Each year, the army cadets of Ellesmere College CCF get the opportunity to spend the first week of their Summer holiday at an Army Training Camp. For many, this is their first real experience of regular soldiers at the Army’s way of doing things, and can take a bit of getting used to. This year we headed up to Yorkshire to Wathgill, a small camp near the garrison town of Catterick, backing on to extensive training areas and firing ranges.
Sunday – Having arrived the previous night, the cadets where straight out onto the training area to be put through an Advanced Tactics stand, run by regular soldiers. Personally, I wasn’t able to go with them as I was busy planning our own exercise which was due to start in the evening. Ellesmere College had been paired up with another contingent from St Edward’s Oxford, so it took us a little while to work out how best to fulfill the training needs of both groups. However, with such a good training area, there were almost too many options. With the conceptual planning done in the morning, I spent the afternoon getting all the paperwork together to satisfy the Training Safety Advisor. Once the cadets were back in camp and fed and watered, it was time to head back out to start Exercise Wathgill Warrior. Having been dropped at Gandale Farm, the three sections from our platoon took different routes to cover the short patrol to Gandale Coppice, where they set up a platoon harbour. The main event for the night was an ambush, which required us to run through rehearsals with the cadets, so that everyone would know exactly how it was going to work without the need for unnecessary talking during the infiltration phase. Everything went to plan, although we were a little behind on the timings, and we managed to get into the ambush positions with minimal fuss. We even managed to get hold of a generator and floodlights which gave the ‘enemy’ a bit of a surprise, making it impossible for them to see us and very easy for us to see them. After a long first day, we called it a night once we got back to the platoon harbour and let everyone get their heads down.
Monday – After a reasonable night’s sleep, it seemed only fair to start the day off with a bit of pressure, so when they found themselves under fire at 5.30am, the cadets had to bug out pretty quickly. While some managed to wake up and switch on without too much delay, others seemed to be in a daze leaving a trail of kit behind them as they pulled out. The rest of the exercise was spent practicing platoon attacks which, for many, was the first time they’d operated at larger than section strength. As is normally the case, communication and co-ordination were the key and they developed significantly as their experience grew rapidly.
Tuesday – After 2 days in in the field in tactical mode, in was a nice change to do something a bit different. We headed to Adrenalin, which has a variety of activities on offer. We spent the morning on a number of high rope activities including, the Jacob’s Ladder, Leap of Faith and High All Aboard, before trying out the Assault Course in the afternoon. As well as bravery at height, I think the smell of the mud that seemed to get everywhere from the Assault Course will be the longest lasting memory – mainly because my trainers still wreak of the stuff!
Wednesday -A week at an Army camp wouldn’t be the same without a range day. The cadets get to fire blank ammunition on a fairly regular basis, but it’s a bit of a rarity to fire live, making it a real highlight for many as well as a scary prospect. Our cadets started on the DCCT (Dismounted Close Combat Trainer), which is basically a high tech computer generated range. It can support numerous weapon systems but we were just using the SA80 A2, which is almost identical to the usual rifle used by cadets these days. We then made our way onto the main outdoor range, where the cadets got to shot live ammunition from the Cadet GP Rifle with varying degrees of accuracy. They were then given a chance to try their hand at clay pigeon shooting before heading back to the main range to fire the LSW (Light Support Weapon) on fully automatic. This was certainly an experience that many will remember!
Thursday – The morning was spent on a series of Command Tasks, run by some of the members of the Leeds University OTC (Officer Training Corps). It’s always interesting to see how the cadets respond to such tasks. Most act in a similar way to normal but, occasionally, a few surprise you by coming to the fore when you wouldn’t expect it. It was encouraging to see some of the younger members of the contingent putting themselves forward and coping remarkably well when the pressure was on. After a rushed lunch to get out of the rain, we were treated to an afternoon of orienteering. Some of the cadets got more than you would normally expect from an orienteering course, when they rounded a wood to be confronted by a tank.
Friday – Most Summer Camps have an Adventurous Training day, and this was probably they best I have seen it terms of what the cadets got out of it. They got to have a go at archery, climbing on a mobile climbing tower and a bit of volley ball in the morning. The afternoon was water based with canoeing, kayaking and raft building sessions. All the activities were run very well, and in close proximity to each other, making it easy to manage. A great way to finish off a fantastic week.
It’s actually been a few years since I last went on one of these camps, due to other work commitments. However, it was a real reminder of how good they can be and how much the cadets get out of them when they are well run. Wathgill 2011 was a great success!