Channel 5 documentary ‘Raw Recruits’ documents the lives of Junior Soldiers as they pass through Phase 1 training at Army Foundation College Harrogate, the British Army’s only Junior Entry Phase 1 training. The Army Foundation College offers a mix of military training, personal development, and education for under 19s that provides them skills to succeed in the Armed Forces, and their lives beyond the military.
11 February 2019
In the first episode, the rookie recruits arrive from all over the UK to start the course and cut the cord with mum and dad – the biggest decision of their life.
In the girls section Junior Soldiers Vyse and Johnson grapple with the reality of not seeing their parents for 6 weeks. While the unruly boys section is in trouble already as Corporal Early discovers an illicit cigarette butt during their first room inspection and threatens to punish them.
Some face medical discharge that shatter their dreams while others struggle with handling weapons for the first time.
The recruits are expected to be up, showered and on parade by 6am every morning. They won’t have a day off for 6 weeks – as they are cut off from family, friends and gadgets.
Forty-three 16 and 17 year olds start the course, but how many will finish?
The 16 and 17 year old junior soldiers of 7 Platoon have been at the Army Foundation College (AFC) Harrogate for three weeks. Their first six weeks are the toughest; and the ‘shock of capture’ and the military regime means almost everyone feels homesick and there are tearful phone calls home. While some are already proving to be natural soldiers, others are struggling but they must all pass their first live exercise firing a weapon.
Allegations of bullying means one junior soldier faces being kicked out for bad behaviour, while another tearful recruit wants to leave. As the stakes rise and the training becomes even tougher, the junior soldiers embark on their second, overnight exercise which pushes their resilience to the limit. Learning to march is one of the most essential skills. If they fail today’s Drill Test, in front of the Major, they won’t be allowed home to see their families at the end of first term.
6 weeks ago, 43 teenagers arrived at Army Foundation College Harrogate. The discipline of army life has been a baptism of fire. But the regime is already transforming the teen recruits into young men and women. The mental and physical pressure of army life intensifies as the recruits are sent deep underground to train in dark, wet and tight caves.
Accusations of bullying and bad behaviour in the boys section pushes one junior solider to breaking point. After an emotional phone-call home, his behaviour is under review by Harrogate’s ‘top brass’ and he must fight for his future in the army.
After 6 gruelling weeks the Junior Soldiers of 7 Platoon finally get to see their families. But after a week back at home, Junior Soldier Fishwick is torn between her Army career and staying with her family.
A key part of the soldiers training is to understand the realities of war and 7 Platoon head to Normandy, France to visit the graves of the 4,000 Allied soldiers buried at the Bayeux Cemetery. This emotionally charged experience leads some to confirm their commitment to serving their country, while others question their future…
To graduate from the Army Training College, Harrogate, junior soldiers need to be fit, disciplined and trained to kill. To teach law-abiding teenagers to be capable of killing, they are pushed to their limit. Every facet of their body and mind is tested.
For the first time the recruits fire live ammunition and are pushed way beyond their comfort zone to use a bayonette in a one to one combat exercise. If they don’t make the grade, they won’t graduate.
Junior Soldier Turner has been on a rollercoaster of ill-discipline since he began training. He’s caught smoking in the bathroom and punished by the Major. Meanwhile, Junior Soldier Fishwick has been segregated from 7 Platoon. She’s in the specialist rehabilitation for injured soldiers and is struggling without her friends.
Failure in fitness tests means junior soldiers can be forced to leave the army. Today, they do a four mile tab with boots, a full 15 kilogram kit and a rifle – in the hardest physical test to date.
And a surprise compulsory drugs test means just one mistake from any of 7 Platoon and their future in the army is in doubt.
The 16 and 17 year old soldiers of 7 Platoon survive outdoors for a fortnight of tactical exercises in the wilderness of Otterburn for their final stage of training. They have to ambush an enemy patrol during their first night time mission and complete a gruelling 6 mile TAB – the results of which will determine their entire military future. Those who don’t won’t be allowed onto the main army.
Junior Soldier Fishwick is confined to barracks with an injury and it’s put her future in doubt. With graduation only a few weeks away, the head of the college has a difficult decision to make; let her graduate, or make her start all over again.
Junior Solider Turner has been caught and punished for a string of offenses in the last 5 months. He narrowly avoids expulsion and is given a lifeline of repeating the first 6 weeks of training, to show he’s learnt the error of his ways. But an accusation of drug-taking means he faces immediate dismissal and is tested to prove his innocence or guilt.
For the rest of 7 Platoon it’s the final celebration of 6 months of hard graft as graduation day arrives. 1,000 soldiers and an audience of 5,000 proud parents make it the largest military parade after Trooping of the Colour.
The junior solider say goodbye to Harrogate and their friends as they begin a new life in their chosen regiment of the main army.
The junior soldiers of 7 Platoon are now privates in the British Army and dispersed across the length and breadth of the country to join their chosen regiments. Now, they must learn new skills and get to grips with their jobs. From bridge building and demolition with the Royal Engineers, saving lives at the Royal Army Medical Corps and battlefield communications with the Royal Signals life in the main army is a shock to their system.
The young recruits relish the freedom to go out, spend money and see their friends– but to progress to the next stage in their course, they must pass today’s test.
Not everyone has left Harrogate. Three of 7 Platoon are still stuck at back at ‘Square 1’. Junior Solider Johnson failed her gruelling 6 mile TAB and must stay behind until she passes it. It’s her 6th attempt. Failure today and she could be discharged. And Junior Soldier Connor Turner tests positive for drug taking whilst on leave. He’s called in front of the Colonel to fight for his career.
Now, the head of the college must make a decision on his future.
How to make a bed
Where is AFC Harrogate?
Penny Pot Lane, Harrogate, HG3 2RU
Army Foundation College - Harrogate
The Army Foundation College (AFC) is in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and trains young people to become Junior Soldiers for the various Corps and Regiments of the British Army.