Any soldier who has deployed to Cenzub – the biggest urban warfare training camp in Europe – will probably feel a bit deflated on arrival at northern England’s answer to the French complex.
Whinny Hill takes the form of some tired old Service accommodation on a blustery hillside in Catterick Garrison.
But looks can be deceiving, and behind this humble frontage is a facility that, in fact, personnel are queuing up to use.
“Anybody can train here,” explains retired warrant officer Pete Rigby (ex-Rifles), the man charged with the day-to-day running of the complex.
“Soldiers love to work here. If they could, they would use it every single day of the year.”
The centre, which has been around since the 1980s, features various structures on which soldiers can hone their skills and drills when it comes to operating in built-up areas – fighting houses, patrol bases, high-rise buildings, wire obstacles, an underground tunnel system and CCTV network, to name a few.
And as if to prove the point about how in-demand it is, Rigby breaks off from his Soldier interview to take a tense-sounding booking enquiry.
“Yep, yep I understand that mate, but if he’s pulling the ops card he needs to speak to someone higher up than me.”
He hangs up. Soldiers are fighting – literally it seems – to get inside this place.
Lucky then, that the 12-acre site is owned by Catterick Training Area and, as such, its facilities are available to any team that thinks it could benefit, from phase one recruits keen to get their first taste of urban fighting to specialist users, the emergency services and even foreign forces.
At any one time, Whinny Hill could have several units working on anything from public order training serials to obstacle courses. And the thing that sets this site apart is that, unlike the Cenzubs of this world, it is not purpose-built.
This might present Rigby and his colleagues with some obvious challenges when it comes to maintaining buildings that clearly weren’t designed to have squaddies hammering them on an almost-daily basis.
But it does add a greater sense of realism to packages that are staged there. After all, urban operations of the future will not happen in purpose-built sites; they will be fought in areas that have been lived in, adapted and weathered – areas rather similar to Whinny Hill.
“If we go to war tomorrow, this is what you’d be looking at,” says Rigby as he guides us round the site, which even has a burnt-out T-34 tank from the Battle of Stalingrad amongst its outdoor furniture.
Read the April 2017 issue for the full story.