Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge is in her first term at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS). From London and 26 years old, she studied English and American Studies at University of Nottingham. Here she talks about her first weeks of training.
My parents drove me through the gates of Sandhurst on Sunday, 12th September 2010. I felt pride and excitement as the drive curved past the lake to reveal the Georgian elegance of Old College. This was to be our training ground and residence for junior term and the Grand Entrance steps where we would ascend to Commission as British Army Officers on 14th August 2011.
My platoon of thirty-one females was from that first Sunday shouted through the day on an impossibly hectic schedule by a robust female Staff Sergeant. Suddenly the outside world became very distant as we were shunted into a different time zone: marched to each period of instruction at a frantic pace; contending with sleep deprivation whilst learning the rules and regulations. Cadets were closely watched for discrepancies in dress and drill. Uniformity was crucial and we swiftly understood that working together was vital for survival.
A typical day comprised a litany of ironing, polishing, cleaning, drill, rifle practice and navigation. Kit was issued, then more kit was issued and then that kit had to be squared away; a shirt ironed with requisite military precision and buckles polished. Personal administration had to be completed at a fierce pace before room inspections; dreaded room inspections.
The first parade inspection by our Platoon Commander in Chapel Square demanded the highest standards in turn out. I decided that my collar was not quite flat enough (regulations state it must be flatter that a pancake that is being held in a pancake factory in anticipation of a flat pancake competition in which it is a strong contender). I rushed to my room, to my ironing station, pulling my shirt off and pressed the collar. A sickening five minutes later I was stood to attention in front of the Platoon Commander who was staring curiously at my left breast pocket.
“What happened to your name badge?” she demanded.
I glanced down to spot a hideous black scar across the yellow badge and resigned myself.
“I ironed it Ma’am.”
Every morning at 5.30am reveille after about four hours sleep I mustered myself and resolved that today there would be no miscellaneous fails for unpolished boots or top pocket buttons undone; I would rewash my drill shirts and crease them anew. By supper time I stood dispirited in front of our Tier 1 Cadet reporting 20 no 30 no 60 press ups dished out by our Staff Sergeant. Sandhurst, “the factory” is oftentimes described as a game. A certain space cadet had to learn the rules in order to play.
However, I really enjoyed the loaded marches, navigation exercises and bulling parade in the corridor every evening. Bulling parade was a time to polish our shoes until they shone, to talk to each other and learn a little of the personality hidden by combat 95s or hideous green coveralls. In adversity, the sort the directing staff would describe as mild, we built a team. On exercise Self Reliance lying in muddy holes staring out through our rifle sights at an as yet unknown enemy, the rain poured down, but we were in it together.
The first five weeks asked the impossible every morning at 0530hrs; I am now convinced I never knew what I was capable of achieving and look forward to Long Reach. The next challenge is a 60 Kilometre trek up and down the Brecon Beacons in which we shall put into practice the lessons in teamwork, training in fieldcraft and sheer determination the first five weeks have forged in each and every Cadet of our intake.