Ph1 Week 8
That weekend of being away from camp the first time in 7 weeks was certainly welcomed! Despite not really needing to wake up early, I found myself awake at 0600! Admittedly, it was odd not waking up to Swirly snoring his way into waking up. I also didn’t get the occasional banter
abuse from Baker or Holguin (from other sections) before breakfast which was strange, in a strange near Stockholm Syndrome kind of thing!
However, the Long Weekend was not particularly long so we soon found each other on our way back to Pirbright. Some of us bumped into each other at London Waterloo. From a distance, it’s very easy to spot who’s going where with the rather inconspicuous black grip bags! It’s fair to say that a lot of the lads in my troop are unashamedly alcoholics so seeing them armed with their last cans of cider, vodka and beer , we must have looked quite obnoxious on the train but hey we were happy to see each other! So onwards to Week 8!
At about 1700, we paraded outside the block and there were a couple of lads who were late. The first thing we thought was that they’d gone AWOL. Bombardier looked rather pissed himself when he took the roll call so whomever came late was just hush-hushed, but from what we heard from other troops, those who turned up late without good reason were shown at the guard room. That means extra duties!
As soon as we got back, I did what we now refer to us general admin. This included me and Jones’s trip to Spar to get some supplies such as: the Independent (for me), Doritos and Vimto bonbons – something to get us through the week.
On the Monday, we were joined by 3 new guys from Sword. We had Strawberry (nickname – he was from Catterick, injured when training to be a Para), P (a medic) and Adams (also retraded to Royal Artillery from Para when he injured his leg). Adams took what was Wilkinson’s bedspace so he had the pleasure of waking up to Swirly’s face as well.
Duly, we collected some weapons, distributed rations and did some ‘show me’ drills outside the block to ensure we brought the right stuff. One thing I wish I had removed from the list was the issued trainers. We never used trainers so that was just dead weight! It was heavy enough as without it!
We carried pretty much the same stuff we carried when we did Ex First Nights with the addition of comms (headset radio), batteries and digging picks and big spades! (The least of my favourites as they just confirmed we’d be digging again!) Oh, and body armours too (without the metal plates just yet)!
We were broken into 3 sections because our corporal had to go to a helicopter selection course. Me and my battle buddy Jones along with Swirly and Hendricks were temporarily attached to 1 Section commanded by the Welsh Bombardier (Bdr). I made sure that I ate a bit more than my usual breakfast the day we left because when we weighed the bergens, webbing, rifle, helmet and body armour on, they were 47kg in total! *gulp*
Imagine our relief when we were told to rendezvous (RV) the coach at the 50 Pence. We loaded the truck with our bergens and collected them later when the coach dropped us off at the entrance to the Exercise Area about 30 mins drive from camp.
One by one, we collected our webbing and slinged our rifles. After radio checking and loading our weapons with blank rounds, we then began our patrol to find a harbour area. 2 Emergency RV spots were noted and not long after passing a cattle grid and into the woods, we found a suitable place to harbour. We secured the perimeter and were assigned our spots. Jones and I then began to dig our shell scrapes and some minutes later Bdr came over and was somehow unhappy with our progress so he decided to swap Jones with another one from his section. He joked that Jones and I looked a little bit too close and was missing out on getting to know other lads in our troop. So, my new battle buddy became Smith.
After breaking sweat in making a decent enough sized hole in the ground, Cpl A (of 3 Section) ordered us to help Walker finish his shell scrape. So along with Smith, Swirly and Hendricks we came over. Apparently his battle buddy R was on stag so couldn’t help him. When we got there, he literally had just managed to scrape the topsoil… and in the process marking a hole the size of a double bed! This was about an hour and a half while the rest of us dug! We didn’t particularly like the way Walker ordered us about when we were rectifying his botched up method of digging, so one by one, we managed to scram and left him.
It felt like we were there for hours and hours but the day had barely gone past 1100! After glugging some water down, we grabbed our webbing and weapons and headed out to do our first lesson. Throughout the week, we had continuation lessons on target acquisition, applying camouflage and range estimation (guessing distances).
While we were doing some more range estimation exercises, it started to pour! Thank goodness for GoreTex! As soon as it rained, we must have started to loose concentration and paying attention when our Tp Sgt kept saying ‘water is like Instant Mong to these lot’ – reference to cup noodles lol 😃 !
After the last light stand-to, we quickly had scoff and went out on night time patrolling exercises, learning to to navigate, patrol and communicate tactically in low light. It’d be in your best interest to carefully traverse the cattle grid because a couple of guys in troop fell in it. Hilariously got us in fits of giggles but also very dangerous. With the added weight of bergen and all its contents, a single buckle could result in a severe ankle injury… a result of getting sent to Sword and back-trooped!
All of this happened when it was pouring rain! Naturally, on our return we were drenched! It was severely depressing to be wet and cold at the same time! Thankfully, we did this in the middle of summer so it wasn’t that cold! It was already about 2300 when we got back and immediately put up a basher … outside the waterlogged hole we just dugged the day before! It was actually a lot more comfortable as the grass served as a cushy mattress underneath our roll mat. It was very toasty in the issued sleeping bags so I dressed down to just boxers and socks (can’t sleep without them) after quickly changing them when we got back.
At the back of our mind however, we were convinced that we were going to be bogged out because that’s what everyone we bumped into in camp said. Suffice to say, we had a good night sleep as nothing happened. Whomever wrote the stag list had forgotten to take into account that 1 Section had augmentees and as we were further along the line, the stag rotation didn’t get to us. KACHING!
The morning after, Bdr made sure that we carried out our morning routines after morning stand-to. This included cleaning our rifles (we didn’t fire it the day before so it was practically still clean), making scoff and rudimentary doing some hygiene administration.
More lessons ensued and the Cpls made it clear that we had our confirmatory tests on various things we’d learn thus far. With brains engaged and the apprehension of making sure I didn’t fail, I was particularly buzzing in the heat.
Upon our return to the harbour, we found that our shell scrapes were bogging in water! Thankfully, I had taken the initiative to line the bottom of ours in a weave of stacked sticks to raise our bergens off the muddy hole! Unlike the rest of us, mine and Smith’s bergen didn’t get wet. For added protection, everything was waterproofed inside with massive ziplocks any way.
We headed out to do some more navigation lessons and that was something I actually enjoyed. Although I did a geography degree, I didn’t actually get to do much hands on orientation and navigation exercises in uni so I was particularly interested to get better at doing this. We were to be tested on this later on so I made sure Smith was getting the hang of it as well by taking it in turns to orient ourselves.
We also practice our fire manoeuvres in twos in our free time after our lessons on pacings and searching bodies upon termination. We fired our rifles today so whatever free we got, I had my cloth and copper brush to prevent rust and carbon from building up.
After stand-to, scoff and after the light disappeared we had another brief night patrolling with a night time search lesson. Soon afterwards, we were broken into two groups to play Manhunt to put our evasion skills to test. My group was the first group to hunt for the others, while they tried to evade us and get to the safe zone. We were allowed to use torches so my little E-Petzl came very handy. Nobody got through as everyone got caught! Then it was our turn. We were released from a point next to a water tower and then traversed through trees and hills. It had gotten very dark as the moon was behind the thick layer of clouds. Adrenaline was rushing in my brain but the darkness was very disorientating! The only clue we had was that our pursuers came from the area where exit was. So as they grew closer to us, I run sideways away from them into a plateau area with lots of dried up trees. I was running fast I kept getting whiplash in the face by the branches. At one point I thought it grazed my eye.When I was stopped, I heard Baker’s taunts in the dark and the noises of our pursuers grew ever so closer and again with adrenaline, I went low and made a run for it. I was taking this far too seriously! I saw the two Cyalume Glow Sticks marking our safe zone! I had managed to evade half our troop (all 24 of them plus our corporals!) and successfully got through.. and I was the first one! Oh the buzz I got from this! I was so excited and giddy as nobody from the previous group managed it! Some 5 minutes later, two other guys got through and the game ended when everyone else got caught. Suffice to say, that was very fun! The tiredness from the day activities suddenly dissipated. Swirly and a couple lads cried “VC”, they said. 👍
We headed back in patrol formation again and went straight to harbour, realising that after the adrenaline got flushed out of my system, I got very tired once again. Sleep came very quickly! When it came to my stag at about 0200, I quickly and rather grumpily put clothes back on. We were told not to put warm kit on when we go on stag because could be attacked any time and there was no time to undress in case we get bogged out. But I get cold very easily so I put on the issued snood, underneath my helmet covering my entire head, save the face.
Nothing happened! But I now believe it when people say they see the strangest shapes when looking into the night, especially with vision goggles on. I was convinced at one point that someone was creeping up to me; or that someone/thing down the woods was staring at me. It was very creepy but I was too tired to imagine so I just ignored it. It wasn’t long before I got relieved and went back to claim that remaining 3 hours sleep I could have.
We awoke on Thursday morning, strangely fresh but still apprehensive of what was to happen. We had our admin test so we had to ensure we cleaned our rifles and carried out our morning routine to the letter which involved having scoff, changing clothes and cleaning our mess tins (REMEMBER, don’t let the hexi dry up and baby wipes are your best friends!) and ourselves out in the field. Any traces of cam cream was an instant failure! We had an hour to do do all of this so everything was done quick time! One thing that really helped was... BABY WIPES! Lots of them! And facial wash (get a travel size one to keep in your exercise wash kit). Only one rifle can be cleaned at one time but I had already started to clean my rifle the day before so all I had to do was wipe away small pockets of rust that formed in the rain.
Our Tp Cdr (a captain) together with the Sgt took the inspection. There was an issue with leaves getting on the mess tin when the wind blew but Sgt knew. I passed.
A couple of lads failed theirs, however. Walker and Fryer failed theirs. We were told they could retake so we just carried on with the day’s activities.
We run through a couple more practice of fire manoeuvres in twos so a lot more rounds were spent. In the afternoon, we had a navigation competition exercise. We were given coordinates of various places on the map of what must have a been a 25 square miles exercise area and our task was to find some signs and note down what was on the pieces of paper at each location. They were the latin mottos of corps and regiments in the Army. Smith and I took in turns to navigate to the landmarks and later joining forces with other teams. We swapped details of the ones we’ve already done to save time and effort as the points were located within the massive hectares and hectares of exercise area.
Some of the details we were given were a bit dodgy though. I took that people were being really competitive against us, hell bent on winning this test. For each motto correct you get a point, and a deduction of 1 point for each one wrong. The result of this exercise didn’t come up until the week after… See next post!
After this exhausting exercise, we went back to harbour. Bdr recommended we keep our heads low after stand to and go straight to bed after scoff. It sounded too ominous! I did as I was told and ensured everything (the jetpacks were attached to my bergen, webbing assembled, mags full of rounds and water bottle filled to the brim). I didn’t bother taking my roll mat out so I just laid the sleeping bag in its bivvy bag and slept at about 1900.
Sure enough, at about 2100, I was awoken by shouts of CONTACT 1 SECTION FRONT! ENEMY 100m RAPID FIRRRREEEE!!!
OH Shit, that’s our side of the harbour!
OH HELL, YES!
In our shell scrapes, Smith and I fired back as low as possible. I saw two enemies returning fire at us. Red hot shells ejected off my rifle and Smith’s. One hit me on the cheek and boy that hurt!
When it all died down, we were told to QUICKLY evacuate. BOG OUT!
Smith and I, in double quick time, took down our basher, making sure no tent pegs and bungee cords were left behind! We carried our bergens in a file up to the hill where a truck waited for us. We loaded them onto it and when it drove off, we hurriedly went on a quick patrol. Tp Cdr lined us in behind a tree line, awaited to ambush any pursuing enemies. Soon enough, three enemies came searching for us but were soon eradicated as they passed the midway of our ambush line.
We headed back to our harbour area and were told to re-establish our bashers. Debrief in the morning! Phew!
Nothing else happened apart from the usual middle of the night stag.
Soon enough, the sun rose. Friday began with the usual routine. A little more laid back than those who had to re-show for failing their admin test the day before.
Turned out Tp Cdr and Sgt were impressed with the turn over of the Bog Out the night before. We heard stories from other troops that were bogged out twice in one night. Our officers chose not to bog us out for the second time. Phew. Thankfully! What a great present for my birthday!
We had confirmatory test of all the lessons we did so there were 3 stations we had to go to:
- Target Acquisition and Range Estimation
- Fire Manoeuvre in Twos
- Cam and Concealment
Needless to say, I passed them all together with Smith… with a tremendously satisfying feeling of accomplishment. It was certainly a strange birthday!
When everyone else was done with their tests, we went back to the harbour area to clear it and put it back the way we found it. We refilled our shell scrapes, despite the fact that we didn’t really use it much. Soon after, bergens on our back, we were on our way to where we were dropped off! Ex Half Way complete!
On our way back on the coach, I sat next to Swirly. He complained throughout about his prickly heat! In fact everyone was complaining about it since day 1 of the Ex Half Way. Thankfully, I didn’t get these. I grew out of it when I was about 10 years old back. I remember how unbearable it can get … the burning sensation of wanting to scratch the itch everywhere. I sympathised by offering to scratch Swirly’s back.
On our way back to camp, I got a parcel from the AGC corporal. It was a ‘Make Tea Not War’ Self stirring mug from Es for my birthday present! Swirly caught on the fact it was my birthday and on his way back from his Naafi shop, he brought me a packet of Doritos – Hot Chilli Wave one – my favourite! Aww.
It was a relief to us that the weekend didn’t comprise of anything. The queue to the laundry was naturally full of our troop members with bags full of exercise kit. We played volleyball for PT on the Saturday and had a day off on Sunday. Bliss!