WEEK 24: Barbours, Baguettes and Beaches

Exercise Normandy Scholar, no rifles, no stag, just seventy officer cadets storming the beaches of Normandy and the drop zones of Merville with their TAMs and history books. Normandy scholar is an academic exercise, considering tactics in a historical context.

We have been studying the Normandy campaign for the past few weeks by now. We’re out on the ground now and we get the opportunity to create our own plans, would we change what the Officers did at the time? In each syndicate we have a member of the permanent staff and an academic, one to help us with our reformed plan and the other to tell us what happened at the time.

Indeed, this exercise is invaluable to our tactical mindset, many of the problems which allied and German forces faced are similar to what we face now, such as communications, logistics and anti-fractricide. Nevertheless, nothing could stop the small giggle I had at our dress code, a sea of Barbour jackets, chinos and wellington boots; a year ago today I would have been sporting the t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and flip-flops look, I guess I am slowly making the visible transformation to a gentleman.

We considered the stresses that a young Platoon Commander would have had to deal with on the beaches of Normandy, having to give a set of quick battle orders in a matter of seconds. Also the efforts of 6 UK Division who used parachutes and gliders to neutralise the internal structure of the defences a few hours prior to the main landing force. One stand, which really stood out for me was the attack and subsequent defence of Hill 112; not greatly known amongst many, but without doubt shows the true grit and determination of British forces.

One of the more sobering moments of Hill 112 was the memorial woods, a small wooded area planted after the war in the name of the German and British troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice there. What really stood out for me was how many soldiers had requested to be buried there some sixty years after the war, to me it really hit home how tight a brother-hood these men must have been, they never wanted to leave each other’s sides. We also went to pay our respects at a war grave and held a drumhead service there. Next week we have an exam on all we have learnt the past few months in regards to tactics, ground, doctrine, capabilities and everything else Normandy.

Our ferry landed back in England on the Friday morning, disorientated and discombobulated we were told that we had PT in the morning. Fridays in the academy are known as “Hell Friday”. The idea that we put in one more big hard session Friday morning and then we slow down into the weekend routine. Hell Friday is something that we must get through, there’s no real way of putting it gently, it sucks big time! Well Hell Friday was just made worse…

Each PT stream has their own individual Physical Training Instructor (PTI), and as expected each PTI has their own traits. Our normal PTI has never been seen to break a sweat on a TAB and we have a very good rapport with him. But on Friday our PTI was away on a course, so the “Thrasher” stood in. The Thrasher is a PTI well known amongst Officer Cadets, mostly because his sessions end up with us being in total and complete agony. He had decided that we would do a chipper exercise, 200 kettle-bell swings, 200 squats, 160 tricep dips, 160 chin-ups and a couple of fireman carries around the gym. By this stage of our training you would assume that we should be able to take most things thrown at us; well, the general consensus after that session was that we all needed a lay down, my body is broken!