience of the Corporals, we all made it back in one piece. Soaked to the bone, we all put a hot ‘wet’ on (cuppa tea) and relaxed and prepared ourselves in what was known as the ‘cow shed’ (a hut we could take shelter from the elements).
Night drew. Nerves were on edge as we sat briefs on what to do if we got lost or injured on the night navigation exercise. With no Corporal to guide us if we go wrong and the weather still bad, we set off in to the blinding darkness and quite literally the unknown. Clag everywhere, wind howling, rain drizzling just enough to keep you constantly wet and cold. Morale was low. But in true nod spirit, we all bucked up! Stiff upper lip and all that, and got the job done. Hitting all of our check points and all coming in around the cut off time of 2330, proving that our training and practice had paid off. Morale was back up. We had all just successfully navigated Dartmoor at night in horrible weather conditions, giving us confidence in our new found ability.
Tuesday (one foot in front of the other)
We awoke to yet another kit muster. A lot like the day before the weather was not at its best and we were exhausted from the previous day’s events that went on late into the night. We were briefed us on the day ahead. Now as a nod, you are in and out of consciousness a lot during lectures and briefs, hence the title of nod, yet when our troop Captain said the line “today will be one of those days in training that you look back on and remember, due to its difficulty and the sheer grit you mustered to carry on”, everyone switched on.
Before we could set off though, we were told we had to conduct a stalk and a map reading stance. Again the rain came in, making everything that little bit harder and more soul destroying. The stalk was good, the weather, although terrible, acting as our ally in this situation as the two spotters struggled for visibility. Everyone managed to get into good fire positions with the exception of a few. Valuable lessons learned on cover and how to use the back drop to your advantage, we all did well.
We were told on completion of the stalk that we would be yomping to Princetown (a small town in Dartmoor where troops can be extracted from). The yomp would be 9km. Now 9k doesn’t sound a lot but over terrain, in terrible weather and with just shy of 100lbs on your back, it’s a rather long way. All this in mind, we had never yomped with full kit before. Again, we doubted if we could do it after the fatiguing nav yomps we had endured over the days past. But the hard timing of 1230 set in and on the dot, we set off. One long line of strong minded, semi-broken lads stretched across the top of Dartmoor. It was hard going. One foot in front of the other in front of the other for 4 hours. Following a path with a wall running parallel to it for what seemed to be a millennium! Or maybe just a considerable amount of time. Either way, it never ended. The boys never broke. We had heard of lads going down on this yomp because they couldn’t take it, but none of us even entertained the idea of quitting at any point. On the fourth hour we reached the carpark. Laid our heavy bergans down and rested our weary carcases as our sergeant ordered us to rest and get a hot wet on. We had a laugh, spirits high, yomp complete.
We had done it, Exercise HUNTER’S MOON complete! Now let Exercise PARTY SEASON commence! We were all talking about where we were going to go and what we were going to do on the bus over Christmas. Morale was flowing. The boys were in a good place. Then…the bus stopped. Around an hour shy of camp. “Off the bus! Webbing, rifle and day sacks on, NOW!” Oh no!
As the bus pulled away, so did all of our morale. Heavy rain soaked us. Wind made us cold again. And the idea of not knowing what was going on took over. “Right lads, follow on”. We walked and walked and walked and walked. Pitch black. No moon light, nothing. You could not see past your own nose. Around an hour and a half later, we hit a road, formed up, and numbered off. We seemed to all be there but how that was so, I will never know. We walked on down some lanes. The truck now followed us like a vulture, ready to scoop up any stragglers or weak, but the head lights did provide us with some much needed visibility. We walked on, covering vast amounts of ground quickly. All of a sudden we stopped in some gravely car park. The big truck pulled in with our bergans. “Right lads, bergans on now, let’s go”; again it just felt like another nail in an already well nailed coffin. They seemed heavier than before, how I don’t know, but they did. We yomped on. Up and down hills. Rain lashing and the thoughts of a nice hot shower and a big stogie meal becoming ever more vivid. Then, in the middle distance, there lay a woodblock, AKA our destination, AKA home for the next few days. It shone like a beacon. We were relieved yet anxious of what may lay in store for us next.
Wednesday (running round like headless chickens)
After the yomp we managed to get our head down in our bivi’s for few hours before we heard “214 Troop, get up now!” You would have thought we would be accustomed to those words by now but they always seem to strike the fear of God into you. We were told to grab our survival tins, a baked bean cooking pot and our knives and stand in three ranks ready to be inspected for any food or comforts we may try to sneak in for our survival ex. Afterwards we were frog marched in our fire teams down to the heart of the wood and told to make a shelter, get a fire going and, basically, survive. Everyone sprung to and got it done; using the knowledge learned a few weeks previous, a diverse array of shelters went up.
Day like broke and with it came the Mountain Leaders. Now we had heard horrific stories of MLs coming in and destroying shelters and putting recruits in the river before now if their shelters were not up to scratch. So as you can imagine, everyone was bomb-proofing their shelters beforehand to ensure no nod dipping would take place. Everyone passed and with the fires stoked up, and what little morale we had left at a high, we went into a lecture. Not a lecture like you may know it. A lecture on how to behead a live chicken and fillet a dead trout. Don’t learn this stuff in uni!
We had 20 mins to apply what we had learned and supply a buffet of wings, fish eyes, breasts and thighs laid out like a muster. A flesh muster if you will. But the deadline was not met. We passed 20 mins and the mountain leaders faces lit up. We knew what was to come. Not moving with the necessary sense of urgency or missing deadlines leads to uncomfortable and hard remedial training!
After the MLs left, we were left to our own devises, told to cook up our chicken and fish and get some rest. Seemed doable, but it wasn’t easy as all the fire wood was saturated. All night long we struggled to get fire wood that was burnable, everyone had a role to play. You had the chief fire stoker, chief stick layer, chief wood collector and of course the guy who did a little bit of everything. Dawn broke. With semi-full bellies, we collapsed our shelters and moved out. Bergans on, we yomped to our extraction point a few miles away.
The busses were a welcome sight. We put our bergans on the truck, occupied the busses and with a huge sense of accomplishment, we headed back to Lympstone. What a week. Valuable lessons learned with mental resilience levels that little higher than the exercise previous. Lads performed well and earned their Christmas leave. Now let Exercise PARTY SEASON commence! 214 out.