Covering the ground in Africa with music

WO1 Mick LatterWarrant Officer Class One Mick Latter has been involved with Army Music for 28 years and retires in a few weeks time. Following a successful career in the bands reaching Band Sergeant Major of the Band of The Royal Logistic Corps his last role was Head of Digital and Media Engagement for Army Music. He volunteered to support this task to the continent of Africa as a performer on the French Horn and as media support officer for the deployment. As the saying goes ‘One last time with feeling’.

The Corps of Army Music recently deployed a Short Term Training Team to Africa. The aim was to supply musical training and defence diplomacy work at key events through music across a number of countries; South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe over a period of less than 2 weeks. I saw this as a personal opportunity to visit a number of countries I had yet to visit and probably a once in a lifetime experience and opportunity but it would also give me the opportunity to obtain and generate good quality media and publicity for the Corps of Army Music as it develops this area of its capability. The Corps of Army  Music is directed to supply a number of Short Term Training Teams for countries around the world. Over the last 12 months we have covered Kosovo, Bosnia, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Kuwait.

The team

The CAMUS Africa STTT

The team of 8 musicians, led by Director of Music Major Lawrence Sale, was made up from 5 other members of the Corps of Army Music and two musicians from two Army Reserve Bands; The Band of The Yorkshire Regiment and the Army Medical Services Band. Three members stayed in Johannesburg to plan for events later in the trip and 5 members that made up a brass quintet drove to Maputo in Mozambique, a 7 ½ hour drive through the stunning open plain territories  of South Africa and Mozambique.

Maputo – Mozambique

We hit the city outskirts of Maputo as dusk arrived, the traffic was building up and we took our lives into our own hands as we fort our way through the chaos and mayhem of the roads of Maputo. Overloaded minibuses, open backed trucks with people on the rear sections, large heavy trucks and very little accurate road signs. At one particular junction a triple articulated lorry decided to run one of our two vehicles (the one I was in) off the road either oblivious to us or no care!

We arrived at Hotel Cardoso on the North side of the city and checked in feeling exhausted and pretty grubby after traveling by air and road for nearly 24 hours. We sat down with our hosts from the Defence Attaché’s office for South Africa, Wing Commander Cookson and his wife for a nice meal and a few light drinks before settling in for the night in very welcoming hotel beds.

Next morning the brass quintet set off to support a Queen’s Birthday Parade event at the High Commission in Maputo, hosted by the High Commissioner, Joanna Kuenssberg. The High Commissioner had invited a number of key political and business influential people to the cocktail party that was taking place in the gardens of the High Commission.  We were there to supply background music and add a ‘soft approach’ influence to the event and most importantly perform the National Anthems for Mozambique and Great Britain. Staff Sergeant Ben Ruffer was in charge of music and had sourced and arranged for the quintet the Mozambique National Anthem. His research had paid off as it was the correct version and many of the guests thanked the quintet in person for a fantastic performance of their Anthem as they had heard it many times before performed in not such a professional standard.

Brass Quintet at British High Commission Maputo

The High Commissioner thanked the quintet after the event. She was very happy that our musical input had made a valuable contribution to the event and looked forward to future events supported by the Corps of Army Music in the years to come should we be able to do so. Lieutenant Brendan Wheeler the leader of the quintet then presented her with a Corps of Army Music plaque.

On our return to the hotel we quickly changed out of uniform and drove down to the coast to admire the Indian Ocean and taste some local food and beer. The Maputo local award winning beer is called 2M for anyone considering travelling to the area. That evening our host took us to dinner in an excellent local curry restaurant of all things to eat in Africa. Being military musicians curry is more often than not a favourite amongst all so there were no complaints and the food was indeed excellent, thank you Wing Commander Cookson.

Return to Johannesburg

Next morning was an early start, up at 5am for departure promptly at 6am as we had to make the return drive to Johannesburg, another 7 hours by car. Our next event was planned in Johannesburg at 5pm that evening so we could not afford to be late and we had to clear the city traffic before it built up with the masses arriving to take up their jobs in the city centre. First turn following the route on our Satnav led us to be facing traffic coming directly towards us on what we thought was our side of the dual carriage way. There were no signs stating no entry, one way or any other related sign but clearly in the morning the system was designed to be traffic heading in only on this particular dual carriage. After several cars flashing us and one near head on miss we soon realised we were in the wrong so quickly turned left to find an adjacent road heading in the direction we required out of town.

4x4 to Maputo

We located the main road out and then weaving through the traffic were on our way but with another near miss where a local minibus taxi decided to dive down the inside of us catching our driver a little off guard, but a quick swerve to the right avoided what looked like an inevitable collision, a time delay we couldn’t afford.

The drive back across 100s of miles of wilderness scattered with an occasional some town led though some beautiful scenery and landscapes and even the opportunity to spot a family of baboons who had crossed the road a little in front of us.

Rugby World Cup 2015 – 100 days to kick off

The next event, or as musicians like to call them ‘gig’, was in support of the promotion of the forthcoming 2015 Rugby World Cup which as I am sure you all know is being hosted in the UK. With the home of Army Music located at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, right next door to the Twickenham Stadium, Rugby Football Union offices and the head office for the Rugby World Cup this was an event we had to support and indeed wanted to support and a good relationship builder with communities outside of the military.

Rugby world cup 2015 RWC

The event was held in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and hosted by the British High Commission. A number of the South African International Rugby Squad were on hand to raise the profile of the event and our quintet added some musical colour to the evening. The team took the photo opportunity with a number of the rugby players and this included gate crashing the stage for a quick group photograph.

Moving to Pretoria

Next morning the team had to move cities to support a Dinner Night reception for the British Peace Support Team. Self-driving with the world’s worse SatNav the team moved by road from Johannesburg to Pretoria taking approximately 2 hours.

On arrival in Pretoria we settled into our third hotel and prepared our uniforms for tonight’s gig at the Pretoria Country Club.

The event was a dinner for the British Peace Support Team and guests including various Defence Attaché staff from South Africa and neighbouring countries. The Brass Quintet opened the evening, while guests drank cocktails at the entrance to the Country Club, performing a couple of pieces of music including the theme from Dambusters. The quintet were then joined by a local Bagpipe and drums group who performed the classic ‘Highland Cathedral’ tune with the quintet. This was really appreciated by the guests and the bagpipers were excellent; we only had one 5 minute rehearsal prior to performance with them!

The most important element of any dinner night in the military for the musicians is the performance of National Anthems and any after dinner music. In this case we had to perform the South African National Anthem, the British National Anthem and a rendition of Post Horn Galop performed by Staff Sergeant (Bandmaster) Ben Ruffer.

bagpipers

Flight to Malawi

Next morning after an early start the team had to move by air to Lilongwe in Malawi. Traffic from the city centre of Pretoria to the airport was a bit of an issue especially with our under powered 4×4 vehicles. Arriving at the airport the accompanying Defence Attaché staff organised the excess baggage allowances and we made it through customs and on to the departure gate with minutes to spare – then the flight took off late, typical. With clear skies we could see out of the windows of the plane to the African landscape below. What struck me was that it is far greener than I imagined it would be.

On arrival Major Lawrence Sale and I headed off to Recce an event while the rest of the weary team settled into hotel number four this week.

Training the Malawi Defence Force Band

 Musn Claire Hutton  with the Malawi Defence Force Band

Sgt Windley  with the Malawi Defence Force Band

Next day the team set off for the barracks in Lilongwe where one of the two Malawi Defence Force Bands are located. We were met at the rehearsal location by their director of music, Captain Levi Chisambi. Captain Chisambi was musically trained to lead the band at the Royal Military School of Music the home of British Army Music at Kneller Hall for four years and then completed a six month command course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before returning to Malawi several years ago. I personally remember Captain Chisambi from his three year course at Kneller Hall as I was a member of the staff during his period there so it was good to catch up with an old acquaintance.

The first part of the morning was spent running a couple of pieces under the baton of Captain Chisambi so the team could hear and see what level the band was at. This is a repeat visit for the Corps of Army Music as a team had visited the band 12 months previously.

The band were able to hold a piece together and with some of the players only having started on certain instruments some weeks before the best plan of action was deemed to be to break the band down into smaller sections with each of the team members, who are specialists on their instruments, taking the Malawi musicians away to practice the music and develop key skills.

An hour later the band reformed to see if any progress had been made, remembering that in some cases the musicians had only been learning their instruments for a few weeks! The Band then performed the three pieces under the batons of Major Lawrence Sale, Lieutenant Brendan Wheeler and again Captain Chisambi. The Band performed ‘I Know Him So Well, Serenade and Scarborough Fair’ which was an arrangement by Captain Chisambi.

After lunch the band and the team took to the main square and under the direction of Staff Sergeant (Drum Major) Shaun James (who by this stage had been nick named ‘Susat’ after the British Army’s rifle optical sight due to his shocking reading glasses) of the Army Medical Services Band undertook some drill and marching band practice. The temperature was in the high 20’s but this did not seem to bother the Malawi band some of which had jumpers on! Staff Sergeant James added a degree of humour to the training with the threat of a late night drill session with him at 2300hrs for all those you could not comply with his orders and instruction.

The rehearsal included marching the band as a whole on parade and to help demonstrate the drill movements required to change direction and halt five of the team formed the front line of the band and led in the early part of the rehearsals. The Band learnt quickly and very soon a marked improvement could be seen. Finally the band performed on the march with music and without members of our team leading the way. By the way Staff Sergeant James did not order anyone back for late night drill sessions on this occasion.

After marching band the team’s brass quintet gave a short recital to demonstrate some of the performance points we had given during the day. This was concluded with a performance of the Malawi National Anthem with the quintet playing and all the Malawi band singing, quite a sound.

The Band were excited to have us training them and the end of the day was a frenzy of thanks and many photographs taken and new friendships made. Strange thing was we are due back there in two days so we could expect much of the same excited enthusiasm. But we enjoyed it and were keen to return.

Return to Training

Two days after our first visit to the Malawi Defence Force Band the team returned to continue the training programme and help develop the musical capability of the band.

We started again in the practice room this time with two new pieces and the under the direction of Lieutenant Wheeler and it was soon apparent the Malawi Defence Force Musicians were learning very fast, a good sign that they were taking on board what we were teaching them.

We also took the opportunity to meet and talk to several senior Officers of the Malawi Defence Force and discuss future possible plans to assist the band and how they could help the band develop with small investments.

We concluded the training with a further marching band session once again under the direction of our very own Drum Major Shaun ‘Susat’ James, but this time the Malawi Defence Band Drum Major led the band. She soon took on board the advice and guidance given to her and the bands drill and movement across the parade square was improving all the time. Training with the Band was very rewarding and all the team members hoped to be able to return to Malawi in the future.

Marching with the Malawi Defence Force Band

Cocktails at the British High Commission

Some 500 guests were invited to this event hosted by the British High Commissioner and the teams brass quintet was lined up to support the event and our very own one man band saxophonist Staff Sergeant Shaun James and his backing tracks. After the cocktail party a local band had been booked to supply music for select guests including the team. Members of our team even joined in with the band. Major Sale our resident drummer was soon leading the rhythm section and clearly enjoying the moment on stage as a performer.

Now to Harare in Zimbabwe

After a 10 hour drive in three vehicles to Harare in Zimbabwe the band settled into the hotel for the night. The drive was an experience; poor roads, long winded boarded controls (my passport now has more stamps in it than I ever thought I would see being a European), various animals from chickens to cattle stepping out in the road. There were a large number of locals walking from one village to another or in some cases cycling what seemed to be extremely long distances. On coming very large trucks were also a concern and at times we had to take evasive measures to avoid them including leaving the road completely at about 60mph as we came round a corner to find several very wide loads coming towards us spread over both lanes. Anyway we made it safe and sound and in one piece.

Road to Harare from Lilingwe

The next morning the team visited Wild is Life Animal Sanctuary just outside Harare. This place is magical, more like a personal home with many endangered species roaming freely. More dangerous ones like lions were behind wire but you could get right up next to them. The sign clearly said we cannot rescue your fingers from the lions but we all came away with them all intact, I think.  Other animals at the sanctuary included a baby elephant called Moyo who had a dog and a sheep for companionship. Moyo was introduced to us in person and loved you to blow down his trunk. We were warned though that he could if he wished knock you over and if you put your fingers in this mouth it would be like slamming your fingers in a heavy door. There were also a number of really friendly giraffes and baby giraffes which you could hand feed.

Other big cats you could get up close and personal to included two cheetahs who contently laid just a couple of metres from us with their keepers purring away like a domestic cat.

Their sanctuary’s pride and joy is a rare Pangolin, a strange creature with large scales on its back who lives solely on ants. This animal is so rare and valuable that it is cared for 24 hours a day and when it goes off to hunt for ants up to 8 hours a day a keeper carries it and when stands by it at all times. The relationship between the Pangolin and the keeper is clear to see.

Pangolin

leopards Giraffes

Back to music supporting UK influence and business

The next musical event we were supporting was at the British High Commission Residency in Harare. The event was another Queen’s Birthday parade cocktail party in the stunning grounds of the home. Hosted by the British High Commissioner who had recently had an audience with the Queen in London this was major event for UK diplomacy and relationship building in Zimbabwe. This was also the first time in over 12 years or more that British Soldiers had undertaken any activity in Zimbabwe. It was originally planned that our team would be engaged with community activity and training of Musicians in the Zimbabwe Army but due to political reasons this had not been secured but the British Defence Attaché was fairly confident that the bridges may have now been developed to encourage engagement for future years.

The Brass Quintet’s major task at this event was as usual to entertain guests, network and encourage defence engagement at the lowest level and perform the National Anthems. The unusual element of the Anthems this time was we were to perform them with choir of approximately 20 members of staff of the British High Commission in Harare. The choir members were all amateur singers and had come together about 2 months ago and along with our quintet did a sterling job.

Return to Johannesburg

The next day the team left the hotel early for the Harare airport for a return flight to Johannesburg. We boarded a small plane with only 30 seats and wondered if all our equipment had actually fitted in the hold. We joked with Major Sale about the Drum Major’s Mace and box which is over 7 feet long was strapped to the wing or roof of the plane; Major Sale is not a good air traveller so this may not have helped.

We were on a tight schedule today and it was going to be a long day. Major Sale had met a lady on the flight over who worked at a charity in Johannesburg called Children of Fire. This charity looks after badly burned children many of which the families are unable to care for or their injuries are so live threatening they could not possibly continue to live in some of the poor conditions many South Africans live in in the various shanty towns. The children were often injured from house fires but in some cases deliberately burnt.

Lieutenant Wheeler led the Brass Quintet as we played various pieces of music for them and demonstrated the instruments which included getting the children involved. On hand again was our very own saxophonist Sergeant James who the children played as he performed several famous pop ballads.

At the end of the performance we mixed and chatted with the children and Sergeant Marsden of the Band of the Yorkshire Regiment an Army Reserve Band had many of children intrigued by his Tuba, the largest instrument within the team.  The Children had also made various British Patriotic Cakes for us to eat including enormous doughnuts with Union Jack flag designed icing.  In a small way we hoped make their lives a little happier if only for a brief time.

Childen of fire charity with the CAMUS team

Sergeant James Saxophonist at Children of Fire charity

Final show in Johannesburg

This was to be my final gig in the Corps of Army Music after 28 years, supporting a Dinner to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The dinner started with a speech about the actual battle of Waterloo and then we performed a number of pieces of music with various European and British famous pieces of music to suite the theme of the dinner.

At end of the Dinner we performed the famous Post Horn Galop, due to the misplacement of the actual post horn it looked at one point that we would not be able to perform the tune. But the event was being held in Light Horse Regiment HQ in Johannesburg and the building was home to a military music museum and Sergeant Ruffer spied something that would suit his needs the bell section of a fanfare trumpet.

At the end of the dinner I was mentioned and thanked in the speech for my service to Army Music for the last 28 years and the fact that during this tour I had been notified that I was to receive the Meritorious Service Medal something I never expected to receive and I am extremely proud to be receiving.

The musicians with me on this epic trip had one last touch to mark my last musical event in the Corps of Army Music and they struck up with the tune Auld Lang Syne, it seemed I had slightly hijacked the end of the dinner!

I am not quite leaving the Army as I am I am joining the Army Reserves as a Digital and Media Specialist later this year with the newly formed 77x Brigade, something I am very much looking forward to. So I may be writing further articles and blogs in the years to come for the British Army as I continue to travel around the world.

Find out more about a career in Army Music on our website: www.army.mod.uk/music

The Pied Piper of Beirut: Forging links with the Lebanese Armed Forces

Corporal Kat BrydonCorporal Kat Brydon talks about the latest visit by the latest Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) training team to the Lebanon.

On Monday 18 May 2015 a group of five CAMUS Musicians embarked upon a Short Term Training Team (STTT) visit to Lebanon together with Pipe Major Josh Bruce from the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming.

The main focus of the trip was to work together with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Band to assist them with their musical training and development. In recent years CAMUS musicians have travelled to several nations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East to deliver similar STTT packages, but this was their first visit to Lebanon; a country which has a very turbulent and colourful history.

Currently Lebanon’s Capital Beirut is undergoing major redevelopment and is relatively safe for foreign visitors to explore but much of the country is suffering from terrible violence spilling over from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

The team received a very warm welcome from the band and was entertained with a performance of two of the band’s favourite pieces. The Team set to work with a full band rehearsal using some familiar repertoire which they brought with them from the UK under the direction of the team’s leader Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) Bandmaster (BM) Rob Smith.

The team

The band was then split down into sections for some more instrumental specific training with Tuba expert Drum Major (DMaj) Jason Bate, Cornet specialist Sergeant Stuart (Casper) Roberts, Woodwind specialist Corporal Kat Brydon and Percussionist Musician Ben Matthews. WO1 Smith also delivered conducting master classes to the LAF’s Directors of Music, who needed to quickly familiarise themselves with the scores to the new repertoire brought from the UK.

As well as working on their concert wind band repertoire, the LAF Band were keen to expand their marching band and drill capabilities. They were given a fun session of marching band instruction under the guidance of DMaj Bate where they practised new manoeuvres.

One of the main priorities of the STTT is to assist in the establishment of a new bagpipe capability within the LAF Band. This was delivered by Pipe Major Bruce to the LAF musicians who had been specially selected to learn the pipes. They started by learning to build their own set of bagpipes from their component parts and then made incredibly rapid progress in learning to play the pipes.

On Saturday the STTT visited a community based, non-profit music group called The Lebanese Band Association for the Promotion of Music (LeBam). The team were delighted to find that the group had many gifted and enthusiastic musicians, drawn from all sections of the Lebanese community. They come together each week for structured instrumental lessons and band practice.  The group’s instructors were very pleased to show the team around the facilities and let them sit in and observe the instrumental lessons, before being entertained by a rousing bagpipe recital from Pipe Major Bruce. Some of the children even had the chance to try out the bagpipes which caused much amusement.

Rehearsals

After the weekend break it was time to get back to work with the LAF Band and do the final rehearsals and preparation for the concert which took place on Wednesday 27 May at the Officers’ Club in Jounieh, a coastal town slightly to the north of Beirut. The concert was the culmination of all the musical training carried out in the previous week and featured performances by the band’s newly created saxophone quartet, woodwind quartet and brass group amongst concert wind band pieces including Bohemian Rhapsody and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The new bagpipe ensemble performed the traditional favourite Amazing Grace which was a remarkable achievement considering they had only had the pipes for a week. After the concert the STTT were invited for a buffet lunch with the LAF Band’s Officers and then they said their farewells to the band members who had become good friends over the past week.

The team returned to the UK after a very successful period of training with the LAF Band. For Army musicians it is a great privilege to have such an opportunity to travel to other countries and connect with so many people both military and civilian who share their passion for music. Through their hard work and enthusiasm the LAF Band achieved a huge improvement in performance standard in a very short amount of time and it was a privilege to be part of this CAMUS STTT.

Reserve Engineers compete in Italian Raid

Reserve Engineers from 350 Field Squadron (EOD) took part in Italian Commando Raid competition. It tested their physical endurance, technical skill and teamwork needed to succeed. 

One Thursday afternoon, 350 Field Squadron RE embarked on a NATO patrol competition based in the Italian Alps North of Milan leaving Foresters House in Chetwynd, Nottingham with bags packed and sunglasses ready. We felt prepared for what lay ahead having tested our fitness, problem solving and navigation skills and compiled a basic yet educated kit list. However, no matter how sunny it was we were always going to get wet.

On arrival at the airport Cpl Lancashire gave us our first fright when he realised his passport was still on the transport heading back to Notts. Luckily the driver was still close, however we’ll ensure he never forgets it again.

The event started on the Friday with a live fire assessment. We got our hands on a variety of weapon systems including the Berreta 92F pistol and the FN 7.62 rifle. An awesome experience and a great gauge of how the SA80 A2 compares with weapons from different nations.

Reserve Engineers compete in Italian Raid

Next we set off to the main start point in the hills of Bisuschio near the Swiss border. Stunning would not describe it but sightseeing had to wait. Teams around Europe and the USA were set off in intervals after a kit check and mission questionnaire. Our two teams were released into the dark after 2200hrs and after a couple of hours of night navigation arrived at the first checkpoint. The concept was simple but a 5 hr observation point was not expected. As the cold alpine chill of the night set in we took turn in our groups of 4 to ‘stag on’ and listen for enemy activity. It was a long night and slow unexpected start to the exercise.

The next day we set off under command of the directive staff and quickly approached the river crossing. All the kit went into a Bivvi bag and on went a waterproof jacket along with some flip flops held on with green tape. We lifted the ‘giant sausage’ up, to the bemusement of the various teams and made our way to the water. Funnily enough both teams scored highly as we used our experience to ensure the basics of soldiering (360 cover etc) were maintained.

The day went on and included more live dynamic shooting with assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. Once again allowing us a bit of fun and an insight into the weapons used by allied forces. Later that morning we found ourselves at 300m above sea level looking up at the next check point of 1000m. So off we went.

AbseilingAlong the way our new friends the Germans were making steady progress and took the lead while we took refreshments and did a nav check. Our team IC LCpl Nightingale went ahead on multiple recces and passed the Germans at speed earning the nickname ‘mountain goat’, at least we think that’s the translation.

Tasks at the top of Mount Orsa (equivalent to Snowden, Wales) included abseiling, room clearance and search tasks. Abseiling was a rush and also funny watching 3 staff members trying to put LCpl Buckingham into a harness. Needless to say it didn’t fit his monster legs.

We continued down the mountain next to the Swiss boarder and quickly realised how inaccurate the maps were. Teams were appearing from all manner of footpaths along the way and only good guess work helped us down, to the relief of our feet.

The day wore on and we were quickly approaching checkpoint ‘Kilo’. The map showed us that the stand was on the far side of a shallow river, so we decided to follow it to a nearby bridge then backtrack to the stand. Only to find it was another river crossing, nicely avoided. The directive staff were bemused but rewarded us for ingenuity.

At this point we had been on patrol for approximately 15hrs and were feeling the pinch, but on we trot up another hill.

We finally arrived at ‘Lima’ where we were preparing for a sniper targeting stand when came the bad news. Teams at the top of mount Orsa behind us were caught in rapidly progressive poor weather and were reportedly suffering from Hypothermia. This meant that the exercise was terminated so that a recovery phase could be initiated.

Reserve Engineers compete in Italian Raid

It was sad for us as there was not far to go. Out of 58 teams only a handful made it to the end. It was disappointing as we didn’t need the rain to dampen spirits. However, our 2 Reserve Royal Engineer teams placed 9th (led by LCpl Carlisle, finishing top of the British Military contingent) and 41st based on overall time and scores from each stand. But a huge congratulations goes to A.S.S.U. Lugano Hellvetics from the Swiss Military Academy for winning the event, and a massive thanks to Sgt Daniel Waterfield for organising the trip.

The experience was amazing, the staff were friendly and it was great to see how different nations prepared and competed – should you get the opportunity, grasp it and have a go, you won’t be disappointed. Needless to say we will be back next year with sunglasses packed.

By LCPL Steven Evans

Commando training: Jungle Warfare in Belize

Spr Eddie Joseph

Spr Eddie Joseph

I was told early on, that winning the Green Beret is only the beginning of the Commando story; that you can only start to become a Commando when you have acquired the skills to operate in the four key terrains a Commando might have to fight in (Mountain/Artic, Desert, Temperate and Jungle). I was reminded of these words when digging snow holes in Norway and when carrying out cliff assaults in the Deserts of Jordan. The final piece of my Commando development would be to become adept in the art of jungle warfare.

We’ve all seen films like Predator and Platoon, and up and until now this was my only knowledge of “the jungle”. Watching these films made the jungle look daunting, at least from a soldier’s perspective. Section members have difficulty seeing each other, so can’t easily coordinate fire and movement. Directing fire on targets hidden by thick foliage is a significant challenge. Weapons, which in other circumstances can fire accurately for hundreds of metres, are much less useful when you can only see a few metres in front of you. And if you are operating in a mountainous area then visibility is further restricted by the frequent mist and heavy rain. These problems are compounded as all movement becomes greatly slowed. So to maneuverer an attack force proficiently in the jungle requires high levels of training.

I should point out that we were not acting in our Engineer role and that we were to be integrated into a Commando Rifle Company, of 45 Commando. There is always a fair bit of banter when we first start working with Royal (Royal Marines) but when they see that the Sappers can match or, in many cases, exceed them in terms of skills and fitness, they soon develop a healthy respect (although they wouldn’t admit it) which sees the difference in cap badge become a matter of irrelevance. It is training such as that undertaken on Exercise Curry Trail that makes interoperability among the various 3 Commando Brigade elements work so well.

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

Spr Magee with members of his section from 45 Cdo RM

As we awoke to our first morning in the jungle, the heat and humidity hit us hard. We had been warned about it but nothing quite prepares you. Yes there were tropical bird singing in the trees but there were also a host of villainous insects that saw us as a source of food.

We attended a briefing on the itinerary for Exercise Curry Trail and what we could expect from the jungle. The list of potential dangers was long, ranging from snakes and ticks to trees with sap that could blind you. However none of the lads seemed particularly concerned as we were all looking forward to getting stuck in. We had a little respite so we could gather ourselves and then it was straight into lessons on the vital skills needed to survive in a CCTE (close country tropical environment).

Over the next few days we woke up at 5:30 to smash some phys (physical training) and then a breakfast of rations cooked by the Royal Marine chefs. In the morning we had theory lessons on the effects of operating in the jungle environment and then practical sessions in the afternoon. The practical sessions focused on radio use among the trees, river crossings and patrol techniques. We trained contact drills and casualty evacuation with full-scale kit Bergens, webbing and our weapon system – of course. Throughout all of this the heat was bearing down and the ground underfoot was quickly becoming a marshland, however this kind of adversity makes an Army Commando feel at home, so we got stuck into the practical’s with gusto.

The day before we went into the field we were given another dangerous animals brief at the Belize Zoo. The zoo staff provided a comprehensive lecture about snakes and then took us to see some of the other animals we might come across in the jungle. It was marvellous to see jaguars and pumas up close; such magnificent creatures.

When we returned to the barracks we did a final equipment preparation and the anticipation was building, we were all eager to get under the canopy and experience the jungle for real. Then came the time for us to depart; we boarded our transport and were waved off by the friendly locals. I must add at this point, the local people were a very accommodating and kind people, and appeared to hold us in warm regard.

Our first day in the jungle focused on CTR (close target reconnaissance). It was the first time we experienced the weight of the Jungle Bergen as we yomped in the heat of the midday sun, in order to conduct a CTR on a target. The dry leaves and bush made tactical movement difficult, as the noise involved in moving could easily have given our position away. We managed to move stealthily into the enemy position to gain information on their operations and just as silently we withdrew back into the undergrowth.

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Spr Magee helping Royal Marines to make improvised claymore mines

Next was Demolition Day, using improvised Bangalores and Claymores, with frag flying over your head as you lie behind some logs, all the time making sure that the log dwelling critters didn’t decide upon you as their supper.

Survival Day taught us the different stances such as shelter building, animal trapping and fire building. The trackers from the Belize Defence Force slaughtered a pig and chicken, in order to teach us how to skin an animal. Then they treated us to barbecued pork and chicken followed by fruits; it tasted better than any Gordon Ramsay effort. After that the sections went off to build a shelter and spend a night out in the wild. Eight of us slept side by side in a shelter that looked slightly different to the ones we had been shown, although they did us proud and kept us alive for the night.

Survival training

Survival training

Long Range Patrolling was the focus for the next day. We yomped through the swamps keeping a watchful eye for the crocodiles, as you can be sure they are keeping a keen eye out for you! I still haven’t found a page in our Aide Memoire on how to handle a meeting with a big ol’ croc.

That evening we had our first wash, which was welcome as the odour emanating from the patrol could only be described as hostile to our olfactory senses. I slept soundly in my hammock that night, as the preceding days training had been gruelling.

The next day saw us practicing Live Firing. We started off with CQC (Close Quarter Combat), this involved moving down a lane making contact with targets as they appeared from the foliage. The difficulty of operating in the jungle was immediately apparent, as I was up to my waist in a swamp as I fired and moved on to the next target.

Back in our harbour we were “Non-Tactical”, so all around the lads were making use of their newly acquired skills by constructing benches, seats and an excellent door for our head (toilet).

Following on from the previous day, we advanced on to Fire Team Drills, progressing through the jungle until we came across a target at which point we would engage the echelon back out of the danger area. As soon as the Point Man’s light machine gun burst into action, the team would move-out as our drills had taught us. The ground underfoot was some of the worst I had experienced and yet again up to my waist in swamp, with large exposed roots that trapped your boots, to contend with. Nonetheless, we pushed back until it was deemed we were out of contact. After “stop” was called we received our debrief. (I’ve used a lot of technical terms here, but should you choose to become a Commando, then you will know these like the back of your hand).

The final element of our jungle training consisted of a section attack on a mock enemy position. We set off on patrol and just off the target the Point Man raised his hand and gave the gesture to fan-out. We moved like ghosts through the trees, synchronizing our movements until we reached our line of departure. We unleashed a torrent of bullets down the range at the Figure 12 targets, then began moving through the position, I was deep in vegetation on the right flank, ensuring that there were no targets in the trees that would represent snipers. Just as the momentum was building we heard the cry “STOP”, so we ceased fire and applied the safety catches to our weapons. I stopped and waited for info to be passed down the line. In the centre of our formation a medic rushed forward to one of the men. One of our guys had been hit by a tree, the tree was shredded by machine gun fire and had fallen on him. The safety team played it safe sent him off in the military ambulance, in case of any potential breaks (we later learned it wasn’t a serious injury).

Spr Magee with improvised claymore mine

Improvised claymore mine

The remainder of the assault force moved forward to the start of the enemy camp and began clearing the huts. The forward line of exploitation set up an improvised Claymore, then moved back to cover. The enemy advanced and walked straight into the range of the Claymore. With the job done we extracted back through the camp. It was a great experience, which everyone enjoyed. Well perhaps not the chap who got a tree on the bonce.

The final week was the final exercise, testing all the skills we had learnt in a fully tactical real time exercise.

After deploying, our section were sent to recce a small enemy camp. Later we assaulted it holding it for the following day, then finally moving to support a company scale attack on a 4 kilometre area of primary and secondary jungle. With our troop assaulting down a sheer, dense gradient the going was tough but an unforgettable experience. At the end of the exercise we sat exhausted in good spirits reminiscing at the funny experiences of a few weeks well done.

My time with 24 Commando is coming to an end and I can honestly say that from the top down, 24 Commando has in its ranks some of the nicest people you could ever wish to serve with. Yes you must respect the rank structure but this respect will be reciprocated and you will be afforded unstinting support in all things you do in the Regiment. If you are reading this and trying to decide upon which Commando Unit to join, then you will be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t at least look at what 24 has to offer.

Read more blogs from Sapper Joseph.

Onwards and Upwards

Corporal Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

It does feel a little strange writing this blog. Not because I am at 44,000 feet. Not because it’s being written on a shiny new Apple MacBook Air which I have borrowed from my boss. Not even because said laptop is just working seamlessly which is the other side of the coin from what I am used to trying to work on. All these excuses could account for why this is a strange blog to write, but of course they would all be incorrect.

Your precious time will tell

The reason is simply because I haven’t put the proverbial pen to paper in such a long time that it feels somewhat alien to me. Not immensely alien you understand. Only as alien as say, using a Canon DSLR for the first time. As you all know, that opportunity knocked on my door last year and within an extremely short period of ‘self-beasting’ I had tamed it and was ready to use that great bit of kit on live jobs for work – (‘Beasting’ is military slang for pushing someone or one’s self to extreme limits).

So, with the same mind-set as I had when I unwrapped the Canon 1DX, I am here to write you another blog. I am hoping that throughout my thousand words or so I have still got the knack of keeping you entertained. Only your precious time will tell.

[Quick read of my last blog to find out where we are in the life of Si_Army_Phot]

Right, lets continue…

… 2014 ended on a high for me for a multitude of differing reasons, some work and some personal, but it all started to ramp up from July onwards.

Ramping up

Work was keeping me busy in Tidworth. The Brigade Headquarters went through a seamless role, and name-change. 1 Mechanized Brigade became 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade under the Future Army Structure. Apart from having to remember to change my file naming structure, I wasn’t really affected by the change.

Jobs continued to roll in. Two in particular caught my eye. The first of which being the Tarleton Trophy with 4 RIFLES. This was an annual inter-company competition, which was first set up by the late Colonel Tarleton.

It is a grueling long distance march across Dartmoor competing in different mini-exercises along the way. I followed several sections as they made their way around the ground and captured the various stages. One of the last events for them was a platoon attack over unforgiving ground. What made this one more interesting from my point of view was the ‘casualty’, which the guys had to deal with whilst coming under attack.

You may or may not know of several companies which are employed by the Armed Forces to act as casualties, creating highly realistic scenarios for the troops. One of these companies, Amputees in Action was being used on this exercise.

The casualty was a woman who had suffered from Meningitis in her adult life and had lost her legs. She had worked for the company part-time for years and [today] she was playing the role of a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) victim who has lost both her legs, and sustained a bullet wound to the chest. I had plenty of time to chat to her, and she said she enjoyed providing realistic training for the troops. Watching scenario after scenario unfold, I found it amazing how soldiers dealt with such realistic trauma.

My hat goes off to all those people who make the choice to help out in realistic training scenarios, even though they must have had to deal with difficult personal circumstances themselves.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

The second job that provided great imagery spanned a whole week. I deployed to Warminster with Cpl (Now Sgt) Baz Lloyd to assist the Army Engagement Group in gathering up to date imagery of a wide spectrum of training on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.

Working with Baz

Baz and I moved from section attacks, to village clearances, to tank battles across open plains to underslung load training with the Army Air Corps. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop with virtually unlimited golden opportunities to capture the best of what the Army has to offer. Here are just a few of the examples:

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

 

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

 

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

 

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

So the year was going well, but not well enough it seemed, as it was going to get better. The Army decided to promote me. I had managed to get back to Sergeant again and as you can imagine, was very happy about it. I wasn’t able to wear it until I had moved to my next posting location.

Oh the hardship

The Army would hand me the news of where that was likely to be later in the year, but first they were going to send me abroad again. Where this time? I am sure those of you who follow me on twitter already know as I couldn’t really keep it in. That’s right, I was New Zealand-bound with 4 Rifles. Oh the hardship.

There isn’t much I can say about New Zealand (believe it or not) other than what a friendly place it is. I have never experienced such hospitality since I came home to my parents for the first time after I’d completed basic army training. I was there to cover a multinational planning exercise consisting of the following ‘players’ – Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Austrailia and New Zealand (SUMAN).

I managed to make friends with another military photographer whilst over there, an Australian Naval Photographer called Jayson Tuffrey. He was my ‘Ozzy-opposite’ and together we documented most of what went on inside the wire and at times, and with help from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Photographer, a little of went on outside it. For those of you who manage a trip to Wellington, I thoroughly recommend trying to find the secret entrance to ‘Alice’s’ and drinking a copious amount of cocktails from white china teapots. It’s a great way to make friends and get ridiculous bargains on Fujifilm lenses …

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

 

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

I got back to find out that in the December I was going to be posted to the Press Office in York. Inevitably, this was going to be a change in pace from what I was used to at Tidworth. Being on the doorstep of a lot of front line troops and having Salisbury Plain as my back garden meant I was never short of an image. I wondered if York would provide me with the same excitement. One thing was for sure, I was thrilled to be posted in the North for the first time in my 19-year career.

Another rooftop

I rounded the photographic year off with the opportunity to capture the Remembrance Parade in London from another rooftop. I simply love the opportunities that being an Army Photographer affords me.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

So, that was 2014 more or less wrapped up. As I said, I thought it ended very well… However, I would be lying if I said it ended there. I can assure you that it shifted up yet another gear before the clock struck midnight on December 31.

Baby_Si_Army_Phot

After a long and successful year I was handed a note by ‘Mrs Si_Army_Phot’ and informed that 2015 would be even better.

In 2015, the world was going to welcome Baby_Si_Army_Phot. The year doesn’t get a much better end than that.

So now here I am, early March. Twenty odd-jobs-in having already (to name only a few) travelled UK-wide capturing environmental portraits, been flown around Yorkshire with the RAF capturing aerial images, covered two Royal visits, covered the testing of equipment at the Jaguar test track for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, and now, on a jet heading to a Russian-Estonian border town for a few days to grab some topical news.

With such a strong start, I ask you… where is 2015 going to go from here?

Stick with me and no doubt you will soon find out…

 

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Desert soldiering: Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan

Sapper Eddie Joseph

Sapper Eddie Joseph

 Sapper Eddie Joseph is an Army Reservist with 131 Independent Commando Royal Engineers based in Birmingham. A heating engineer by trade, the 25-year old is currently serving on attachment with 131’s paired regular unit, 24 Commando Engineer Regiment. Sapper Joseph is 8 months into a year-long engagement and has just returned from providing close engineer support to 40 Commando Royal Marines on Exercise Jebel Dagger in Jordan. He describes his experiences of desert soldiering in this blog.

 

We reached our desert placement late at night and established a harbour with the vehicles.

As dawn broke I surveyed the stark, barren landscape that we were to inhabit. The camp had been sited on a flat plain surrounded by jagged, rocky terrain. Gusts of wind blew up great clouds of dust that nearly choked us, and found its way into all our kit. Everything smelt burned and blasted.

0600 reveille and we set about putting up tents for the marines prior to their arrival. Containers packed with supplies arrived throughout the day and night. This work, along with the water tank and force protection, continued beneath the hot desert sun. The temperature dropped dramatically at night and as we patrolled the perimeter our night vision goggles gave the desolate landscape an eerie glow.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

The flat ground contrasting with the jebel country behind.

 

The flat ground on which we build our camp.

The flat ground on which we build our camp.


I took stock of our surroundings. Within a few days dust and rock had become a proper military camp: a hive of activity. The British Military, with its ethos of hard work and good organisation, had arrived.

The camp, which had begun as a linear vehicle harbour, had expanded rapidly. 18×24’ tents sprang up day and night like mushrooms. It would peak as a 1000-man base enclosed by hundreds of metres of dannert coil and barbed wire that we had erected in the oven heat, smashing in pickets before lifting the razor wire on. We built shower frames and dug out the drainage.

One of the wire fences we built.

One of the wire fences we built.



By now the Royal Marines had arrived and the field kitchen, providing fresh meals, was established. We began to get some respite from the engineering tasks. Range days were started. Instructors who’d studied in the jungles of Asia taught us how to read signs and spoor left by enemy movement. We learnt ground signs awareness, engine maintenance and vehicle recovery in a desert environment.

We spent our evenings playing risk and poker by torchlight. When Arabic lessons became available I eagerly signed up, keen to expand my cultural awareness. I set upon the locals who worked on camp with my broken Gulf tongue, missing no opportunity to ask  them ‘how are you?’ and greeting them with a cheery ‘peace be with you’. They soon became a lot harder to find!

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

Mountain training with the mountain leaders.

 

Taking a rest between duties.

Taking a rest between duties.

Our section provided demonstrations for medic training and mine clearance lessons. We used our own time to keep fit, venturing out into the surrounding area on long distance runs and hill reps. On one occasion we happened upon a Jordanian army training village. We sat down to rest in a bullet ridden building as the flaming sun set over the desert, an experience one does not come across often.

The camp held a sports afternoon before a day of operational stand down (OSD). We played games of football and volleyball, which I am duly obliged to report that my section expertly won.  Then, for OSD we were taken to Petra – a city literally carved from sandstone cliffs. It was a fantastic place with monuments rising up the sides of the canyon. It began life as Nabataean tombs, and has since played host to Romans, venturesome Crusaders – and now some portly tourists.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.

Bulk desalination and purification of water at Aqeba.


The next morning we packed our kit, ready to rotate with the section manning the water point at Aqaba port. The water point, next to the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, made a welcome change from the desert. By pumping seawater through a series of filters and adding a dosed amount of chlorine we could produce potable water for the base in Al Qwarah.

I spent the time between checks exercising in our makeshift gym. It passed quickly. Then I was called back to participate in a vertical assault course with two fellow sappers.  We were trained by mountain leaders to ascend and descend steep faces and cliffs with weapons and equipment, Commando skills we’d previously learned but which demand constant practice.

We were taught how to make improvised stretchers like the clove hitch or roscoe, so that we can evacuate casualties from remote areas. At night I could hear gunfire as 40 Commando practiced live firing in the distance. I remember sitting on a rocky outcrop waiting to abseil down the cliff, watching tracers and flares going off across the desert, lighting up the sky like fireworks.

The following day we embarked upon a navigation exercise around the surrounding area, yomping up to heights of 1300 metres. At each high point we tackled section tests. Stances included judging distance, map reading and medical training that tested patient care and evacuation technique. On some evenings the cultural advisor gave us briefs on subjects such as the formation and history of the Middle East and the Arab Spring.

We then moved into our second special-to-arm package that consisted mainly of demolitions and urban combat training. We spent the days practising compound clearance, advancing our skill level and using explosive charges to gain entry into otherwise difficult to attack buildings. Concentration and attention to detail were vital.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a breaching charge exploding a couple of metres away from you as you prepare to assault a building.

 

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.

Another amazing Jordanian sunset.



The temperature had begun to fall dramatically at night, partially due to the altitude of the camp. Our nightly showers became colder and colder. Then, our second OSD day signified the approach of the final few weeks. Our stand-down took place at a hotel in Aqaba. It’s always the simple things you miss, and we had a few hours to enjoy a resort with proper showers, porcelain toilets, and a jacuzzi on the roof. I returned to camp that night with a very much-needed haircut (I’d begun to look like some sort of Bedouin Rastafarian) and some good memories.

The following days were spent building a culvert: a pipe that would redirect flash flood water from a road. Once that was done we drove an hour north, to a training camp where we worked like Trojans to build a protective fencing in what felt like record time. At night we told stories around the fire and slept beneath the stars.  It was soon time to return to Al Quwayiyah, and as we returned in convoy we were treated to some fantastic sunset views out over the vast mountain range.

After living with my fellow troops in such a close knit community I felt a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues that’s as old as military life itself. On a personal level I feel privileged to know that I have people around me in 24 Commando who I trust and respect, and whose friendship will last a lifetime.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.

Remembrance Sunday in the Jordanian desert.



On Remembrance Day we went to a nearby cairn upon which a cross had been built. The padre read sermons and the flag bearers stood proud on the higher ground. The post sounded and we took our silence. Remembrance Day parade is a time of reflection for me, the tradition, the fallen, the pride of the service and the country we serve. Around the world people were united in prayer and remembrance.

Our rotation on guard arrived and we took our posts at each gate. Working the laborious ‘four hours on, four hours off’, we ensured that the security of our camp was maintained. Night passed quietly with only the occasional hound – the wraiths of the desert – to usher away as they came to root through the bins.

Finally, we sat around our kit with nothing but the sand and mountains left, just as it had been when we arrived. I thought back over the many experiences I’d had. We piled on to troop carrying vehicles and headed to Titin camp near the port.  There we waited for RAF transport home on the big grey bird of freedom.

Hot showers, Wi-Fi and cooked meals were welcomed, as was the first proper bed in two months – even though it was a near-falling-apart bunk bed.
As the hour drew closer to the flight my anticipation grew. A cold beer and the UK’s unique weather system beckoned.  We got on transport to the King Hussein International Airport and the journey back began, with a 5 hour flight followed by another 4 hours by bus. Soon we were a world away from the sands and heat of Jordan and back in the familiar company of rain and grass. It had been an enthralling escapade and I was happy to be home – but I couldn’t help wondering what adventure awaited us next.

“Our deeds still travel with us from afar,

And what we have been makes us what we are.”

― George Eliot

 

Read more blogs from Sapper Joseph

Tropical storms, abandoned tattoos and the South Shore Serenade

Musician Lance Corporal Paul Dove talks about working in Bermuda as part of a Corps of Army Music training team.

 

Army Musician Lance Corporal Paul Dove.

Army Musician Lance Corporal Paul Dove.

Bermuda. A tiny island located in the North Atlantic covering an area of 20.6 miles2 with a coastline of just 75 miles. Home to Bermuda shorts, whistling tree frogs, pink sand beaches, the Bermuda onion, the world’s smallest drawbridge and, for the next 18 nights, a Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) Short Term Training Team (STTT).

The team was made up of personnel drawn from all over CAMUS and included Warrant Officer Class One Bandmaster Matt Simons, Drum Major Alistair Smith, Musician Mattias Andersson and me, Lance Corporal Paul Dove.

CAMUS in Bermuda?

Bermuda has always held close ties with the UK as a member of the Commonwealth. In particular, The Bermuda Regiment is closely linked to the Lincolnshire Regiment and its successor The Royal Anglian Regiment, specifically the 2nd Battalion, who often provide training in various guises.

CAMUS provide STTT’s in direct support of the Army’s core purposes of ‘contingent capability for deterrence and defence’ and ‘overseas engagement and capacity building’ as outlined under the current Army 2020 plan.

Our team was in Bermuda to support and help train The Band and Corps of Drums of the Bermuda Regiment, the ceremonial face of The Bermuda Regiment. In the same way that Army Reserve Bands are required to complete an annual camp, our deployment was to coincide with the Band’s annual two-week camp.

Drum Major Alastair Smith with the current and potential Drum Majors of the Bermuda Regiment Band and Corps of Drums.

Drum Major Alastair Smith with the current and potential Drum Majors of the Bermuda Regiment Band and Corps of Drums.

On the 26th of September after a seven hour flight from London Gatwick, the team touched down at Bermuda airport at 2200 hours local time. We were met by Major Dwight Robinson, Director of Music of the Bermuda Regiment and a former resident at Kneller Hall having graduated from the three year Bandmasters course held there in 2003.  Accompanying him was the Band Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class Two James Van-Lowe.  Serving over 30 years in the Regiment Band, WO2 Van-Lowe was no stranger to UK military music having completed his Band Sergeants’ course at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, Kent, in 1986.

After settling in at Warwick Camp and spending a day acclimatising at Bermuda’s famous Horseshoe Bay, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the Band and Drums members. Indeed, when they arrived, there were a few more familiar faces, Cpl Paul Smith and LCpl Kallan Thomas who had both completed training at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall.

Within the first few days we were introduced to the Regimental Sergeant Major WO1 Gavin Rayner and the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Foster-Brown, a serving British Army officer originally from The Royal Green Jackets (now The Rifles) Regiment. They were both extremely pleased to have us on the Island and made us feel very welcome.

Within hours of the Band starting their annual camp, I found myself on an engagement at the Bermuda Cathedral in Hamilton with the rest of the STTT.  The event was to commemorate the start of WW1 and pay respects to the fallen and in particular, fallen Bermudians who had served in both world wars with the British Army.

Throughout the two weeks, the team also took part in the South Shore Serenade each day. This involved marching out of the Camp and performing to the morning and evening traffic on one of Bermuda’s busiest roads and, on occasion, marching round the local residential areas in Warwick.

Me working with pupils of the Bermuda Youth Orchestra at Cedarbridge Academy.

Me working with pupils of the Bermuda Youth Orchestra at Cedarbridge Academy.

One of the most rewarding engagements we took part in was at Cedarbridge Academy. Here we helped the Band strengthen its relationship with the Bermuda Youth Orchestra, a source of possible recruits for the Band. The team spent some time with their individual sections, instructing on basic musicianship principles. This also helped to show some of the Regiment Band members how to run sectional rehearsals, a skill that would come in useful.

The Band also performed at the Bermuda Police Service (BPS) parade, marching through Hamilton to celebrate the Service’s 135th anniversary and also publicising the upcoming Tattoo performance.

Preparing for the tattoo

One of the aims of the next couple of weeks for the Band and Drums was to prepare for the BPS Tattoo. This was to be an extravaganza involving a massed Bands performance with the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band, The Somerset Brigade Band (a band primarily made from ex-Bermuda Regiment Band members) and the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band.  Before all this though, the STTT were required to assist in designing a display for the Bermuda Regiment Band.

Rehearsals for the BPS Tatto at the Bermuda National Sports Centre

Rehearsals for the BPS Tatto at the Bermuda National Sports Centre

 

Musn Mattias Andersson performing at the Bermuda National Sports Centre.

Musn Mattias Andersson performing at the Bermuda National Sports Centre.

Drum Major Smith took charge of designing a display for the Band and Drums and rehearsals were plentiful and included lessons on band drill, instrument deportment and musical rehearsals on the parade ground. Drum Major Smith also put some of the members of the Band and Drums through their paces with some basic Drum Major tuition. The Band and Drums have traditionally attended the Drum Major course held at The Army School of Ceremonial in Catterick and after Drum Major Smith’s lessons, there was no shortage of volunteers.

WO1 (BM) Simons, assisted Major Robinson with rehearsals on the Tattoo music which included challenging pieces for the Band such as the 1812 Overture, and Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke.  In amongst these rehearsals, and in between the Band’s military training, the team delivered lessons on music theory and basic musicianship principles, an experience that I found quite daunting as I had not previously taught music theory to a large audience. However, the Band was very receptive to our efforts and enjoyed our sessions with them.

During these rehearsals, we received a visit from the Governor of Bermuda, His Excellency, the Honourable George Fergusson and Bermuda’s Premier, Mr Michael Dunkley. They spoke to members of the team and Band and were very appreciative of all our efforts over the last few days and looked forward to seeing the finished product.

Team Building with a bit of football and volley ball

Team Building with a bit of football and volley ball

One of the other goals of the Band and Drum’s annual camp was to develop unit cohesion. To that end, there were several team building exercises laid on throughout the two weeks. Fortunately, we were invited along to all of them and they included golf, bowling, a production of The Pirates of Penzance and my personal favourite, kayaking along the coastline in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Bermudian weather

To quote Band member Sgt Marie Trott, ‘If you don’t like the weather in Bermuda, just wait ten minutes!’ Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse with the arrival of tropical storm ‘Fay’ which battered the Island and sadly resulted in the BPS Tattoo being cancelled.

During this time, The Bermuda Regiment was ‘embodied’ by the Government to help cope with the post-storm relief effort. This ‘embodiment’ was in direct support of the Regiment’s mission to: ‘Support the civil authority with the security of Bermuda, its people, property, livelihood and interests in order to maintain normality.’

Several members of the Band were also recalled to support the relief effort and the sense of professionalism and team spirit shown by the Regiment at this time was very impressive.

So our time in Bermuda had come to an end. Before the Band went their separate ways, we all said our farewells and exchanged gifts. Major Dwight Robinson was hugely appreciative of what the CAMUS STTT had provided to his Band and hopes to host another team in the near future. Thanks must go to Major Dwight Robinson and all members of The Bermuda Regiment that made our trip possible.

As this blog is being written, hurricane Gonzalo has just made it to the UK after battering its way through Bermuda. The STTT would just like to take this opportunity to say that we hope that our colleagues in The Bermuda Regiment are safe and continue to perform admirably.