Reservists train through Dartmoor gales

Royal Marines are trained to operate in all conditions however the latest batch of Reservists to come through the Marines training base at Lympstone have had to endure some particularly challenging conditions.

The exercise they undertook on Dartmoor recently coincided with some of the worst weather seen in England this winter. The recruits experienced a combination of heavy rain, cold temperatures, snow and high winds.

Royal Marines Reservists (RMR) train at their unit locations across the country throughout the year but come together for critical assessment packages at the Commando Training Centre near Exmouth in Devon. 

Their training is broken into phases with Phase 1A being basic military training including fitness, map reading, weapon training, camouflage and concealment, and fieldcraft which is the term used by the military for the ability to live and operate tactically in an outdoor environment. 

At the end of Phase 1A the recruits complete a test exercise done by all Marines recruits called Baptist Strike where all their military skills are practised. Following this they start doing tactical battle training and the fitness training ramps up as they approach the Commando tests.

The end of Phase 1B comes between 12 – 15 months after the start of training and starts with a five day exercise on Dartmoor called Daggers Thrust swiftly followed by the four infamous Commando tests.

I did Uniform Services at college and they took us on trip to RMR Tyne and that was it - I wanted to join.

Prior to the start of the exercise the recruits spend a day practising vertical assault drills with the Mountain Leaders branch on cliffs near Princetown on Dartmoor. 

“The weather was really challenging,” says Stephen Mulholland, 24, a panel beater from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. “You had to be on the ball to stay in the field in those conditions. At one stage the sun was belting down and it was lovely and an hour later there was hail coming in sideways and then it snowed.”

Royal Marines are proud of their ability to operate in cold weather environments and deploy regularly to Norway. However the conditions on Dartmoor were equally challenging because of the combination of heavy rain and gale force winds followed by clear skies and sub zero night time temperatures which the recruits endured “sleeping” under their ponchos. 

“The weather was really bad on the final exercise,” says Ben Revett, 31, a procurement consultant from Fulham. “But I was ok because I’d been trained well by my team in RMR London. The most challenging part of working in those conditions was the personal admin just keeping yourself fit and dry.”

“It’s really tough and very challenging.  When your morale’s low and then something else happens and you think I’ve just got to keep going and keep going,” says James Holmes, 25, a manager for the Post Office in Bradford

“You don’t get up in the morning because you don’t sleep. You’re hallucinating and you’re just yomping and just putting one foot in front of the other. You’re micro-managing the tiny little parts of the exercise and getting through each one and before you know it you’re at the end of the exercise,” says James. 

On completion of the final exercise the remaining recruits attempted the four Commando tests on consecutive days. 

“I was surprised how hard the 30 miler was because of the pace,” says Stephen. “It’s too fast to walk but too slow to jog. My feet were hanging out by the end but when I looked around everyone else was hanging out too!” 

“I enjoyed the Tarzan assault and the Endurance course the most because I have a competitive streak and you’re racing each other,” says James who won the PTI award for the fastest times overall.  

“The hardest test for me was the Tarzan course because the intensity of it. The easiest one was the 9 miler. The 30 miler was really tough,” says Ben Revett. “At least the weather was good for that so Dartmoor gave something back to us,” he laughs.   

At the end of the 30 miler the recruits are presented with their Green Berets to show they have completed Commando training. 

“I was chuffed to bits when I got my Green Beret at the end of the 30 mile speed march. I was stood there going over everything that I’d been through,” says James Holmes. 

“During the speed march I was thinking weekend by weekend what we’d been through. Thinking about when you’re freezing cold and wet and you just get through it. You just take each hour as it comes and each exercise as it comes. And here I am 14 months down the line and I’ve done it.” James adds.

“I joined the RMR to keep fit, for the adventure, to meet new people and get more life skills. I wanted to challenge myself but I didn’t want to sacrifice my civilian life as I earn good money so the Reserves is a good bridge for me,” adds Ben.

“I don’t like day-to-day things. I get bored. I like to learn new stuff all the time and with this there’s so much to learn,” says Stephen Mulholland. “I did Uniform Services at college and they took us on trip to RMR Tyne and that was it - I wanted to join. But I finished my apprenticeship before I applied.”

“As a Reservist you have to have really good time management and be committed,” Stephen adds.

Reservist training differs from normal Marines recruit training because the trainees still have to complete an advanced Phase 2 part of training after the Commando tests. This includes survival training, operating in urban areas and a live firing tactical range package. These elements are often done with their regular recruit counterparts. 

“I hope people understand the challenges we face as reservists as opposed to regulars,” says Ben Revett.  “We have to take it on ourselves to do our training. We have to be very self sufficient. It takes a certain type of person to be a Royal Marines Reservist. You have to have commitment.”