Every year at the end of the Summer Term, Ampleforth College CCF deploys on its Summer Camp with a number of volunteer cadets. Unlike many CCFs, Ampleforth has a tradition of visiting Regular Army Units. All visits are conducted in accordance with the rules and regulations pertaining to Cadet training and safety. This year, we shall visit the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles (2RGR), based in Tuker Lines, Brunei.
The trip will run from Saturday 30th June - Wednesday 18th July.
As the pre-deployment training programme draws to a close we can reflect on what has been a great way to start our CCF Summer Camp 2018. We have all learnt a lot of crucial information, heard plenty of jungle noises, navigating our way around the valley under ponchos looking like camouflaged green ghosts and experienced sleeping on a floor for two nights! Just the small issue of travelling 7099miles to the other side of the world into the jungle to deal with tomorrow and then we can put our training into practice! The photo shows some of our students undergoing some last minute weapon handling which Will volunteered to lead before they conduct their weapon handling tests with the Gurkhas in Borneo.
Some people slept through but most managed a restless night so there were some tired faces at breakfast this morning. A busy day lay ahead so we didn’t hang around. We started the day with several briefs about Brunei and the Gurkhas. A brief tour of the camp including the war memorial and Hindu Mandir followed with interviews for Nepalese BFBS after that (see some great photos in the galley at the bottom of the page). Weapons displays and a trip to the Garrison officers mess followed where the sts tried to spot the mice in the Cuneo paintings depicting famous Gurkha battles and we even saw the Commandant’s kukri that Will’s grandpa had presented to the 7th Gurkhas when he left the Battalion. After that we headed to the Garrison swimming pool where we completed the military swimming test and had a quick inter section competition (won by 1 Section). We finished the programmed day with a military kit issue and then headed back for supper. The cadets all really seemed to enjoy the day and are looking forward to more of the same tomorrow, where we complete our weapon handling tests and fire on the DCCT (a computerised screen simulated shooting session).
It seems slightly odd that we have completed two full days here in Brunei but they say time goes fast when you’re having fun. We started the day with a familiarisation into handling the weapons that we will be shooting next Sunday. This culminated in the cadets being tested on their weapon handling. The weapons lead into other skills that will be put into practice including map reading. Whilst the cadets were doing this Miss Normand and Major Blackford conducted a recce into the jungle with Sergeant Praveen, our host. After lunch the weapon training was put into practice as the cadets made their way to the dismounted close combat trainer (a simulated computer shooting program). Here they practised there marksmanship principles and weapon handling drills. This took the form of an inter-section competition in three parts. 1 Section were the winners for the grouping at 100 m for 20 rounds. However, 2 Section won the grouping at 100 m for five rounds and were the combined group champions. The overall individual winner was Will Bell (St J). From there, we went on foot to the regimental shop where the cadets bought various items of Gurkha clothing and memorabilia. That marked the end of the training for today and we returned back to our accommodation for supper and a briefing about tomorrow.
It would be difficult to have any form of military camp without some form of room inspection! Just because we are in Brunei doesn’t change that! Both sections did their best to tidy Barrock rooms this morning in preparation for a quick staff inspection. 2 section came out on top. This was followed by our first land based sporting competition here in country - basketball. 1 section were victorious on the court, levelling the results for the competitions today. After the physical exertions on the outdoor court, the cadets were able to relax before enjoying a detailed brief given by the training officer of the Jungle Warfare Division. This is a part of the School of Infantry which is based in the UK and is responsible for training instructors throughout the British Army in the art of jungle warfare and operational tracking. Once that was complete we stayed in the lecture theatre and had the theoretical lesson on abseiling from a helicopter which included a familiarisation with the equipment needed. After lunch we then put the theory into practice by conducting a quick inter section quiz about all the briefings they had received in the morning (which 1 Section won) followed by practical abseiling from the 70 foot gantry (known also as the abseiling tower). This involved a practice from a low ceilinged training facility after which every student who took part, climbed the 70 foot tower to abseil down again. It was wonderful to see them overcoming initial fears to step off the gantry with full trust in their instructors and kit. There were big smiles and cheers all round! To finish the day off we had two sporting competitions. The first was inter-section 5 a-side football after which we took a trip to the local bowling alley and had inter section bowling! 2 Section were victorious in both.
Tomorrow we venture back to the capital city to visit one of the Sultan’s museums and take a trip on water taxis around the floating village.
Today we had a rest from military training. After breakfast we headed back to the capital, Bandar Seri Bagawan. There we visited Sultan’s cultural museum for an hour before we walked the 600 m or so to the edge of the river. From there we caught water taxis to watch the indigenous Probiscous monkeys further down river before returning to visit the ‘floating’ village. This isn’t really a floating village per se, it is more of a village on stilts in the middle of the river. Nevertheless, it is impressive since it has everything from a community centre, hospital, primary and secondary schools, fire brigade and police station. During this ride we even managed to snap a sunbathing crocodile but since it left the shore and headed towards our boats in the water we decided to make a hasty retreat! After our river trip we embarked once more on the bus and headed for the Empire hotel, a six star luxury hotel just outside the capital, where we spent an hour in the outdoor fresh water swimming pool. We finished the day’s activities with half an hour of shopping in the local ‘one horse’ town, Seria. After supper we had our evening briefing and then switched our attention to preparing for the jungle which will be on Monday. Between then and now we also have a full day of shooting on the range tomorrow.
We spent today on Tutong live firing ranges shooting with the Gurkhas’ rifles. It was seriously hot today and we all felt the heat but everyone cracked on extremely well. When they weren’t shooting the cadets were patching up the targets that the other section were shooting at. It was all done under the watchful qualified range conducting staff from our host battalion. As part of the shoot every cadet zeroed his rifle and then conducted slightly more advanced “practices“ from 100 m and 200 m. Then, at the end of the day we had an intersection falling plate competition where the cadets had to lineup at 300 m, run to 200 m and then shoot eight large white metal standalone plates. The fastest section to shoot them all down were the winners. 1 Section won all of the four competition elements today, making them the current competition leaders.
Tomorrow marks the start of our jungle field training. We shall leave camp early to deploy into the “trees“. The whole day will be spent conducting survival training where we shall learn about traps, water, fire, shelter, food and combat tracking. Then in the evening we shall erect our hammocks under ponchos and spend our first night in the jungle. The following morning (on Tuesday) we shall continue our individual training phase with lessons on administering ourselves in the jungle, navigating in the jungle and several other useful skills before returning to camp for a quick rest before the collective training phase begins on Wednesday.
Everyone is looking forward to going into the jungle and we quite can’t quite believe we are already halfway through our time here in Brunei.
With the dawn of a new week came a change in our training regime. Every day this week we are based in the jungle conducting individual, survival and collective training. On Monday morning we deployed from Medecina lines to training area C, the local primary jungle training area. Once we arrived, the Gurkhas introduced us to the jungle safety rules and then took us to the survival training area. There they introduced us to the survival priorities and took us through excellently prepared and detailed ‘hands on’ practical lessons in water, shelter, trapping, fire and food. This finished with a very healthy and tasty mid afternoon meal on banana leaf plates!
We then made our way to our harbour position for the night. This is where we erected our hammocks and ponchos and had an evening meal. Poor Matteo had a hammock that had perished and ended up on the ground a couple of times as the straps broke, but after some hilarity his hammock was fixed and everyone was in ‘bed’ by about 7.30pm! The jungle gets so dark at night that moving around tactically is very difficult so sleep is the best thing to do! After what was a restless night for most, we started the next day with our first taste of rainfall! It was not enough to soak us but certainly enough to reduce the temperature and freshen our weary heads! What followed were lessons in personal administration in the jungle, jungle navigation and routine section level skills and drills. We finished the day off with a tracking lesson which Sgt Praveen took. It was interactive and saw both sections trying to outwit him and each other! At the end of that we returned to camp for some admin time. This also allowed us to celebrate the two birthdays that fall today and tomorrow: Madame Normand and Alex respectively. They even shared a birthday cake at supper together with cards and a very small gift each! More birthdays to come.....
Everyone is doing really well and seem to be enjoying the experience of working hard in this challenging environment. Tomorrow we head back into the jungle for our collective training conducting contact drills, ambushing, close target recces and camp attacks. We should be finished by midday on Friday at which point we shall return to camp and get ready for our R&R phase to Mulu. The next instalment of the Blog won’t be until Friday as a result. “Dhanyabad!”
Our collective training phase had us redeploying back to the area we had been in on the previous two days although we were now fully tactical and occupied a new platoon harbour position. We had lessons in contact drills and ambushes, close target reconnaissance and how to conduct a jungle camp attack. The cadets ‘stood to’ in the mornings and evenings and managed to maintain excellent harbour battlefield discipline with little noise and light throughout the night whilst running a double sentry stag for both nights. I was really impressed with their attitude and enthusiasm throughout the exercise and more importantly, so too were the Gurkha ‘gurujis’ (instructors). Each of the instructional lessons was followed with a practical phase including a four hour recce (for each section) of the camp that they would eventually attack for the final phase of the entire exercise. This even gave the heavens a chance to open and the rains to flow! The final phase involved simultaneous section attacks in different parts of the jungle. Unsurprisingly both sections were victorious and we are delighted to say that everyone in Brunei can sleep a little safer knowing that the jungle is clear of the ‘dushman’ (enemy).
I should add that morale was lifted even higher by the fact that we celebrated Ed’s birthday in the jungle by singing a tactical happy birthday this morning too. Both he and Will K shared a birthday cake this evening (Will’s birthday is on Sunday whilst we are away on R&R).
Tomorrow we head across the border into Sarawak to fly from Miri to Mulu where we shall visit the National Park and Pennan tribespeople in their settlement. We return to Brunei on Monday when we shall formally thank our hosts with some Gurkha ‘messing’ before leaving Brunei on Tuesday next week.
Having spent a long time cleaning weapons on Friday we were all rather looking forward to a good break across the border in Sarawak at the Gunung Mulu national park. We drove to Miri where we caught a propeller plane to the Jungle enclave famous for its cave systems and tribes. Some of the staff and students hadn’t read up about the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find air conditioned rooms and buffet meals including pancakes and waffles with ice cream! We met our guides for the two days and headed out to witness the jungle from a tourist perspective rather than a soldier’s one! The tours included visits to Deer and Lang caves on day one. The former is famous for its bats and we were lucky enough to see some formation flying before heading back to the hotel in a tropical down pour. That evening we celebrated two more birthdays: Will K and Marina (a medical student who had been with us in the jungle and had decided to come to Mulu too).
Then the following day (Sunday) we took to the water in Long Boats and headed to Wind cave and Clearwater cave before swimming in the jungle pool where we also had lunch. The rest of the visit to Mulu was pretty relaxed and allowed the cadets to unwind before heading back to Brunei for our farewell party with the Gurkhas and the awards for the inter section competition (1 Section were the eventual winners). Tomorrow we shall hand back our final kit and accommodation before playing one last session of basketball and volleyball as well as having a quick last swim before the long journey home. All being well, we should arrive in LHR at 0625hrs or so on Wednesday 18th.
We shall all miss our friends and hosts, B Company 2RGR who have gone out of their way to make us feel unbelievably welcome and well cared for. They are remarkable hosts as well as soldiers and we cannot thank them enough for all that they have done for us. Their subliminal lessons in humility, generosity and kindness are as important as the tactical jungle tuition and our students and staff will cherish these memories for ever: “Dhanyabad ra pheri bhetaunla. Hami yad garnu parcha: tapainharu jasto, kohi chaina!”
We are now back safe and sound! In fact our team have dispersed to the various parts of Europe and the UK and will now be firmly ensconced in home comforts once again. Our final 24 hrs in Brunei was a mix of physical output with us challenging the Gurkhas at both Basketball and Volleyball (and losing at both!), as well as a final dip in the swimming pool and some barrack room accommodation tidying before heading back to the international airport to catch our return flight. As luck would have it we even managed to spot our first ‘large’ monitor lizard of the trip (about 2 minutes from the airport)! When we got back to UK we bade farewell to Max who isn’t returning to Ampleforth sadly before heading through customs and onto our various home destinations. It is safe to say that the trip was another rip-roaring success. The aims of the trip were met and expectations exceeded. Our most heartfelt thanks are extended to all who helped make it a success. Finally, before I sign off, I just want to thank Claire and Katie in the Development office for their help in posting the blog write ups and photos which have allowed parents to follow our progress. Have a wonderful summer holidays and ‘pheri bhetaunla!’.
To read more about the adventures of our CCF cadets click here.