NAVY NEWS, OCTOBER 2011
Diamond in the rough
help. You live. Life without limits and all that, to quote the Navy’s recruiting ad. But here’s the bit they don’t tell
YOU fly. You fight. You chase. You push. You pull. You shoot. You shout. You
you. You bivvy. You eat a rat pack.
parade ground – is visible. Hidden from view by masses of trees and foliage are the two lower sections of Scraesdon. It
Victorian engineering – and the perfect playground for the core bit of Bright Diamond.
You run around a Victorian fort. You rescue Fred from the engine room. You’re dog tired. You can’t shower. You’re spooked. You love it.
l Trainees build a makeshift radio mast on top of Scraesdon Fort
That’s a bit nearer the reality of the last major hurdle sailors now have to overcome in basic training at HMS Raleigh: the 48 hours of Bright Diamond. It’s the final of three new outdoor exercises introduced to the extended and revamped course which takes a civvy on day one and ten weeks later turns them out as a fledgling sailor.
overhauled this spring with the emphasis on more combat training – sailors are increasingly being deployed on the front line far from a grey funnel steamer, notably in Afghanistan. That training reaches its climax (at this stage of sailors’ burgeoning careers at any rate) with Bright Diamond (there’s already been Daring Leap and Hidden Dragon, but sadly nothing for fans of Dauntless, Defender and Duncan…). It begins with the trainees bivvying
sleeping bag and strip of canvas to protect them from the elements (only the instructors get to sleep in proper tents…) – in the grounds of Raleigh.
– that’s a roll mat, Basic training for ratings was
“It takes them completely out of their element,” says Lt Cdr Chris Hogg, who’s in charge of initial recruit training. “The trainees have done
is a marvel of
Craig Symes… “A manic night – everything going Pete Tong, people getting kidnapped all over the place.” Despite that the exercise has
been, he says, “good fun”. “It’s different from everything else we’ve done.” Life at Scraesdon is
everything that’s in Bright Diamond during the preceding eight weeks in some form – it’s just a slightly different scenario. Every sailor here has the capacity to come through this, it’s about them realising it.” Once in the fort – via a
series of pitch-black stairways – the trainees are expected to map the vast complex. In one of the stone
brick former barrack rooms, a collection of twigs, branches, rocks, pebbles and leaves are laid out – not Ray Mears’ tea but a rudimentary ‘map’ of the fort. Now the rookies know the
rudimentary. No electricity. No running water (jerrycans only). Food is courtesy of boil in the bag ration packs – once the rookies have completed a half-hour physical training session. And trainees are still expected to maintain standards – all must wash in the morning using water warmed in their mess tins and male recruits have to wet shave. Once
lay of the land, instructors have various challenges in store from reconnaissance patrols and guard duties to rescuing Fred, the RN’s disaster-prone dummy, and making sure the civilians of Cornistan and Devistan don’t run around causing chaos... …which they have a habit of
doing. At night especially. Say about an hour after the recruits have bedded down for the evening. Scraesdon is a forbidding place
Next morning they’re up early to march two miles with full kit (Bergens with ration packs, helments, sleeping bags, canteens, clean clothes) plus beams of wood (think the bit from Life of Brian where they’re carrying the crucifixes) to Scraesdon Fort, one of Palmerston’s Follies which ring Plymouth on both sides of the Tamar.
The fort didn’t see any action in its heyday.
l Recruits show off the ‘map’ of Scraesdon created using ration pack boxes, twigs, leaves and anything else they can find and (be- low) you never forget your first corned beef hash...
more useful now in its dilapidated state as a training area for Royal Marines, ships passing through Operational Sea Training and now trainees. Of course, they have to get into
It’s proving much
by day (the tunnels are pitch black, the walls slimy and covered with spiders), by night it’s something right out of Edgar Allen Poe. Rats. Bats. More bats. Voices in the dark, shadowy figures moving, metal chinking against the walls (that’ll be the instructors again). All that’s missing is Vincent Price… “The night was eventful,” says Lt Craig Hastings.
around causing chaos, screaming, shouting, or simply saying ‘hello’ in the darkness and scaring them.” The narrative – think ship’s log – kept by one of the trainees tells some of the story:
it first. Instructors have laid an
20.50 Crys (sic) for help heard in the operational area 21.05 Six members of naval party check main wall 21.07 Three unidentified body (sic) in response to security check
improvised explosive device on the bridge leading into Scraesdon, so the recruits have to find an alternative route. On satellite imagery, only the upper part of the fortification – half an octagon with a sprawling
Cornish lanes the three miles to Jupiter Point to join HMS Brecon, those left behind in the fort are erecting a radio mast (those wooden beams have come in handy…) atop Scraesdon to establish communications with the minehunter moored in the River Lynher (pictured below). By the time the trainees have got on board Brecon, they’re tired. There’s a fairly weary “Yes, chief” as they receive their latest instructions (which,
are: relax in the messes). They’re given five, maybe ten chill out (generous
minutes to ironically,
lot these instructors) before bells and klaxons are sounding. Cue 90 minutes of general mayhem. If you’re after the sort of polished performance you’ll get from a well-honed ship’s company on a Thursday War, forget it. Fire-fighting’s haphazard; the main broadcasts show,
one instructor pointed out, “complete unfamiliarity with nautical terminology” – oddly, for example, the word ‘carbonaceous’ doesn’t come naturally to them; and Fred was probably in better condition before being rescued from the engine room (he rather got trampled on in the stampede to put out a subsequent blaze). But if you’re looking for willingness
21.22 Unidentified body found. Calls himself Andrew, about 5ft 11in, looking for missing friend who is wearing all black and wellies.
Et cetera, et cetera… Or in the words of AET
which is what the instructors want to see (as well as using some of the skills learned in the preceding two months), then on the evidence here, the rookies give their all. “It’s not OST,” says trainer PO Bob Cockburn. “That lasts ten weeks, this only lasts an hour and a half, but it does give an insight into what it’s like on a ship, what
and enthusiasm, as
final phase. While half the group are yomping down the
admin have been completed – long before dawn on day three – the exercise moves into
ablutions and its
it’s like when you shut the air conditioning off, what smoke smells like, how to seal off a compartment.” Bright Diamond is a pass/
fail exercise. By this stage of the basic entry course, what little chaff there is has been winnowed out (failing the fitness test, poor attitude,
or simply quitting
because it’s not for them), so the ones who get this far want to be trained sailors.
Like ET(WE) Hayley Mott who shed 5½ stone to be fit enough to join the Service and is having a second crack at Bright Diamond (illness thwarted her first attempt). The exercise is “awesome”.
She’s had very little sleep, been bitten or stung by something nasty which has caused her face and hand to swell, but is she downhearted? Er, no. “The great thing is that no-one
tells you what’s happening next. That’s what makes it exciting and keeps everyone on the ball.” This group of trainees is the fifth to complete Bright Diamond. Group four “looked dead” when they returned to Raleigh and provided the next batch with lots of handy hints to get through the trial (such as: beware the headless woman in the fort…). “We were a bit apprehensive,
says AET ‘JP’ Van der Horst. “We knew that as the last exercise this would be the most demanding.
“You can do so many jobs where you’re just a number. Here it’s one big family, a team helping each other. If I had to do this on my own, I probably couldn’t manage it. But we’re all in it together. That really brings you through.”
Bright Diamond is still a work
in progress. It needs tweaking – more Raleigh personnel to run amok in the evenings wouldn’t go amiss and there needs to be more time on Brecon because, however heavily committed RN sailors are ashore, the sea is their natural home. But overall,
ten-week training course is producing “a better rating” in the eyes of PO Ady Morton, one of the instructors. “We’re not green lidded – and
we’re not teaching them to be Royal Marines,” he adds. “But they’re not going to be cruising the world in a grey ship. It’s an operational job, you will get shot at. So we’re looking for people who are switched on, ready to go, who are tougher.”
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