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Worthy Down Background
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RAPC Training Centre Recruits Company
Recruits Company - RAPC Worthy Down - March 1961 to September 1985
The move of the RAPC Training Centre from Le Marchant Barracks Devizes to Worthy Down Winchester during Easter 1961, coincided with the last passing out of National Service Recruits and the first passing out of No I Regular Recruits Course (RRC).
From then on, Worthy Down was to become the home of Recruits Wing, together with Courses Wing and HQ Coy with the Official Opening Ceremony taking place on June 20 1961. It is interesting to note that, during that early period, the weapon training and fieldcraft together with the participation in Exercises was undertaken by the School of Infantry Warminster. The Spring of 1962 saw the departure from a number of Recruit Wing Instructors to the new Apprentice School which opened in September of that year. The School was to herald a new friendly rivalry within the Corps between 'Brats and Rookies'.
Older soldiers looking at the photograph showing a recruit being presented with the Champion Recruit Plaque on 6th April 1962 on what was the 'bottom square', may notice the Corporals' Mess section of the now demolished NAAFI building. Oh what delights were encountered in that establishment, where fraternisation between recruits and members of the WRAC, although not encouraged, frequently took place, as many RAPC marriages can testify!
1962 and 1963 saw a steady influx of Enlistments and several Re-enlistments of ex-Corps members re-joining the fold. One recruit who arrived, Pte Green standing at 6 ft 7in, had to have made a special bed extension and have purchased a larger mattress! The quality of recruits was of a high standard and of a much younger age than hitherto. Recruits at that time represented the 1946/ 7 post-war 'bulge' of babies and so the Corps could afford to be fairly selective in its intakes. On January 13 1964 the first intake of 15 Privates from the Apprentices School joined the Wing and were known as 1 Senior Apprentices (1SA).
The traditional sporting success of Recruits Wing inherited from Devizes continued. Whilst National Service had provided the Armed Forces with many professional and semi-professional sportsmen, strangely Recruits Wing continued to attract recruits who had connections and experience with professional clubs, particularly footballers. They did, of course, immediately represent the Corps and even Army sides.
With a big emphasis on sport, one would have thought that technical training would have suffered, but not a bit of it. Technical Division notes for that period record ‘and the results for Trade Tests for Regular Recruits Courses are the best for a very long time. Technical Division are well pleased with their efforts.’ It is interesting to note that the average age of recruits was under 19, giving the Company a new 'with it' look.
A not-to-be-forgotten part of Recruit Company life was the participation in Exercises. These exercises usually combined military training with some 'Hearts and Minds' work in whatever area it took place. For example, in September 1965, Recruit Company accomplished the task of making a stretch of the Devizes canal navigable to small craft, by the wallowing in and the clearing of mud .
The training of recruits at that time consisted of seven weeks basic training and 17 weeks technical. Between the basic and technical training, a week was spent at the Youth Centre in Botley Manor, situated on the River Hamble. Passing out dances or Company 'smokers' became a feature of the period, as did indoor game competitions.
In early 1968 a 'wind of change' was once more being experienced in the company. A new training syllabus was introduced and recruits training reduced to 21 weeks and commencing with 77 RRC, a week in Courses Coy learning elementary typing. However, military training and sport was severely curtailed as an outbreak of foot and mouth disease had placed the open range out of bounds in addition to the training areas! Cross country runs and orienteering competitions were banned.
Nevertheless, continuation training resumed and with the help of blank ammunition thunder flashes and other pyrotechnics, there was the occasional casualty, such as when one recruit 'forgot' to throw a smoke grenade and sustained minor injuries to his hand. Another casualty, more psychological than physical, occurred when an instructor, demonstrating the careful technique required to camouflage a trip-flare, discovered that perhaps his feet would stand him in good stead should he decide to make the police force his second career!
Military training in Recruit Company became a far more intensive part of the syllabus to such an extent, that in August 1970 a new form of passing out demonstration had been introduced. The 'guinea pigs' were 91 RRC. The demonstration took the form of a drill parade, followed by a display of battlecraft culminating with a race over the assault course and a shooting competition.
In October 1970, the Corps was bestowed with the Freedom of the City of Winchester and Recruit Company was very proud to provide one complete detachment on the parade held to mark the presentation ceremony.
Only a few months after leaving Recruit Company, in March 1971, one of the recruits was killed in an ambush by terrorists whilst serving with 3 RRF in Northern Ireland. It was being realised that more and more RAPC soldiers were being deployed on ' front line' duties and the accent on weapon training proficiency and other military skills became an even greater part of the military training of Recruit Company.
From 1972 onwards, Recruit Company began to suffer a severe decline in recruits, so much so that the recruits could almost be offered the benefit of individual instruction. Course strengths were varying between three and twelve! To carry out a cordon and search of anything larger than a broom cupboard was becoming extremely difficult. This situation continued throughout most of the early and middle seventies. In October 1975, the average strength per course rose to 24. November 1976 became the first occasion since 1971 that Recruit Company reached a strength of over 100.
This healthy state of affairs was not to last however and low recruiting figures returned in 1978. On courses that were established to take 28 recruits, one course only had five and another eight! As the courses were so small, Open Days were held instead of Passing Out parades. These included Infantry Section Attack demonstrations.
Modern technology also played its part. Course No 143 were 'video'd' over several weeks in order that a film show could be put together to 'educate' their parents on what they had been through , entitled 'A day in the life of an RAPC Recruit' .
After the 'winter of discontent' in 1979, the onset of the eighties coincided with an economic depression and recruiting jumped tremendously, so much so, that the Company had four courses of 28 in each! This state of affairs led to a shortage of instructors, for whom a new title was being considered, (MRCA(I)) - Multi Role Combat Accountant (Instructor). Advertisements were regularly being placed in Corps Journals pleading for volunteer Instructors.
In the spring of 1981 the numbering of courses was discontinued and in their place were substituted the names of Battles, those being , Alamein, Kohima, Somme, Tobruk and Ypres. initially some difficulty was experienced remembering this and who was in what platoon.
The RAPC Central Rifle Meeting had been discontinued , an event for which Recruit Company had always been heavily employed as tent erectors and general gophers, as well as providing a large number of successful competitors over the years.
In its absence, the OC, at the time a renowned Bisley shooter, introduced a March and Shoot competition, for which there would be an award for Champion Shot.
During the early eighties, Recruit Company continued to participate in all the activities at Worthy Down. The average strength had dropped to around 70, however during 1983, the Company provided Corps sportsmen in the following sports: Rugby, Football, Hockey, Cross Country, Cricket, Tennis, Squash, Volleyball, Sailing and Orienteering, a record!!
In late 1983, rumours speculation on the ramifications of the Groom Report were being bandied around Worthy Down, concerning the effect it would have on Recruit Company and the Apprentice College, but at that stage, they were precisely that - rumours. Recruit Company soldiered on.
It had been announced however that the recommendations in the Groom Report had been accepted and would be implemented in 1985/86. That meant the disbanding of Recruit Company and the closure of the Apprentice College. A new complex being constructed some three miles away at Flowerdown, would be the home of combined Lt Div, RAPC and AAC Recruits, whilst the Apprentices would similarly regroup at Bovington. No more would Worthy Down reverberate to the strains of Platoons shouting in unison 'Whaaan - two three Whaaan' . The sound instead is from members of the WRAC, who can be heard wandering around camp wistfully humming: 'Where have all the young men gone? Gone to Flowerdown everyone.' No more at the dead of night would Worthy Down echo to the high spirited yells from squaddies returning from the 'Spring Vale' as they topped the hill behind the back gate.
The atmosphere at Worthy Down has been immeasurably and unutterably altered. Who is going to provide the quarter guards? (Recruit Company provided 53 between 1961 and 1985). Who is the RSM going to shout at? Who is the Provost Sergeant going to lock up? Where is the 'youth' for the Worthy Down sports teams and most importantly how is the 'Esprit de Corps' going to be engendered and fostered?
Notwithstanding those questions, the matter in hand was to organise the Final Passing Out Parade. This was held on Friday September 27 1985 and the Inspecting Officer was the Colonel Commandant Maj Gen O. J. Kinahan CB. It took place in perfect weather and was attended by countless 'Past and Present' members of Recruit Company, some of whom had reached quite exalted rank. The general consensus of opinion was that the parade lived up to all the expectations and maintained the high standard for which Recruit Company was renowned.
So ended Recruit Company at Worthy Down after 24 years. For those of you who have read this far, this article is not intended to be an exhaustive or comprehensive history of Recruit Company, but more a nostalgic glance down memory lane. Perhaps these lines from William Ellery Channing are the most apt summation and perhaps the answer to the questions posed previously:
'We must forget what is behind . If we cease to originate, we are lost. We can only keep what we have, by new activity