The Royal Wessex Yeomanry 2020 in Review

Armoured soldiers have a saying: 'Fight the Tank'. It means: tank soldiers must fight, and win, with the tank they have, not the one that they wish they had. In tank warfare, things go wrong. Everything isn't going to play out the way you expected. But crucially, this isn't a reason to accept failure. The best tank crews are the ones who can achieve success in unexpected situations, who can snatch a victory even when dealt a bad hand. In this highly unusual year, The Royal Wessex Yeomanry has successfully fought the tank.

The Wessex Through COVID-19

With the country thrust into lockdown in March 2020, the Regiment’s immediate focus turned to the creation of Zulu Squadron, a squadron of over 80 volunteers from the Regiment that were put at 5 days’ notice to move to help with the COVID response. Ultimately not required, it showed the Regiment’s determination to help the national effort.

The Regiment also turned its attention to maintaining a body of fit, knowledgeable and able tank soldiers and officers through the lockdown. We started delivering drill nights virtually, with training led by Reservist Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) wherever possible.

Weekend training was also able to continue virtually, with lessons being delivered on a variety of key topics including combat identification, navigation, and tank tactics. Highlights included virtual orienteering events and Facebook Live circuit sessions led by our excellent Physical Training Instructors (PTIs). Squadrons also competed to rack up the most miles on Strava – showing inter-Squadron rivalry transcends even global pandemics!

In May, in-person training started returned, with squadrons conducting socially distanced navigation exercises to ease us back into in-person training. This return also helped our soldiers maintain their mental health. One said, "Returning to training was a welcome relief for me. Working from home meant this was the only time I saw people other than my girlfriend and the staff of Tesco."

Socially-distanced navigation has its own challenges.

As the lockdown ended, the Regiment turned back to in-person training where necessary. Our first regimental training event was a Small Arms live firing weekend held at Bulford in July. This gave our soldiers a chance to practice their shooting with rifle, pistol and General Purpose Machine Gun.

Live firing on Bulford Ranges

Over summer the Regiment returned to regular in-person training where necessary, including some essential tank training. Maintaining our currency and competency while staying COVID-secure was a challenge, but thanks to some innovative thinking by the training team, it was achieved by a large number of our crews.

Our Challenger 2 crews stayed current with innovatively-combined driving, maintenance and field skills weekends.

Annual Camp

A Young Officer practices his Signals skills on Dartmoor.

In September focus turned to our Annual Training Period. The Regiment turned out in force to Okehampton Camp, Dartmoor, for a two-week period concentrating on career courses and qualifications. Our soldiers qualified in a huge range of skills, from Land Rover driving to Signals courses, Class C driving licenses and the operation of tank gunnery training equipment. The camp was rounded off with a gun run; teams competed fiercely to gather their equipment from across the moor and haul it up Row Tor, a rocky hill overlooking the camp.

Lugging ammo tins up Row Tor during the Gun Run

Special thanks must go to our Attached Arms - our Medics, Chefs and Clerks - who gave an excellent account of themselves throughout Annual Camp particularly. Keeping bellies full, medical problems attended to and soldiers' welfare at the forefront is no small task and their efforts were much appreciated throughout. Our Chefs have been busy this year, building their qualifications and making sure we never go hungry!

One of our Chefs, ready to feed the troops.

A particularly arduous part of Annual Camp was the Potential Non-Commissioned Officer Cadre. This course saw the next generation of junior leaders from across the Yeomanry spend two weeks developing their leadership skills, building their confidence and gaining the knowledge necessary to lead soldiers for the first time.

The PNCO Cadre patrols across Dartmoor on their final test exercise.

This course culminated in a physically and mentally demanding field exercise that saw Dartmoor throw everything it had at them as they took command of their sections to show they were ready to be promoted to Lance-Corporal and take on their first leadership responsibilities.

Covering fire from 'The General' during an attack.

Adventurous Training and Sport

While much of the Army’s sporting calendar has been curtailed this year by the pandemic, in January the RWxY celebrated unprecedented success on Ex SNOW FOX. This is the Yeomanry’s annual skiing championships, held this year in Tignes, France. Skiers of all abilities from the four Yeomanry regiments come together to train at every level from total beginner to expert, culminating in two days of Giant Slalom racing. Nearly 40 RWxY soldiers took part, bringing home a huge pile of silverware including the overall Team and Individual Gold medals, and Beginner’s Gold, Silver and Bronze. SNOW FOX remains a fantastic opportunity, not just to learn to ski, but to strengthen our links with the other Yeomanry regiments.

One of our beginner skiers tackles the racecourse.

Closer to home, Tpr Stone of C Squadron gained a coveted place on the Army Motorcycle Race Team, racing in the Endurance category at several fixtures through the summer.

Tpr Stone representing the RWxY as part of the Army Motorcycle Race Team.

Several members of the Regiment also gained their Mountain Bike Leader qualification, enabling them to lead AT trips at Squadron level.

One member of the Regiment even made it to Bavaria to learn to paraglide!

Individual Achievement

While the Regiment has achieved a great deal together this year, there have also been significant individual successes. Foremost among these have been our deployed personnel. As well as those deployed to support the COVID-19 response, one of our junior officers spent the early part of 2020 in Estonia attached to the Queen's Royal Hussars as part of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup.

Lt Trott commanding a tank in the Estonian mud.

RWxY soldiers also supported other Defence commitments, with Trooper Dwight deploying in his secondary role as an Army Chef with 7 RIFLES to Cyprus as part of the UN Peacekeeping Force. Tpr Dwight made a big impact on the tour, with some impressive sporting performances including a Bronze medal (and top British competitor) in the force-wide Sprint Triathlon.

Tpr Dwight proudly sporting his UN medal and beret at the end of his tour as a chef for 7 RIFLES.

We were particularly proud to play a part in helping one of our WW2 veterans, Trooper Ken Batt, wear his medals for the first time. When it transpired his medals had sat unworn for years, Lt Col Utting of the RWxY saw to it that they were mounted and presented to him in time for Remembrance Day. The RWxY is a family for life and we were proud to pay tribute to one of our veterans.

Tpr Ken Batt, 99, wearing his medals for the first time.

The Regiment would also like to thank all those members who paid their own tributes, in their own way, on Remembrance Sunday this year. With parades cancelled, we all had to find our own way to remember those who came before us, and as a Regiment we ensured those who lost their lives remained in our thoughts in this unusual year.

A RWxY soldier pays a lone tribute in their hometown on Remembrance Sunday.

Looking forward to 2021

2021 is looking bright for the RWxY, with the prospect of more deployments in support of Defence priorities, the return of overseas training, a strong pipeline of new recruits, and some innovative new methods of training borne out of the pandemic. We can't wait to get back onto tanks after a well-earned Christmas break.

If you are looking for a new challenge in 2021, that fits around your home life and pays you to build new skills, make new friends, and do things you never thought you could, we are recruiting across the South West. Check out our social media channels below and get in touch for more information.