On manoeuvres in Aussie bush

Soldiers on patrol in the Australian bush during Exercise Polygon Wood.
Soldiers on patrol in the Australian bush during Exercise Polygon Wood.

Army Reservists from Lancaster have swapped their day jobs to train with Australian soldiers in the subtropical bushland of New South Wales on one of the first military exercises of its kind.

Lieutenant Sam Nutter and Kingsman Ollie Palphramand were among a Platoon of 30 Reservists from the 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (4 LANCS) who spent a week living and working outdoors in the harsh ‘bush’ landscape surrounding Lone Pine Barracks, home to the Australian Army School of Infantry, north of Sydney.

The 4 LANCS Infantry Platoon was drawn from Reservists, most of whom have civilian jobs but give up their spare time to train and serve as Army soldiers.

Sam, 25, and a platoon commander, led the 4 LANCS Platoon, which has been living under canvas and patrolling under the vast skies of New South Wales – a far cry from his day job hiring out plant machinery to construction companies.

He said: “This has been a unique opportunity and I couldn’t have seen myself being here but for the Army.

“It’s great for the guys to be in Australia, but it’s also about getting to know my platoon in action and seeing it work as a fighting force.”

Ollie, 30, usually works as a concrete technician for Aggregate Industries in Lancaster, but has been working in Australia as a light machine gunner.

He said: “I’ve seen a lot of kangaroos and apparently the larger ones can square up to you, but on the whole they seem pretty docile. Some people do think I’m here on holiday and I have to convince them that I’m not. After all, we’re living in the bush under a waterproof sheeting.”

The unit, which recruits from across North West England, was taking part in a 400-strong training exercise alongside Reservists of the Australian Army – the first time a British Army Reserve unit has been invited to do so.

Exercise Polygon Wood is an annual exercise named after a 1917 World War I battle near Ypres, Belgium, where Australian and British troops fought alongside each other.

The British troops have been working under the command of the combined Battlegroup Waratah; composed of the 8th and 5th Brigades of the Australian Army.

It tested the British Reservists’ ability to work with a partner nation’s equipment, navigate in 
unfamiliar territory, clear safe routes through dangerous areas, and take part in joint offensive operations.

The soldiers of 4 LANCS travelled to Australia for almost three weeks, a week of that time spent working, eating and sleeping outdoors in the vast, verdant, rolling estate of Lone Pine Barracks. Here, the Reservists faced the challenges of a unique natural environment as deadly as any enemy.

They were sent into the bush with a checklist of warnings about the local wildlife; boot-piercing cactus thorns, venomous snakes and even a potentially aggressive kangaroo population numbering thousands.

Lieutenant Colonel James Cameron, the Australian Army’s exercise commander, said: “There were a few wide eyes among the 4 LANCS soldiers when we were going through our standard safety routine; you have to check your boots in the morning and your sleeping bag at night because there is a very real chance that there will be something in there that wants to bite you.

“We consider it cold since it’s coming into our winter, but our UK visitors are walking around as if it is summer, while we are using three layers of thermal protection and raincoats!”

Sam, who has served in the Reserve for seven years, added: “I use the leadership and teamwork that I learn in the Army Reserve, through opportunities like this, in my civilian career.”

Ollie, a former Lancaster University student who has been a Reservist for five years and served in Afghanistan, added: “I’m an outdoors type person and I enjoy navigation and shooting, so the Reserves really appeals to me.”

In recent times, British Army Reserve training has been designed to produce individual soldiers who can fill gaps in Regular units on operations.