"Brecon Brenda"

An afternoon with Rowallan Company , J uly 1995

The written instructions were to meet at Grid Ref 060096 at 1300 hours on 25th July having taken lunch before arrival. Careful examination of the map suggested that this might be the station car park of the Brecon Mountain Railway and Audrey and I turned up there at 1200 hours to find our chairman Andrew White and Bill Shaw already eating lunch in the station restaurant. It was a very hot sunny day but the station restaurant was comfortal)Jy cool. After a light meal we returned to the car park where we found that Ken Briggs, Viv Harris and John Pinnock had also arrived.

Punctually at 1300 hours a white minibus rolled up driven by CSM Jack Lemmon accompanied by Major Graham Gibbs, OC Rowallan Company, who gave us a very warm welcome. We then all climbed into the minibus to be driven to a nearby quarry where the Company was engaged in a number of section command tasks which we were to observe.

While we consumed a cup of tea Graham Gibbs told us about the Course which was now in the 8th week and Brecon Brenda was the final exercise after which the DS would decide which of the cadets would proceed to the Commissioning Course. Already 14 of the original members had failed to survive the rigours of the course leaving 27 cadets most of whom were expected to pass out (one way or the other). Graham explained that if some of the cadets were looking rather tired, this was because they had been up woken up the previous night after only about one hour's sleep and had then traversed the Brecon Beacon range in the dark to pick up their rations for the next day. One section had failed to arrive in the allotted time and had forfeited their rations as a result. The DS would have preferred less clement weather for this exercise to make life less comfortable for the cadets, and the contrast with the same exercise in February, when they had wind, rain, and snow, was quite marked.

We then re-embarked in the minibus and were driven to a vertical quarry face up which one of the sections was about to haul a wounded comrade (looking suspiciously like a log of wood) on a stretcher. A section leader had been appointed and had worked out a written plan of action which he then put into practice. Two of the cadets abseiled down the cliff using safety belts and modern abseiling gear and after securing the stretcher to the ropes were hauled back up again by the remaining 5 members of the section. This all took about 30 minutes and we then listened in to the debriefing. It seemed to me that it might have been better to have had more of the section manoevering the stretcher which was clearly very difficult on the near vertical cliff face, but the DS seemed satisfied with the performance of the section leader. It was pointed out that stringent safety precautions had to be adhered to, and the two cadets on the cliff face were also protected by safety ropes secured by other cadets at the top.

At about 3.30 we returned to our cars via the minibus and then drove in convoy up into the hills to an afforested region having some fine views of the Brecon Beacons on the way. The site of the final exercise was a beautiful rocky stream interspersed with waterfalls up which the 2 platoons were to race each carrying a 12 foot log. We observed the race from the track at the side of the stream but the cadets, and most of the DS shouting encouragement, went up the stream itself through quite deep pools and up at least two waterfalls. The first half of the race finished at the foot of a towering waterfall which was clearly impassable, and after a short breather the race went on up another stream and then up a very steep track finally finishing at the car park where the Company transport and our cars were assembled. Some of the HFTCA contingent including the Chairman followed the race all the way up the track on foot arriving somewhat out of breath and considerably later than the cadets and the remainder of the party who had come up by Jeep.

Everyone then fell out and we were able to chat to the cadets who were very interested to hear about the HFTC and to compare experiences with us. Considering what they had just been through they were all very bright although a lot of them were limping and clearly had sore and bruised limbs after the race. The DS told us that the following day they were to climb the Beacons, but the cadets did not yet know that. We would have liked to spend more time with them, but at 5 pm the order came to fall in and they embarked in their trucks and drove off to bivouac somewhere for the night. Graham Gibbs expressed his appreciation for our coming to take part in the exercise and to help foster the link with Rowallan Company and the Chairman replied on behalf of the HFTCA pointing out that our real test - finding our way back - was just about to commence.

Altogether it had been a most enjoyable and rewarding HFTCA/Rowallan Company occasion.

John Harry

The HFTCA members and two guests
Viv Harris (9), Ken Briggs (6), Andrew White (6), John Pinnock (6), John Harry (9) and Bill Shaw (1)
Major Graham Gibbs, OC Rowallan Company
The section leader issues his orders
Sorting out the equipment
Hauling a wounded comrade up a vertical cliff face
Two sections race up a series of waterfalls carrying 12 ft. logs
Up she goes
"Bash on regardless"
The second section
"How do we get up this one?"
On to the final stage