‘3 SECTION, 70 METRES, BASE OF THE PROMINENT OAK TREE, HALF RIGHT OF AXIS, ONE LONE ENEMY RIFLEMAN, RAPID FIRE!!’
‘If I may take Your Honour to paragraph 15 of my skeleton argument, I have addressed the issue that Your Honour rightly raised...’
Both sentences above were my own, spoken within a period of no more than a week. One was on the training areas, and the second was in court. I am a barrister, was an officer cadet and am now a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army.
Like many, a part of me has always been fascinated by the armed forces; what they do, how they operate and the principles they follow. I joined the Officers’ Training Corps during university. I was then introduced to the idea that I could be in the army, on a part-time basis as a reservist, whilst keeping my primary job as a barrister. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity and inquired with my local Reserve Unit, which was 71 (City of London) Yeomanry Signal Regiment. Of the two career paths available, I chose the Reserve Officer route. With the guidance of the Unit’s recruitment team and the Young Officer Development Advisor, my career was off!
First came the selection weekend and then the Phase 1A training (four weekends), which is the basic reserve soldier training required for anyone who wished to join the reserve forces. To commission as a reserve army officer, you are required to complete four modules (each module lasting two weeks); Mod A, Mod B, Mod C and unsurprisingly, Mod D. However, before that, I had to pass one of the longest job interviews in the world, two days of briefing, and four days at Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB), Westbury. In conjunction, I also chose to undertake Mod A and Mod B over eight weekends at London Officer Training Corps.
With luck, skill, blood, lots of hard work and a sense of humour (both myself and clearly some Senior Officers), I managed to pass AOSB Main Board and Mod A and Mod B. Next, four final weeks of RMA Sandhurst loomed ahead. This was one time I highly appreciated the flexibility of being a self-employed barrister. I scheduled the time off, and began the preparations, both fitness and the extensive amounts of kit to take. I would load up my backpack with weight and run around my local area, much to the strange looks that I received. I was fortunate that any part-heard court hearings were booked around the period I was scheduled away at RMA Sandhurst.
It was soon time to pack my bags. I was hoping for a relaxed week before leaving, but was in court for all five days that week, including an un-precedently hectic Friday. It was a surreal feeling towards the end of that day, as I forced myself to pack away my legal mindset and recall all the military acronyms, Orders/Estimate process and the other military procedures. Attempting to cut off all the other distractions, I entered through the gates of RMA Sandhurst.
The last four weeks were the most challenging I have ever faced in my life. The Regular Officers’ commissioning course is one year, condensed into eight weeks for reserves and Professionally Qualified Officers (doctors, nurses, lawyers and professionals in the army). Therefore, it is of no surprise that our days would be absolutely jam-packed. We would start at 0600 in the morning, and finish at around 2200, after which you had to undertake various administrative duties (ironing uniform, polishing, preparing) to set yourself up for the next day. Discipline and presentation is expected of the highest order. However, the toughest aspect of the course is the exercise.
Wavell’s Warrior is a five-day exercise based on a training scenario. We deployed on the area allotted to us, and within the first few hours were under contact by the Directing Staff’s enemy. Sprinting to get into cover, crawling around with all equipment, mud finding its way everywhere; just one platoon attack, if done correctly, takes its toll. Yet upon taking down one enemy position, the next one immediately opens fire (blank rounds), and the whole exercise is carried out once again. There were casualty evacuations as well, which takes any remaining strength out of the platoon. We were exhausted. This was only three hours into the five days that the exercise was set for. Different members of our platoon had different command appointments, which were rotated after every phase.
The first day also saw us digging shell scrapes, not something I (or the average barrister) had ever done before. Hours of digging in tough ground, with rocks, tree roots and other elements in the ground after the hectic action-packed morning, left my body cramping. As darkness fell, one would imagine that we would be able to rest. However, that was not the case, as we had orders for a night patrol. Upon returning from the patrol, it was on to rotations for night sentry. This was only but the first day.
If it was possible, the other days saw the intensity increase! More attacks throughout the day, longer casualty carries, more technical forms of attacks and if you had a command role, it only increased the responsibilities (and the weight of the equipment that needed to be carried). What also did not assist were our two friends of nature, rain and cold. Digging the shell scrapes in wet ditches, I had never been so acquainted with such liberal amounts of mud in my life. However, our training taught us discipline. I ensured that my rifle was clean and free from mud, rust and carbon. I ensured that my equipment was serviceable, and batteries changed when required. Lastly, I ensured that I was fit to function, ensuring that I constantly changed socks, dried out my boots with Gore-Tex socks, observed hygiene in the field, ate the delightful ration packs, and lastly, wore dry clothes in the sleeping bag and changed back into wet, freezing ones once I was out of there (major moral dip)! One of the other exercises also saw us go through and at times, completely submerge in a freezing lake! I learnt what hallucinations look like, however I also learnt how well the human mind is able to think in sleep deprived and a shocked state, as long as it has the right motivation and the right training.
At this juncture, the reader may be wondering (as I certainly was at times), why? Courts and my chambers are nice, warm, dry and peaceful (but for a few lower courts). Why did I need to undergo all the above? Here is why. I remember the moments of extreme cold and dirt, when I looked by my side and saw my fellow cadets, including international cadets, going through the same and managing to crack a joke. I remember the times when I was in command positions and seeing my platoon kickstart my plan and carry the action out flawlessly. The moments when I assaulted a compound, turn a corner and came up against three enemies, and then my entire section peeled around me with blistering speed, aggression and cover me with covering fire. The times when you realise why you are at RMA Sandhurst and what the commissioning as an Army Officer actually means! The moment when you walk up the steps of Old College, and the look on your loved ones faces as they see you.
So as I sit here in chambers, with a hot double latte, I think to myself, if I had the chance, will I go through that freezing lake again? I absolutely would!
Epilogue: Upon returning to my unit, I am now a troop commander within 68 Signal Squadron, and have also been appointed as the officer in command of the recruit troop. And, of course, I am back in court.