Reserves

How The Army Trains Sappers To Build Bridges

The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers have served the crown since 1539 and have been on their bridging camp in Dorset

Reservists from the Midlands, Channel Islands and south Wales have been gathering on a Dorset beach to learn the art of bridge-building.

The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers are the only remaining militia in the ranks (and are the only British Army unit to use the word 'royal' twice in their name) with a service record dating back centuries, and have been working on a crossing fit for a modern battlefield after a week on the ranges.

At Weymouth's Wyke Regis Training Area, sappers are taking an 18-mile shingle spit to construct a Medium Girder Bridge (MGB) – going through the same motions they would use in warfare to help cross a broken road.

Sapper Tommy Richardson, Jersey Field Squadron (Militia), is a private jet pilot by trade and a former Regular service member.

"We basically have a commander for left, right and centre of bridge," he said.

"In a battlefield scenario - you can see, we have a gap which is simulating a break in the road.

"There'll be a battlegroup behind us, and if they need to bridge that gap, we'll be there to bridge that gap to get the vehicles over to continue for the mission."

Each metal box forming part of the bridge weighs almost 200 kilograms and must be lifted to slot into one another.

Paletised metal boxes make up the bridge, slotting into one another one-by-one, four reservists sharing nearly 200 kg of weight.

In addition to constructing the double-storey MGB, some troops also learn how to build a much smaller crossing, which would be used to traverse a river.

"As we go along we just crack it all together and hopefully do it as quickly as possible in the field, but here... we’re trying to do it slow-time, as safely as possible and get people through the courses with all passes," adds Spr Richardson.

Also taking part in the training by Chesil Beach is professional axe-throwing coach Sapper Lottie Phillips-Davies, 100 Field Squadron (Militia).

As the task edged toward completion, she explained how the reserves have bridged the gap between the action of her day job and practical military experience.

Having been a cadet, activities like this have reignited her passion for the forces, now "almost certain" she will join up in 2021 full-time after "testing the waters".

"I've always loved being outdoors," she said.

"You've got to remind yourself that this is actually a job and you get paid for it."