HMS Collingwood: First Civilian Recruits Since Second World War Pass Out This Month

Before completing the 10-week course, trainees have to carry out a two-day exercise, Hidden Dragon.

The first civilians training at HMS Collingwood since the Second World War are in the final weeks of their course before the first junior ratings pass out at the end of the month.

The decision to hold the training at Collingwood is in response to a surge in demand to join the Navy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HMS Raleigh, the regular establishment used to turn civilians into sailors, was already at maximum capacity to meet the demands of the growing Navy over the next few years.

The course is designed on the training delivered at HMS Raleigh – the home of initial training for nearly 50 years.

About 500 junior ratings are expected to pass out of the Fareham base this year.

The first group of 11 trainees are three-quarters of the way through their 10-week transformation into military personnel.

At this stage of the training, recruits are taken into the field to build up leadership skills and instill the trainees with the ability to work as a team.

The trainees had to complete a two-day exercise, Hidden Dragon, which took place in Erlestoke on the northern edge of Salisbury Plain.

The first day was devoted to the basics of living in the field – cooking ration packs, sleeping on the floor of a barn with no running water, gas or electricity, navigating through woods and farmland in all weathers, carrying a heavy backpack for 25km with no GPS or phones to help pinpoint their position.

Two female recruits check their position in the middle of a field near Erlestoke (Picture: Royal Navy).

"This is new to Collingwood, but it's going smoothly and the recruits are doing well," said Chief Petty Officer AJ Smith, a caterer by trade, but now part of the new training regime.

He added they are "getting positive feedback from the trainees".

"The recruits have come from all over the country, from different backgrounds, they're different ages and they have to gel.

"There’s no relying on mum here. You're relying on your shipmates, people you only met a few weeks ago."

Seventeen-year-old trainee weapon engineer Luke Gaskin from Darlington said: "The staff have been great – they are really supportive and bring out the best in you.

"In fact, I can feel myself changing by the day, getting better and better, becoming a better person. I couldn't be more grateful.

Before completing the 10-week course, trainees have to carry out a two-day exercise, Hidden Dragon (Picture: Royal Navy).

"I came in blind – I did some research, but this is my first time away from home.

"I found it quite hard to adapt to a military bearing. It's been tough – but I've enjoyed it.

"I made amazing friends here, people who will be mates for life," he added.

Jasmine Savage from Canterbury is training to become a Naval Nurse and said although it may not be a "natural" environment for a nurse, "I love it".

"This is what I expected from training – experiences you cannot get in civilian life.

"The training is hard, but you get through it. You bond as a team and you really get to know yourself and what pushes your buttons."

Ms Savage and Mr Gaskin, along with their nine shipmates in Perkins Division are hoping to pass out from Collingwood at the end of April.

If successful, they will move on to study in their specialist branches such as weapons engineers, warfare experts or logisticians.