Back to Work

emma peacock

emma peacock

Follow Musician Emma Peacock who plays flute and piccolo in The Band and Bugles of The Rifles. She has been in the band for a year and a half, having completing Phase 1 training at ATR Pirbright and Phase 2 at The Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall.

Returning to the fight

We’ve returned to work after a few weeks leave; on our second day back at work, after some admin and some practice, we were back into the swing of things and getting dressed ready for our first engagement. This was the Army Training Regiment’s boxing night in Winchester. Unfortunately there was an injury so we didn’t get to play. The next day some of the band had fun playing some big band music and then our band PTI, Corporal Jessup, had us out in our boots, doing beet-up training for our upcoming AFT (Annual Fitness Test). The first Friday back we played at a Pass-Off Parade in our home camp. There were five troops for this parade, and a lot of guests.

That weekend a few of us volunteered to help out 7 Rifles TA bands for a charity engagement. General Sir Nick Parker was there to see the two bands work together and he and the rest of the guests seemed to be pleased with the joint effort.

Montacute House Tattoo

Next there were a lot of rehearsals, running up and down hills and some sore muscles! We also did our annual Montacute House Tattoo. The rehearsals went well and then we got to relax for a few hours around the grounds. The Tattoo itself went smoothly and the audience seemed to really like the mass finale, consisting of us, HMS Heron Royal Naval Volunteer Band, Somerset Army Cadet Force Silver Bugles and The Pipes and Drums of The Wessex Highlanders.

Montacute House Tattoo

Montacute House Tattoo

Friday was a busy day for us. It started with a very early start to get to The Army Training Regiment, Pirbright for a Pass-Off Parade. There was only one platoon on parade, so the inspecting officer got a chance to talk to everyone, meaning it didn’t go any quicker than usual.  After the Pass-Off Parade we waited around for a few hours then got back on the coach and went to Walton-On-Thames to play at an ABF fundraising Sounding Retreat. This was in a retirement village and after the engagement we were invited into the pub to meet the residents.

Pass-Off Parade

Pass-Off Parade

The following week we had a few days off to make up for the days we missed during our tour of Germany, but once back we were back out running up hills and yet more rehearsing! On the Friday we returned to Pirbright for another Pass-Off Parade. The rehearsal for this was slightly longer than usual, but the long stand was good practice for the troops for the actual parade!

The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

On Sunday we visited The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. This was for a church service. For various reasons we didn’t have breakfast, but after the rehearsal we all bought healthy snacks from the shop….chocolate, crisps and bacon baps. Before the service there was a short march from NewCollege parade square to the church. There was a slightly reduced band for the service as there wasn’t enough space, so I had a little time off, but apparently the service went well and someone was blindfolded and jumped off a table!

The following Thursday we boarded the coach for an overnight stay in Grantham. This was for a TA POP. We had the evening off and a few of the band went into town for a curry and drinks, but it wasn’t a late night as we were up the next morning rehearsing. It was the band minus the bugles so we marched at heavy pace. Despite the rain the parade went well and the troops proudly marched off the square before returning home with their families.

Musician on the steps

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King
Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King.

Within the UK many important musical jobs take place at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. During the last week of September the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals, of which I am principle clarinettist, performed on the steps there. The occasion was the Territorial Army Commissioning parade (Sandhurst has a long-standing tradition of producing the best and this was no exception).

We, along with a few members of the Band of the Light Cavalry, arrived at Sandhurst on Wednesday lunchtime and wasted no time by going straight out to practice on the steps of Old College where the parade would take place. For a fair few of the band, it was their first experience of marching up and down steps whilst playing and luckily it was picked up fairly quickly and with no injuries!

Sandhurst had decided the previous week to go into long sleeve order, so the band were on the steps in barrack dress complete with woolly jumper. To say we were hot was an understatement! For the duration of all the rehearsals over the following days we never received the delights of  shade due to the positioning of old college. For those of you who were not in the UK, this last week was the hottest end of a September for over 100 years with highs of 29C  (84F).

Due to the amount of work during the summer season the band had no problems with this. The soldiers however….. did! No fewer than four soldiers on parade were drilled by the Academy Sergeant Major to ensure that they didn’t faint!

Royal Signals band at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Royal Signals band at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Begone Dull Care…

On the day of the parade it got just that little bit hotter. We started the day with the commissioning service in the Academy chapel. The acoustics in this church are fantastic and it is a thoroughly enjoyable place to play in. You need so little effort to produce a stunning sound.

On completion of the service, it was a fairly quick turnaround ready to march on parade.

With the band ready, the troops formed up behind us awaiting the Academy Sergeant Major’s commands to get on parade. We stepped off in quick time leading the troops on to the square where we broke off and marched up the steps. For all the rehearsals so far we had been wearing normal shoes but for the parade we wear spurs. Before the parade, bets were made on who was going to trip down the steps. My money was on our first cornet player but he stayed on both feet!

The parade continued with the adjutant coming on to parade and finally the inspecting officer. Due to the high status of this parade, HRH Prince Edward The Earl of Wessex was in attendance. After inspecting the troops and the band he gave a speech. To finish the parade the band marched off the steps and formed up just to the side so that the troops could slow march up the steps to the music ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to receive their commission. With the new officers in the building the band marched off the parade square to the Corps of Army Music March and our own, ‘Begone Dull Care’.

As well as providing music for the parade the band provided musical support for the commissioning dinner on the Thursday night. A brass quintet played during the dinner and the rest of the band joined in for a cabaret marching display at the end of the dinner. The band entertained the dinner with pieces featuring the Post Horns, the Lord of the Dance and finally another piece featuring the less musical trombones (I’m a woodwind player and the rivalry runs deep with the brass). We finished with the regimental marches of those dining.

To conclude, this was a very good experience for the band especially some of the younger members.

Very impressive bruises

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst about Exercise BROADSWORD.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

The consensus is that Exercise BROADSWORD is by far the best exercise we have done thus far at Sandhurst. It is split into three phases – Urban, Rural and CIVPOP, through which each of the three companies in the intake rotate. For Alamein company, our exercise began in uncharacteristically relaxed fashion, as we were the first to play the civilian inhabitants of Longmoor village. The presence of CIVPOP gives huge training value to those in the Urban phase who play the part of the ISAF troops seeking to secure the area against the insurgent forces and enable free and fair elections. Between conducting serials ranging from demanding food and medical supplies from the Civil-Military Co-operation Centre to conducting a ‘shoot and scoot’ on a cordon, Alamein made the most of our time as civilians by hosting an ‘Alamein’s Got Talent’ evening and a home-grown rock concert from the back of a decked-out Troop Carrying Vehicle (the set finished fittingly with a rendition of ‘I Predict a Riot’).

As this phase progressed, the attitude of the population became increasingly hostile towards the ISAF presence, culminating in a public order incident on the final morning. With well-organised ISAF forces armed with personal protective equipment, shields and batons facing off against an unruly mob in plain clothes and a few aggressive chants, the outcome was inevitable. Everyone moved into the Rural phase with some very impressive bruises.

The Rural training area was of a larger scale that that of the Urban, allowing for our patrolling skills to be developed as we moved between the remote villages inhabited by civilian and insurgent forces alike (both played by the Gurkha Company Sittang and soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps). As in the Urban phase, the training focus was upon dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as strike operations to seize IED making equipment or insurgent leaders and public order control. This phase also gave us experience of living in a company-sized forward operating base (FOB) with a view to future operations post-commissioning.

Our final rotation found Alamein Company, in our mixed multiples of male and females (approximately half a platoon strength each organised into teams with a flexible order of battle), back in Longmoor village to become the ISAF forces we had railed against only days previously. The continuing complexity of non-conventional operations in this phase was one of the reasons the exercise was so enjoyed, giving commanders on the ground many new considerations to their decision-making process. Included in these considerations was the attachment of Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) to deal with IEDs, military working dogs for search and protection and interpreters to communicate with the local population. At Company level, an Intelligence Cell was attached to the permanent Operations Room adding another level of application of knowledge to the scenario.

Our control of the final riot went well and everyone maintained their composure whilst using appropriate force to control the situation. At the conclusion of the riot Exercise BROADSWORD was over in typically rapid fashion. We returned to Sandhurst with a few bruises and split lips but more notably we returned mentally drained. The sleep of a leave weekend was eagerly welcomed.

The sessions can be best described as ’emotional’

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, with details of his latest experiences of British Army officer training.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

This week was characterised by 2 particularly gruelling physical training (PT) sessions, one involving several circuits carrying 4 logs between the platoon for 4 repetitions around a course and the next, 2 days later (with damaged hands taped-up) running stretchers in hill repetitions interspersed with sections of the assault course and traversing obstacles in the Wish Stream. The sessions can be best described as ’emotional’.

As well as being put through our paces physically, we have also begun to turn our minds to the estimate and orders process in a Counter-Insurgency, or COIN, environment in the run-up to Exercise BROADSWORD on which we deploy in a week’s time. The concern now is not simply a conventional enemy, but one which actively seeks to blend with the local population. Rather than meet force-to-force, this enemy attacks via improvised explosive devices, ambush and by influencing or threatening the mass of the population away from the support of the Security Forces, played by ourselves for two thirds of the exercise. For the remaining third, each company takes its turn at playing the local civilian population, or CIVPOP, and also the concealed insurgent force, interacting with the security forces under the guidance of several ‘serials’ which dictate their actions.

The week did provide some room for leisure, and on Saturday night those cadets who had boxed were invited to attend the DeGale vs Groves fight at the O2 Arena. This was courtesy of Frank Warren, who had attended last term’s Academy Boxing Night. The fights were excellent with the main event being particularly exciting; a close fought bout which will hopefully result in an equally exciting rematch.

Next week we continue our study of COIN as well as enjoying our first Loaded March of the term; a 9 mile route with 25kgs of kit.

Steely-eyed dealers in death

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst: ” …chanting ‘kill, kill, kill’ approached the sandbag, screamed ‘en garde’ and stabbed it in the heart with full force.”

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

If you come down to the Academy today beware of a Senior Cadet with a rank slide and swagger in her step.  Finally, Senior Term has begun and the distant prospect of Commissioning has turned smudge on the horizon to solid land mass; passing out ahoy.

The first week has been very good fun: seeing the gang (as I like to affectionately term 2 Platoon, Alamein Company) and jumping straight into the Law of Armed Conflict and Counter Insurgency campaigns.  We deployed on a short, 24-hour exercise, Senior Stretch, to ensure that the “recess demons” were banished.  The exercise comprised advance to contacts and night navigation.  In the little personal administration time we were given before the night navigation, 2 Platoon stretched out on our bergens and dozed a little in the sunshine (finally, no more cold injuries).  The Company Commander, Major Lytle AAC, surprised the few left awake.

“I don’t object to you sleeping during your admin time but I would prefer it if you did not sunbathe on exercise.”

One or two of the cadets hastily pulled down their t-shirts and coloured a shade of crimson.

There was another check to ensure no one had slacked off on fitness over the Easter break with Physical Fitness Assessment 4; sit-ups, press-ups and a mile and a half best effort.  I was one of the chosen few called into Captain Webb’s office for a dressing down because my fitness had been found wanting.

“Miss Eldridge, you dropped four seconds on your PFA.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

The mood of the cadets in Senior Term is different.  A little sunshine but the training is exacting a price just as it has imbued us with skills and the knowledge of our own capability.  If I were to choose one moment, one episode from last term, which took the civilian from me and replaced it with soldier that episode would be bayonet training.

“What makes the grass grow?”

“Blood, blood, blood.”

“What are we here for?”

“Kill, kill, kill.”

It is hard to believe that one hour can insert a splinter of steel into your very soul.  The cult of initiation into the British Army betrays its pinnacle in bayonet training.

Forty or so Officer Cadets were marshalled into lines approaching straw sandbags by the duty Colour Sergeant whose sidekick, “the motivator” was waiting in the wings to exact physical degradation until you were bereft of sentient thought.  I stood, stamping my feet, chanting “kill, kill, kill” in the beginning with reticence; civilisation preventing engagement with this bloodthirsty ritual.  It took less than half an hour of leopard crawling through ditches or pulling myself along the ground in press-up position before I was too worn out to think at all.

We were given motivating speeches, and to act as we would do if an insurgent was trying to kill one of the soldiers under our command, an eighteen-year-old at that.  I stomped the ground chanting “kill, kill, kill” approached the sandbag, screamed “en garde” and stabbed it in the heart with full force.  I checked my bayonet and put my rifle in the high port.

The Company Commander told me afterwards he was never going to let me near a bayonet again.  Of all the things to be good at bayonet training is not what I would have chosen but should the slimmest chance prevail (for some) and a situation call upon our training, we now know that we are steely-eyed dealers in death.

The price exacted by two terms at Sandhurst is the soft side; a glimmer is visible of why values and standards are so important to the British Army.  You train hard to fight easy but fighting does not come naturally to most; it is altogether “other”, the aggression that must be controlled, yet at your fingertips as just another resource among many to be called upon in the loneliness of command.

In Junior Term we did not know what was going on half the time and were trained not to think. In Intermediate Term we were asked to remember how to think and now in Senior Term, to understand the complexity of current operations and the decisions that will shortly be ours to make, thinking is imperative.   Just as it should be, the magnitude of responsibility that a Platoon Commander, an officer in the British Army, undertakes looms daunting.

14 weeks away

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes about the start of a new term at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

A new term begins at Sandhurst and our newly-issued rank slides denote that we our now Seniors – hopefully only a matter of 14 weeks away from gaining our commissions. Similarly to last term, this one began with a short, sharp exercise known as Exercise SENIOR STRETCH, designed to blow out the inevitable cobwebs which form after three weeks of living in the outside world. Deploying on Monday night after a day of lectures on the media’s impact on current operations and a start of term address by the College Commander, we established our hasty harbour and immediately launched into a series of reconnaissance (recce) patrols to locate any Combat Security Outposts (CSOs) held by our enemy, the Northern Democratic Front or NDF. One such location was identified and permitted a dawn attack to be launched by the platoon. Tuesday then saw the platoon conduct a series of advance to contacts, patrolling on a bearing in order to find and destroy the enemy. Back in the harbour, this was followed by an orders group for an ambush to deny the enemy the chance to resupply. This ambush was subsequently cancelled and replaced by the challenge of completing a solo night navigation exercise on the area whilst remaining tactical in our use of light and tracks routes.

A strong performance by the platoon in Friday’s Personal Fitness Assessment will hopefully serve to maintain or improve our 3rd place in the Sovereign’s Banner Competition as we enter the concluding events. The rest of the week has been lecture-heavy and concerned with the complex situational briefing for the upcoming Exercise BROADSWORD which takes place in week 4 and the Counter-insurgency (COIN) and Stabilisation doctrine which will take precedence in our future exercises and careers.

A drill-laden week

Another update from Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith, undergoing Officer Training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The end of term might be approaching but the pace is not slowing down…

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

The final three events of this term’s Sovereign’s Banner competition were fought out with a log race around the camp, in the classroom for the second Military Written Test and on Old College drill square for the Drill Competition. It has been a drill-laden week as we prepare for the Sovereign’s  Parade at the end of term next Friday. The Parade marks the completion of the Commissioning Course for the Senior term and the Intermediate term also take part, this requires a great deal of practice in order to properly synchronise the approximately 500 people who will be on the square. At the conclusion of the practice on Saturday morning, we were treated to the Senior term’s skits on the parade square; a chance to make light of the events and personalities from their year here, ostensibly free from repercussions. Other notable events this week were that we threw our first live grenades on the ranges and attended the last Church parade of the term where the Sandhurst Colours were laid at the altar to signify placing the life of the Academy at the altar of God.

With one week left, the schedule becomes even more drill-orientated to ensure that the parade is of the highest calibre, in keeping with the tradition of distinction that Sandhurst enjoys in this area. Adventurous training and leave are only 5 days of hard work away and for the Senior term, the end of the week will see them realise the ultimate goal of the course – a commission.