In this four part series, we follow a group of Officer Cadets from their first day at Britannia Royal Naval College to their passing out parade, through the joys and frustrations that come with embarking on what, for many, is a lifelong dream. We follow the new cadets every step of the way as they struggle through the biggest challenge of their lives in a bid to pass out as officers of the world’s most prestigious Navy.
Who will make it through to the end and who will come to realise that they don’t have what it takes to become a Royal Navy Officer?
In the first episode of Officers and Gentleman we focus on the harsh reality of militarisation, as the new arrivals have their independence and civilian habits drummed out of them.
Many of the cadets join the college straight from civilian life. From Oxbridge graduates to school leavers, and frustrated City bankers to waitresses, the initial shock of living as part of a regimented military unit can hit them hard.
Our young hopefuls are put through a challenging regime of physical exercise, military drills, marching, constant ironing of their six different uniforms, lectures and homework. Rising before dawn and not bedding down until late into the night, our cadets have very little time to rest or sleep.
How will they cope with being shouted at night and day? With every second scheduled and no room for compromise, will they make it through Frantic Friday, the major exercise that concludes the first two weeks of training?
Next on the agenda for the hopefuls is one of the most difficult physical and mental tests of the entire officer training process. Known as ABLE, this is where the officer cadets spend 4 days and nights living on and trekking across Dartmoor, one of the wildest and harshest environments in the country.
Carrying 60lbs backpacks they hike through marshes, across rivers and up and down tors. With barely any sleep and no shelter from the extreme weather conditions, the cadets are pushed to their limit. Worse, in spite of the awful conditions, their leadership skills are assessed throughout. And only those who pass stand a chance of proceeding onto the next phase of training.
Even before they are allowed out on the moors, they are tested through a series of field exercises called Build or Basic Leadership Development.
Will our wide-eyed new recruits have what it takes to get through ABLE or will they be some of the 15% that never make it?
The remaining cadets venture out into the Fleet for the first time, and finally get to test whether they are truly up to life at sea.
Kicking off with the Basic Sea Survival Course where our cadets go through a rigorous process of exposure to fire fighting training, sea survival and onboard flood repair techniques they may need to stay alive in extreme weather conditions at sea.
Will they qualify to be sent on the next crucial stage of their training and get the chance to experience real Navy life for the first time?
Those who make it through will be deployed to spend 10 weeks onboard HMS Bulwark, the Royal Navy’s flagship. For most of the cadets this will be their first real experience of life on the ocean and will test them to the limit.
Is this really the life they desire? How will they react to the regime of life on board living alongside the junior ranks they may one day lead?
How will they cope with the claustrophobia of life at sea? And how will they adjust to their role within a tight professional unit?
For the remaining few they now face the toughest challenge yet, putting everything they have learned into practice.
The Maritime Leadership Exercise sees the cadets living and working on picket boats on the River Dart for three and a half days. As with ABLE, they are sleep deprived and their ability to lead under pressure in adverse and unpredictable circumstances is assessed night and day. The cadets are thrown into situations where they have to think on their feet, role-playing in Defence Diplomacy, disaster relief and combat scenarios. Elaborate staged situations are set up all along the river, refugee rescues, ambushes and night time stealth missions are thrown at the cadets, and every decision they make is minutely scrutinised and could mean a pass or fail. The cadets are then assessed on how they cope with these alarming and unexpected situations.
At the end of their time on the river, exhausted, zombified, cold and wet, the cadets are put through a demanding Fred run; where they haul 16 stone dummy casualties on makeshift stretchers up the 187 steps between the college and its dock and around the college grounds.
The series culminates in the passing out parade. A huge ceremony with a flamboyant sword drill presided over by top naval officers and watched by their loved ones, it is the crowning glory of our young cadets’ lives.
Who will make it through triumphant to pass out of BRNC as Royal Navy officers, ready to take on leadership roles with the Fleet? And who will fall at the last hurdle, give in to the pressure and have to start the whole process again?