Rain is falling horizontally, the only light comes from the occasional parachute flare which lights up a cold and wet forest. An eight man Recce patrol moves slowly and silently into a form-up point where we will prepare for the next stage of our reconnaissance patrol. It is pivotal that we get eyes on the enemy or the next day’s exercise will struggle as total information is ultimate power. We wait nearly three hours, collating information about weapons, strengths, morale, routine, everything we need so that our platoon can have a successful attack at dawn. Once the information has been gathered we hot-foot it back to our secure harbour area where we can get a couple of hours kip before the dawn raid. We cannot take the same route back, this would be foolish, we would open ourselves up to being ambushed, and a recce patrol has vital information, that information must get back to the platoon commander. This is Exercise Montgomery’s Mark, the final exercise of junior term. Six days of reconnaissance patrols, platoon attacks, defending our harbour area, digging again and minimal sleep. Each Officer Cadet lands a maximum of 3 hours sleep a day, 2 is most possibly the average.
For us at Old College, this is what we have been looking forward to for so long, not only does this signify the end of 14 weeks hard graft, but it is also all we want to do: attack, defeat, destroy. Put into practice all of our lessons and get outside into nature. At times it is very easy to hate it, the winter timings mean that we have a very narrow window to have hot food, we cannot cook after dark, so by 16:30, we can not cook any longer, nor can we get hot food during morning routine because the sun does not rise at 04:00. When you are wet, cold, ultimately miserable and looking forwards to see the lead section being contacted and knowing full-well that the only cover to attack that position lies in the River Wissey, so in short, I am going for a swim, and I have only just started to dry-up… However, a sudden thought comes into my head, what I am doing is pretty decent and the vast majority of people would never think of doing this, maybe with good thought. Nevertheless, weak people do not do this. There was something magical about pondering upon what I am doing, living off of nature, being out in the wild, “fighting” to an extent, something primeval which is arguably at the core of humanity, a hunter mentality. It felt mysteriously rewarding and it definitely hammers home the fact that the British Army create some of the finest Officers in the world. Crawling down a stream with a rifle in one hand and a grenade in another is on another level from what paintball, airlift or call of duty can provide. Similar to how calling in a contact report to your company commander because a group of Gurkhas from Sittang Company are attempting to over-whelm our defended harbour, with battle-simulation rounds going off to give the feeling that we are also under an artillery strike, the job becomes more real, but the excitement and adrenaline pump more than anything I have felt before, a hunter spirit emerges.
Montgomery’s Mark is a culmination of everything we have had so far, and by-gosh, what an exercise it was! It has left us starving for the next one! Oh, I also had my own graduation ceremony in the field, I graduated with a 2:1 in History & Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, however, I did not attend the real ceremony as I was digging a shell scrape, so I took a typical graduation photo with a slight twist… Morale lives!