It was a truly emotional moment – Bristolian Chris Fishlock, aged 23, proudly pulling on the famous Green Beret of the Royal Marine Commandos for the first time. Minutes before, the Avon and Somerset Police Community Support Officer had been one of a small contingent of reservist recruits from all over the UK completing the final challenge of the formidable commando test, a 30-mile yomp across Dartmoor carrying a weapon and 30lbs of kit.
There were no high fives from Chris and his mates at the end. No fuss – that’s not the commando way. Just salutes and smiles all round in the Dartmoor drizzle as the group received their berets and commando flashes from Royal Marine Reserves Colonel Rory Bruce, who described them all as “extraordinary people.”
Chris joined the RMR at its base in Litfield Place, Clifton, 18 months ago. “I wanted to achieve something special in my life. Proving myself in one of the military’s elite forces was how I chose to do it,” he explained.
“I admit that getting to this point has been horrendous physically and mentally at times. But we all knew what to expect, which is why right now it feels so special.”
All those entitled to wear the Green Beret – whether regulars or reservists – must pass the final commando test which, over four gruelling days, includes:
A nine-mile speed march inside 90 minutes carrying full fighting order. A six-mile endurance course through rough terrain including tunnels, pipes wading pool and an underwater culvert, followed by a four-mile run home and marksmanship test. The Tarzan assault course, ending in a rope climb up a 30ft near-vertical wall – again, in full kit. The 30-miler – to be completed inside eight hours.
For Chris, a former Sir Bernard Lovell School pupil who is based with the police at Bristol’s Trinity Road station, the endurance course was the “killer”.
“Near the end, my body was telling me to give up, but that wasn’t an option,” he explained. “Making it down the last lane was such a challenge.
“The 30-miler wasn’t too bad – until, that is, we were roughly three-fifths of the way through. It was then I started to feel pain in one leg, then there was a problem with my ankle. Once again, there were voices in my head telling me to stop, but we just kept going.”
RMR Bristol produces an average of ten fully-fledged commandos each year. Balancing the demands of the civilian workplace and family commitments with the requirements over months of the commando training schedule, makes that achievement extra special. It is no surprise that only approximately 10 per cent of those originally applying actually make the grade.
Alongside Chris, a second Bristol recruit also won the coveted Green Beret – 23-year-old Matt Thomas, originally from Lanner, near Redruth, Cornwall, who works as an outdoor pursuits instructor in Carmarthenshire, West Wales.
“It was very hard,” he said. “You reach a stage when you feel past the point of endurance, but the lads just kept each other on the move. Most people never run a marathon, which happens over a flat course and in trainers. But the 30-miler takes in some of the harshest terrain of the moors and, of course, we are carrying all our kit – very different!
“I feel so proud to have got through it.”
Colonel Bruce said: “While their mates at home will have been out drinking and socialising, these young men have committed themselves over 15 to 18 months to achieve a goal which required great courage and mental resilience.
“They have gone the extra mile to take them from civilian to military, military to infantry and finally infantry to elite infantry and in the future will be ready to work seamlessly alongside their regular counterparts in Afghanistan or wherever they are required.”
RMR Bristol recruits from all over the South West and South Wales and has detachments at Lympstone, Plymouth, Poole and Cardiff. Reservists regularly deploy to Afghanistan, with a further contingent due there later this year.
For more information about RMR Bristol, go to RMRBristol-Recruiting@mod.uk . To learn more about reservist recruitment in the South West, contact The Wessex Reserve Forces & Cadets Association on 0800 220953 or log on to www.TAwessex.org.uk.