How Do You ‘Survive The Yomp’?

How Do You ‘Survive The Yomp’?

Between 1942 and 1945 more than 20,000 Commandos were trained at Achnacarry, then a top secret location nestled in the Scottish Highlands. Such was their success Hitler issued an order stating Commandos were too dangerous to be held prisoner and should be executed immediately – Hitler’s Commando Order

My father volunteered and was only eighteen when he went there. As a child I heard tales from him and his comrades of Artic conditions in the Scottish Highlands. In February they did route marches in deep snow and their wet hob nailed boots would freeze to the tin hut floor overnight so they’d have to put newspaper in them and set fire to it to get them off the floor. On entering the camp there was a line of graves with neat crosses just past the Regimental Police Post. Their purpose was to engender the right attitude. People died during training and there were many injuries. My Dad decided you should never be higher then fifth after seeing the four blokes in front of him jump off the twelve-foot wall into frozen mud and break their legs. The instructors then ordered him not to jump. They learnt unarmed combat, pistol shooting, rock climbing, basic demolitions, running straight down the castle wall on a rope, survival skills and first aid. He said it was much more fun than the Scouts. For their story and pictures of this fascinating history look at Commando Training

After learning how to survive Arctic conditions it came as no surprise when the Army in its wisdom sent them to the Far East for jungle warfare. They told tales of liberating POW camps and a ten-day fire fight. When I joined the Army his old Sgt Major advised me, with a smile on his face, not to volunteer for anything because the last time he did he and his troop were used as live ballast in a glider to see how many men they could carry without crashing! After the Second World War the Commando role went to the Royal Marines

When my friend Mark suggested doing the Commando challenge – Survive The Yomp  – 30 miles carrying 40 pounds at Achnacarry I jumped at the chance to visit the place I’d heard so much about as a child, including going around the Commando Memorial .  You don’t have to carry 40 lbs and you can take as long as you like to go around. Commandos are supposed to finish in under eight hours and officers under seven. Although I left the army a long time ago I still have some professional pride and I’m aiming for 6 hours 45 minutes.

I’m so lucky because I’ve got a new artificial leg to test. My first mistake was being over enthusiastic and packing all my survival kit so I’m well over forty pounds. A Royal Marine at the start laughs and advises me to off load knowing full well I don’t want to miss the opportunity of a character building experience. My friend Huw flies to Scotland and fills his ruck sack with two huge sacks of dog food to make his weight up which he’s giving to my dog at the end. Good, should last weeks.

We’re given a nice little map with the route on and we’re off round the loch. The sapphire blue water is surrounded by pine forest and rolling heather hills. A cloud smothers the sun making the loch grey green and the triangular pine mountains become sinister dark green and the heather hills change from violet to deep purple. Large drops of rain fall diluting the sweat on my face and it’s a lovely jog.

The rhythmic sound of our boots thuds on the ground.

My green Berghaus 120 litre rucksack with side panels is the biggest you can get which means I usually pack too much stuff. It’s an old friend who’s travelled the world with me for 25 years including some time in the Army (I bought it and didn’t steal it honestly), demining, more Kilimanjaro trips than I can remember and lots of quiet walks in the hills with your house on your back. I haven’t been out in torrential rain recently so it stinks of sweat.

I’m jogging round with Pierre who has more weight than me and he asks again ‘How do you motivate yourself?’

‘It’s mind over matter. You don’t mind and it doesn’t matter. How do you?’

He says ‘I don’t need to because I’m too busy waiting for you.’

After a very pleasant jog round we finish bang on target at six hours forty three minutes. We’re joint third and as we cross the line. In a recess of my mind I hear the voice of my dead Father saying ‘You prat, I said don’t come higher than fifth.’

My friends Huw and Mark come in next, we all loved the countryside and meeting the Marines who were excellent. It’s a great fun event so if you like the Scottish countryside and want to support the Royal Marines Charitable Trust take a look at Survive The Yomp

Next time my friends and I have decided not to take the Commando thing so seriously and are going to wear underpants…

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