For most young people, Monday 28th March 2016 was a Bank-Holiday that involved a day off school and perhaps some family time to celebrate Easter. However, for 61 RAF Air Cadets from 1461 (Wigston and District) Squadron and 1211 (Swadlincote) Squadron, Easter Monday was the start of the first ever joint camp between the two Squadrons at HMS Bristol; a Royal Navy training ship that is based in Portsmouth Harbour.
Following a three hour coach journey down to Whale Island, the command centre of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, the cadets, most of which this was their first ever time away from home, were thrown in at the deep end by being tasked to get their kit stowed away and changed into uniform for dinner within the first half an hour of arriving! The whole experience was new to everyone involved as the cadets are used to spending time on RAF Bases and so the endless ladders on board ship proved initially difficult to come to terms with.
The cadets took it all in their stride though and following a health and safety brief from the ship’s personnel and a hearty meal in the ‘Galley’, the cadets enjoyed a well-earned rest by taking part in a quiz that was put together by the two senior cadets on camp, Cadet Warrant Officer (CWO) Stuart Bagley, 19, and CWO Tom Clamp, 18.
Tuesday morning and the cadets were awoken at 06:30 by the tannoy system on board- “call the hands” to be ready for breakfast at 07:00. Having scoffed their breakfast and collected their kit for the day, the camp made their way to the Historic Dockyard for a day of visiting the many museums and ancient ships that make up the very popular tourist attraction in Portsmouth Harbour. Attractions include HMS Victory and Warrior as well as a 30 minute harbour tour on a boat. The cadets really enjoyed the visit and before they knew it, it was time to head back to HMS Bristol ready for the evening meal of the day. Tuesday concluded with a set of team building activities before “Pipe Down” was sounded at 22:30.
Another early start on Wednesday but by that time, the cadets had settled in to the routine and were ready and raring to go. The camp made its way to Portsmouth Watersports Centre where they would be enjoying 4 different activities through the day- Windsurfing, Climbing, Kayaking and Canoeing. The staff at the Watersports Centre led the day’s adventures and despite there being a cool breeze coming off the Solent, the cadets got stuck in to the activities and there were smiles all round! Following a big thank you to the centre staff, the cadets boarded the coach and headed back to HMS Bristol for evening meal and then a relaxed evening of watching a movie. The cadets clubbed together and decided between themselves that they wanted to watch The Incredibles, much to the delight of Squadron Leader Alyn Thompson, Officer Commanding 1211 Squadron, who had never seen the classic!!
Thursday welcomed the 3rd full day in Portsmouth with a visit to Southwick Park, The Defence School of Policing and Guarding. The camp was welcomed off the coach by Sgt Whitelock, RAF Police, who had kindly taken time out of his Easter Leave to open up the RAF Police Museum, Royal Military Police Museum and The D-Day Mapping Room. The cadets enjoyed talks from various experts and were then given the opportunity to look around the museums individually. The D-Day Mapping Room went down particularly well as it was explained that the very room the cadets were sat in was the room that the likes of King George VI and Sir Winston Churchill sat in during the build up to the historic event that was D-Day! It was also a great experience for the cadets to get to see not only how the RAF Police work and the history but to also find out about The Royal Military Police.
A trip to Gosport, the location of the Portsmouth Submarine Museum, followed Southwick Park where the cadets were given a tour of HMS Alliance, a submarine that was used during the Cold War and then given free time to look around rest of the museum.
The cadets headed back to HMS Bristol once again for evening meal before the two CWO’s once again led the evening session of various sports, including ultimate frisby and quick cricket.
Friday, the final day of the camp, saw the cadets travel back to the Historic Dockyard but this time, to Action Stations Museum. Actions Stations is an interactive museum that is designed to give young people a hands on experience with action, adventure, thrills and history all under one roof. The cadets split into teams and completed a round robin of the museum, with the museum staff putting on team building activities for one group at a time whilst the other two groups had free time in the museum to take part in whatever they wished. This went down a treat with all of the cadets and from a staff point of view, was a fantastic reward for the excellent conduct the cadets had displayed throughout the week. The fun didn’t end there though as after dinner, the cadets were taken to the Bowling Complex in Gunwarf Quays for 2 games of bowling. Once again, this was a treat that was very much deserved for each and every young adult on the camp.
Saturday morning arrived in a flash. This signified the end of the camp and much to the cadets dismay, meant that they would be heading home that day. The coach was loaded and by 09:30, the camp was on the road heading north and to home!
Cadet Olivia Deacon, 14, commented on the week- “Wow! I have had such a fantastic time this week. I have made friends with people from another Squadron and I have had experiences and learnt things that not many people my age get the opportunity to do and learn.”
Cadet Taylor Brown, 13, was asked what his favourite part of the week was- “I can’t really pick a favourite part. The whole week was so enjoyable and I cannot wait to do more things like this in the future. I am so glad I joined the Air Cadets.”
The camp was a resounding success but this would not have been possible without the months of planning that was conducted by the Camp Commandant, Pilot Officer Charlie Hughes (23) and Deputy Camp Commandant, Civilian Instructor Molly Henson (20). The two were then supported during the week by Squadron Leader Alyn Thompson, Flight Lieutenant Rob Moore and Flight Lieutenant Ruth Morgan, all of 1211 Squadron.
Squadron Leader Thompson, who has been part of the organisation for longer than he would care to mention said “I am very proud of both Charlie and Molly for making this week happen. For both, this was the first time they had conducted this sort of thing and it is evident in the cadet’s response that they have both done a remarkable job. My thanks extends to both Rob and Ruth as well who were there to support Charlie and Molly throughout the week, using their vast knowledge and experience. I am equally as proud of each and every cadet that has been part of the week- the feedback from The Royal Navy has been outstanding. The Air Cadet Organisation never fails to amaze me and I hope that this is the start of a fantastic relationship not only between the two Squadrons but with the Royal Navy as well. Well done everyone!”
CI Molly Henson