Army Reserve gunners in Bristol are busily signing up new recruits as 266 Battery, 104 Regiment, prepares to mark the 160th anniversary of its formation in 1859 as Gloucestershire Volunteer Artillery.
Under a recent reorganisation of the Royal Artillery, the unit was restored to a light gun role after three years as a reconnaissance unit equipped with Desert Hawk unmanned air systems.
266 Battery has the potential for nearly 90 Reservists and up to six 105mm light guns at two locations – the historic Artillery Grounds in Whiteladies Road, Bristol, and with 289 Commando Troop, a detachment based at The Citadel, Plymouth.
The new Battery Commander, Major Neil Cook, already has one fully trained gun team at the ready and is looking forward to a second team of six becoming fully operational next year.
He said: “We are holding our own in terms of recruiting and getting people through the trades. Gunnery is such that it’s quite challenging to get people requalified.
“We have two more guns which are in the process of being formed as we juggle transition with recruitment. If we add a fifth and sixth gun, they will probably be ‘training guns’.”
266 Battery is fortunate in having around 35 Reservists reporting for training every week.
Neil added: “Priority for recruitment is the gun teams, but there are plenty of vacancies in other roles, in logistics, communications and in the command post roles where all the gun computation is done.
“There are other opportunities too, such as in representing the unit in sport, and much of the training is mapped to civilian qualifications.”
Three years spent as a reconnaissance unit had the benefit of attracting more female recruits to 266 Battery but even in a light gun role, they can play a full part.
Neil explained: “The ‘light gun’ can be manhandled by a team of six,” he said. “Irrespective of gender, I will be expecting my teams to handle those guns.
“The doors are open to everybody,” said Neil. “If they show commitment, I can train them and give them the opportunity to learn, develop and not only become the soldier they want to be but also give them advantages in the wider world.”
Among the new recruits is Gunner Octavia Woolger, a 23-year-old former full-time athlete, who has opted for the Reserves rather than Regulars, attracted by the wide range of opportunities in the Royal Artillery.
Neil added: “This is effectively a part-time job. For a lot of Reservists, they may be holding down a 40-hour week, as well as doing their physical preparation here or revising for exams or turning out for training. You’re certainly getting twice the person in the Reserves.”