Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes once again from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, as training recommences after the Christmas break.
The start of a new term here means a new home for us – New College. The lines have been cleaned, our rooms put in order and signs at the end of each corridor stating, “2 Platoon Alamein Company, No Male Officer Cadets Allowed” affixed. But there is a man in the lines – Colour Sergeant Morrison now holds dominion over our waking hours, an infantryman from the Yorkshire Regiment. Our new goliath dictator sizes us up as we wearily watch him. He has already cheerfully warned the male platoons, “You can come into the female lines if you like but you will have to go through me to get out”…
On the first day back after the Christmas break we had Personal Fitness Assessment 3, and most of the times for the mile and a half run were down across the intake. But the College is buzzing with excitement at being back – 14 weeks of intensive training have built firm friendships. The new Junior Term are marched past our windows at 130 paces a minute and suddenly 2 Platoon was not the silt at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
On Wednesday we set off on a short exercise, Exercise ROYAL RETURN on Barossa Training Field next to the Academy. It was chilly and involved mild sleep deprivation but seemed comparatively easy with the memory of -16 degrees nights on Exercise CRYCHAN’S CHALLENGE at the end of last term in Wales. The lessons on offensive action had sunk in over the holidays and my section attack was brilliant – tactically aware, fast, controlled and full of aggression. Perhaps the ground was boggy marsh interspersed with babyheads and streams; perhaps the section stumbled whilst crawling across the difficult ground; the Gurkha enemy position may have been kind by not stepping forth to annihilate each cadet thigh deep in water. However, the template from Junior Term was applied and whilst not brilliant, it was better.
On exercise we managed about 20 minutes sleep each during the night after a night patrol and writing up reports. The platoon seemed quick to pack our kit away for stand to after 0515 reveille, if somewhat groggy. The morning was spent advancing to contact and in the afternoon we had a tutorial on the seven question estimate before writing orders. The command appointments were not given out until after everyone had written orders; anyone could have been chosen. This method is standard operating procedure at Sandhurst. I was runner for the Platoon Commander and relieved. Muzzle flashes, smoke and practice grenades are much brighter and more confusing at night. The attack was exciting and after the enemy positions were destroyed we tabbed out running.
The day after the exercise Colour Sergeant gave us a debrief. The Platoon expected the worst. Wwhat would our new Colour Sergeant think of our skills and drills?
“Some things were not too bad and some were not too good.”
Staff Sergeant Hardy must have been pretty good at training us in fieldcraft to illicit such high praise from an infantryman.
The debrief continued, “It is not likely that any of you ladies will end up in a field situation, I hope that you do not but if you do I want infantry tactics to be automatic and there is only one way, my way.”
In the same briefing we were instructed to create a board on Afghanistan but not on infantry operations instead focusing upon the current roles to females.
The first Platoon Commander inspection was this morning and the company formed up mixing the platoons. Captain Guthrie, 3 Platoon Commander walked the first line. The line rustled as the inspecting officer approached, each cadet standing more attentively to attention until the officer pounces upon unbulled boots, not wearing a ones shirt for the males or a dusty forage cap. A show parade is then awarded to the lucky cadet. The officer loomed closer, I frantically thought of my number ones checklist, had I bulled my shoes? Tighten the band on my forage cap? Was my skirt pressed? Captain Guthrie stood in front of me.
“Good morning sir”
“Are you wearing make up?”
“So your eyelashes are normally that funky?”
Junior Term was an offensive operation by the directing staff, breaking Officer Cadets into the military mould. Intermediate Term begins with defensive operations.