It’s raining in Barbados, and the 12 members of the Lancashire Army Cadet Force feel right at home under the tropical skies heavy with clouds.
It’s warm despite the rain, and they’re taking part in a sweaty 7x1km relay race against their hosts, the Barbados Cadet Corps, with whom the Lancs ACF have a rolling exchange programme. Two weeks in the Caribbean is an opportunity few would turn down.
Sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and the British Army themselves, the Army Cadets are one of the country’s best-loved national youth organisations. The Lancs ACF alone has over 900 cadets, 190 volunteers, and 38 detachments across the county.
Recently crowned the UK’s ‘Top Performing ACF County’, they extol the virtues of horizon-broadening experiences for youngsters. And this Easter, Lancs ACF went international.
“It was the best experience I have ever had,” said Cadet Regimental Sargent Major Oliver Pallister of the excursion. “Not only the tasks we were given, but I now have friends in Barbados that I will keep for life.”
A spokesperson for the trip added: “We were welcomed by the staff and cadets of the Barbados Cadet Force - what a great and hospitable group of people they have proved to be. Cadets and staff [had] an amazing time on the island.”
While the aim of the trip was adventure, exchange of culture and best practice, and - naturally - a bit of fun, the cadets weren’t in one of the world’s most idyllic holiday destinations for a spot of rest and relaxation.
Their packed schedule incorporated everything from training programmes and military exercises to community initiatives and testing physical endeavours, ensuring they came back having put in the hard yards for which the army is famous.
As well as spending time on the shooting range with the Heckler & Koch MP5, cadets also took part in SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) training at Her Majesty’s Barbados Ship Pelican with the Barbados Coast Guard and undertook assorted teamwork exercises, including being dropped in the ocean half a mile away from shore.
From repelling down an ancient lighthouse and orienteering around the 1,102-ft Mount Hillaby in St Andrew, an unspoiled area in the north-west of the island, cadets also completed the fieldcraft, navigation, and water crossing elements of their course. Four cadets also achieved their Duke of Edinburgh Gold residential by undertaking a community project at the local Geriatric Hospital in Bridgetown, where they met a sprightly 105-year-old, the island nation’s oldest resident.
“The visit to the hospital was completely different to what I am used to in the UK,” said Staff Sergeant Zoe Hampson. “It was amazing to have conversations with residents who could remember Barbados for the past 100 years.” Lance Corporal Hallet simply said it was “The best thing I have ever done.”
Also taking part in some more classically Barbadian endeavours, the cadets swam with sea turtles and stingrays whilst snorkelling in Carlisle Bay, spent a night sleeping alongside green monkeys on the beach under star-heavy skies, and enjoyed a tour of the island’s parliament.
With Lancs ACF hoping to be joined by a group of Bajan cadets on their annual camp at Wathgill, North Yorkshire in 2020 in return for their Caribbean escapades, Major Joanne Eccles called the trip “a pleasure” and said it “provided our cadets opportunities that they would never experience”.
And it’s that mantra which has earned Lancs ACF the well-deserved title as the country’s very best.
Neil Jurd, Commandant of Lancs ACF, said: “We can all be very proud of [being named Top Performing ACF County in the UK]. We have a great team [and] our cadets, adults, and RFCA support staff have worked so hard to make sure that being a cadet in Lancashire is the best possible experience.
“We’re going to keep working at to make sure we keep improving,” he added, neatly encapsulating the ethos of the group. “Well done to everyone.”