Week 44: The Last Hurrah

The last week of Sandhurst, this is a full week of drill, so if I am going to try and drag this out into another weekly blog, it could be somewhat of an effort. So I shall just talk about the only day that matters… and then the worst morning of my life!

Friday, the day of commissioning. Traditionally the day starts with commissioning PT, the last bit of physical training that is done at the academy. However it is all done in jest, think less London marathon and more Notting Hill Carnival. Each platoon turns up in fancy dress and does a lap of honour around the academy. My platoon decided to pay homage to our Jamaican colour sergeant and we went as the Jamaican bobsleigh team from the film Cool Runnings, complete with bobsleigh! 

Once the mornings fun is done then comes the mad twelve hours, where everything happens so fast there’s not really any time to take anything in. Our families arrived and we went to a church service, full of the hymns that would spark a patriotic flame in anyone. The most remarkable part, I was told, was when the national anthem was played and 160 officer cadets stood bolt upright to attention without any hint or any thought. For the normal civilian, this may have been somewhat surprising.

Then comes the parade, a large spectacle which some of you may have had the chance to watch. If I am honest, I was only on parade physically, not mentally. My mind was elsewhere, I was thinking about commissioning and planning everything I will do when I get my first platoon of soldiers. However, the final order is given and the senior term march up Old College steps under the watchful eye of Mars and Minerva, the Gods of War and Wisdom.

After the parade is the commissioning lunch, this was possibly my favourite part of the formal events and the reason for this? Your family have an opportunity to eat with your military family. My military family, of course, is the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who had their own table. Joining us were members of staff and a few VIPs from the regiment with the three officer cadets commissioning and their families. This was one of the highlights of the day.

Then the part everyone becomes obsessed about, the commissioning ball. Essentially it’s a big knees-up, all of your civvie friends come in black tie and all of the officer cadets get to wear their mess dress for the first time, with the added exception that we must cover our pips until midnight. The reason for this is that we only commission at midnight, so then, the tabs covering our pips can be removed and thus we are commissioned officers. I, of course, remembered the entire night. The lemonade was very refreshing and my mess dress was in pristine condition by the end of the night.

Saturday morning was possibly the worst day of my life. At six in the morning, after two hours rest, the fire alarms sound. The colour sergeants and sergeant majors run riot around the lines getting everybody out of their ‘pits’ and we are dragged to tidy up the academy. I have never felt so rough in my life! Apparently lemonade has a high alcohol level content! There was no real comfort, at all, but it did feel odd being called “sir” by a company sergeant major, a moment I shall treasure forever. Well let’s admit it, it’s not going to happen as a thrusting young subaltern any time soon!

 Next is six days leave and then the infantry battle school…

Week 32: Fear, Exhaustion & Pride

IMG_2027

Week 32, feels like we have been here forever now! The type of week that we have had is what many Officer Cadets class as the perfect week, a fine balanced mixture of physical exercises, fieldcraft, lectures and platoon lessons. We started the week with an Academy sunday, which is basically a church service that everyone turns up to. It brings a small opportunity of seeing some of my friends who are in junior term now and mostly laugh at them as they struggle to stay awake long enough to tell me how they’re doing. I also have the honour of being chosen to be one of the Commandants stick orderly’s. Still to find out the exact details of what I am to do, but so far it results in escorting various high-ranking officials to the chapel and having morning coffee with the Academy Adjutant.

We also had the inevitable senior Nav-Ex. I heard seniors talk about it with fear when I was in intermediate term, and it was pretty dreadful to be honest. It is essentially a tactical navigation exercise in which there is a set weight to carry, no description of where the check-points are, and they put various different check-points in close proximity to disturb your route. Mostly you just see camouflaged officer cadets running around in a daze across Barossa.

One difference that can be seen in the officer cadet this term is the fact that they now have a home to go to as it were. Every senior term cadet has a regiment for commissioning, and this gives everyone that well needed drive to cross the finish line. You have more to strive for than just personal pride, there is now the aspect of regimental pride, and the colour sergeants who are from your regiment remind you frequently of that when crossing paths! However, with all this extra work which now comes, there also comes the more close-knit family feeling. You become more than just a cadets at Sandhurst, you have more of an identity and your regiment or corps will grow that feeling by holding small get-togethers throughout the term. I am lucky that my regiment was in the Army Boxing finals and decided to invite me and the other two cadets who are commissioning into the regiment to come along and support. I loved it, really felt like part of a family, part of something bigger than CC153.

Week 29: The end is near…

It’s the last week of intermediate term, a term of regimental selection boards, developing complexities and also, it is the term when we can really act like an Officer Cadet. The saying on the streets is that intermediate term is effectively the end of our development, of course we will still grow in our own manners, but the teaching of leadership is supposedly over, now we must learn how to apply that leadership to officership.

Week 29 is effectively just a re-show of week 14, except you get to see the madness of New College! Officers in fancy dress, Colour Sergeants giving piggyback rides to Officer Cadets around the college. This all stems from the charity night where members of the directing staff will auction off their services for a charitable donation; usually this donation exceeds a hundred pounds and goes to a good cause. But week 29 also is a lot of drill, I am not good at drill and nor do I really enjoy it. I can see the benefits of it, but when you are stood rigidly still in the baking heat for an infinite amount of time, you’ll understand why I really, really do not enjoy drill.

Nevertheless, there is somewhat of an element of pride when you don your blues and bull your boots to perfection, a certain slight swag; I find that it also just reminds me of where I am. Sandhurst at times can feel like a very aggressive version of university, what with the room layouts, some of the lectures, the late nights, maybe not the early mornings, or lack of alcohol, or endless show parades. But, I do feel immensely proud when marching on the square with the fine band and five-hundred other officer cadets around me.

My friend and I celebrated the last morning of inters by having some waffles and an espresso out of our windows in the morning ahead of the big parade. We have come a long way, but no matter how far we have come, it is nothing on what is about to strike….Senior term!

Oh, one thing I didn’t mention, I managed to avoid getting a show parade for pretty much the whole term, but spent the last three evening at the academy on show parade… Cheers!