Trainee sailors’ outdoor skills tested on Salisbury Plain

Rookie sailors turned soldiers as they were given their first taste of life in the field on Salisbury Plain.

The first raw recruits trained at HMS Collingwood in more than half a century endured their first major test of leadership in two days on the army’s premier exercise area.

With HMS Raleigh, the regular establishment used to turn civilians into sailors already at maximum capacity to meet the demands of the growing Navy over the next few years, Collingwood is also welcoming raw recruits through its gates.

Around 500 junior ratings are expected to pass out of the Fareham base this year – the first at the end of this month.

The first group of 11 trainees are three-quarters of the way through their transformation into military personnel – after which they will move on to study in their specialist branches such as weapons engineers, warfare experts or logisticians.

At this stage of the training, recruits are taken into the field to build up leadership skills and instil the trainees with grit, determination and the ability to work as a team.

Erlestoke on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain was selected for the two-day exercise, Hidden Dragon.

The first day is devoted to the basics of living in the field – cooking ration packs, sleeping on the floor of a barn with no running water, gas or electricity, navigating through woods and farmland in all weathers, carrying a heavy backpack for 25 kilometres with no GPS or phones to help pinpoint their position.

I can feel myself changing by the day, getting better and better, becoming a better person. I couldn’t be more grateful

Recruit Luke Gaskin

“This is new to Collingwood, but it’s going smoothly and the recruits are doing well. We’re getting positive feedback from the trainees – they seem to be enjoying,” says Chief Petty Officer AJ Smith, a caterer by trade, but now part of the new training regime.

“The recruits have come from all over the country, from different backgrounds, they’re different ages and they have to gel,” says AJ. “There’s no relying on mum here. You’re relying on your shipmates, people you only met a few weeks ago.”

Trainee weapon engineer Luke Gaskin, aged 17, from Darlington, is enjoying the experience so far.

“The staff have been great – they are really supportive and bring out the best in you. In fact, I can feel myself changing by the day, getting better and better, becoming a better person. I couldn’t be more grateful,” he said.

“I came in blind – I did some research, but this is my first time away from home. So I found it quite hard to adapt to a military bearing. So it’s been tough – but I’ve enjoyed it. And I made amazing friends here, people who will be mates for life.”

Jasmine Savage from Canterbury is training to become a Naval Nurse.

“This may not be a natural environment for a nurse, but I love it. This is what I expected from training – experiences you cannot get in civilian life,” the 30-year-old said.

“The training is hard, but you get through it. You bond as a team and you really get to know yourself and what pushes your buttons.”

All being well, she, Luke and their nine shipmates in Perkins Division will pass out from Collingwood at the end of April.