The Exercise, attended yearly, provides reservists with expedition training and the opportunity to develop and enhance command, leadership and teamwork skills. The 100 km march is physically demanding, with the reservists being required to complete 30 km, 40 km and 30 km marches on each day of the weekend in the Ypres area of Flanders, Belgium. There is a ceremonial element, where reservists are required to parade, and lay wreaths at formal ceremonies in front of the Menin Gate and the Belgian Cenotaph. The whole event therefore lends itself well to the participants working in small teams, requiring them to motivate each other and also draw on personal reserves of grit and endurance to complete the full course, and still further to complete ceremonial duties a short space of time afterwards. In short, it provides valuable leadership opportunities and is a rare occasion for members of the Ship’s Company to work together in a foreign environment.
The event itself is organised by the Town Council of Ypres, Belgium, and is a high profile trekking event attended by military reservist from across Europe and beyond. It is also attended by many youth groups and the local townsfolk. It promotes friendship and remembrance, in a land that has rebuilt itself after war.
This year, our team was not just made up from HMS CALLIOPE reservists, as in previous years, we were augmented with members from HMS CERES and HMS SCOTIA, as well as three Reserve Officer Cadets from of the University Royal Naval Unit. This made a great opportunity for members of each faction to meet and complete this fantastic exercise. Team building and Teamwork were once again paramount and very visible during this year’s exercise. For leadership training opportunities, the team was split into smaller sub teams, a leader being selected daily to take charge, giving everyone a chance to improve their leadership skills and team building experience.
While representing our individual units, we were very much aware that we also represented the Royal Naval Reserve and indeed the Royal Navy as a whole. Therefore, like every year, we continued working towards being the smartest team at Ypres and on the ceremonial parade – a team to be proud of and to inspire others in our dress and bearing. We achieved this by keeping excellent time keeping, completing the march in teams with an obvious leadership chain of command, and arguably the most important factor; keeping a strong sense of morale while at the same time keeping to the standards of the Senior Service.
Our efficiency and presentation was most apparent during the parade. The fact that this year marked the 100th Anniversary of the First World War made the parade and the march itself a much bigger event than in the other years and especially poignant. It was very memorable and a source of great pride to be part of such a team.
This year saw the repeat of many events that have now become tradition for HMS CALLIOPE’s team. Tradition’s such as improving our ever growing relationship with the German Army Reserves, finding old military shrapnel in the dirt along the March and enjoying the good weather. These were joined by new experiences such as marching in our new combat uniform (Multi Terrain Pattern) and the introduction of the University Royal Naval Unit to the team which we welcomed.
Unlike most years the majority of team members were strangers at the beginning, being from separate and disparate units. However our team developed a hive mind, understanding the importance and the relevancy of the 100th anniversary March. Our minds were filled with the images of the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for what they believed in either in defence or conquest. This came up in conversation often and over the course of the march the team bonded in mutual agreement that what we were doing and what other teams were doing was something good, something to be proud of and we all agreed that the team Calliope put forward for the Ypres March should continue for as long as possible.
On behalf of the team of Royal Naval Reservists and Reserve Naval Cadets who attended Exercise Flanders March 2014, that took place on the 100th anniversary of the First World War, thank you for the funding that we received from the Ulysses Trust. Without this contribution, the exercise would not have gone ahead.