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‘In the jungle the dragon sleeps tonight’ – Welsh Guards in Jamaica

First you must learn to survive the environment before you can even think of confronting your enemy; is the founding principle of jungle warfare. Energy sapping heat and humidity, the ever-present risk of infection and perhaps the greatest fear of all getting lost combine to make the jungle the most uncompromising of theatres for conflict.

It is surely the most demanding test for any infantry soldier and so for the jungles of Jamaica, it was a case of ‘I’m a Welsh Guardsman get me IN there’ as 106 soldiers of No. 2 Company of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards arrived in Kingston, Jamaica to take part in Exercise Red Stripe.

After a lay-off of some 15 years Exercise Red Stripe, which like the famous Jamaican beer takes its name from the red stripes on the trousers worn by the island’s police, has been resurrected. The exercise is set to further invigorate UK/Jamaican Defence co-operation; Exercise Red Stripe is a reciprocal exercise and as such 70 soldiers from the Jamaican Defence Force (JDF) will travel to the UK later in the year and, once again, team up with the Welsh Guards but this time experience life in the British Army and continue the training programme, albeit in a very different setting.

I am incredibly privileged to be able to come out here and conduct a jungle training exercise here in Jamaica They don’t come around very often, so for No.2 Company it is an incredible highlight for us. Training alongside the Jamaican Defence Force, we have been able to learn from each other and foster a great relationship Major Gambarini,
1st Battalion Welsh Guards

The exercise chimes with the Future Soldier programme evidenced in the words of the Commander Field Army, Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse CBE MC when he said, “Future Soldier is fundamentally about ensuring the British Army is a competitive and resilient organisation able to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, wherever they may be.” Ex Red Stripe is but one of several specialist overseas training exercises testing British soldiers that goes a long way to answer that requirement; to take the fight to the enemy – wherever they maybe.

The Welsh Guards were based at the JDF’s Titchfield Camp in Port Antonio in the north-east of the Caribbean Island. The camp forms part of the shell of what was once a magnificently opulent hotel, destroyed by fire in 1905. it played host to a multitude of stars from Hollywood’s golden inter-war years and at one point was owned by the legendary swashbuckler, Errol Flynn.

From their Port Antonio base the Welsh Guards pushed up into the close country tropical environment that are the jungles in the foothills of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. Although famed for the wonderful coffee these mountains produce, they are lesser known for the sheer volume of rain they create as warm moist air barrels in across the Caribbean and is then forced up creating daily tropical downpours. Whilst jungle training the soldiers were perpetually drenched, often through sweat or wading their way through river systems, but more-often-than-not it was from the daily deluge they received from the clouds above.

The Officer Commanding No.2 Company, Major Gambarini set in train three main objectives to be achieved through the course of Ex Red Stripe. The first being to complete an arduous jungle training exercise, second to increase interoperability and defence relations between Jamaican and UK forces and third, to provide a career highlight for the young Guardsmen by giving them a wholly different training experience as well as a cultural eye opener to an unfamiliar location.

Speaking of the exercise he said, “I am incredibly privileged to be able to come out here and conduct a jungle training exercise here in Jamaica. They don’t come around very often, so for No.2 Company it is an incredible highlight for us. Training alongside the Jamaican Defence Force, we have been able to learn from each other and foster a great relationship. This is a particularly young infantry company with many new arrivals, so Red Stripe has presented a gilt-edged opportunity for them to bond and nurture the ethos that underpins all we seek to achieve.”   

The troops will be lifted off the ground back to Titchfield Camp to conduct two community engagement projects in Port Antonio. We will be repainting and refurbishing a cricket pavilion which has suffered after two years of disrepair through Covid. We’ll also detach a team to go and renovate the war memorial in the town square Lieutenant Brown,
1st Battalion Welsh Guards

The introduction to the jungle proved testing for the troops; Jungle Warfare Instructors (JWIs), some from the Welsh Guards who qualified having completed the Jungle Warfare Instructor’s Cadre held in Brunei, explained survival techniques: The construction and setting of traps for food, then how to prepare and cook the resulting prey. The importance of the need to source potable water, whether that be from making rain collecting devices from banana leaves, adapting polythene bags to harness condensation from the humid air, or simply by knowing which vines bear water suitable to drink.

Of course, if you need to boil that water, you’re going to have to be able to make fire. Using a flint and steel the JWI demonstrated several flammable substances a spark will ignite, cotton wool, wood shavings and wire wool. Then there were combustibles to entice that ignition along: the fluid from luminescent light sticks, Vaseline and even raw rubber tapped from surrounding trees. Soon the JWI had the makings of a warming, protecting and food preparing campfire crackling away.

As previously mentioned, getting lost in the jungle is a very scary thought as well as a very real threat. In there you can’t see further than a matter of a few metres and that’s in daylight! no landscape or contours to orientate yourself, patchy GPS signal through the upper canopy all combine to make jungle navigation seemingly impenetrable. It requires patience, determination and above all sheer discipline to stay on course. Self-belief in the accuracy of your compass bearing coupled with a methodical recording of pace, yes that’s calling out every step taken often whilst trying to keep a foothold in the cloying mud, so to record distance slogged are all the means on hand to get you to your destination. 

The troops spent 17 days in the jungle where they completed several packages that included live firing tactical training, close target reconnaissance with platoon level camp attacks all leading up to an overnight long-term ambush against a defended enemy position.

Lieutenant Brown explained what the company could look forward to once End Ex had been called and the Guardsmen emerged from the jungle “the troops will be lifted off the ground back to Titchfield Camp to conduct two community engagement projects in Port Antonio. We will be repainting and refurbishing a cricket pavilion which has suffered after two years of disrepair through Covid. We’ll also detach a team to go and renovate the war memorial in the town square.”

With all the hard training behind them No.2 Company enjoyed a couple of thoroughly deserved days R & R (rest and recuperation) Jamaican style and that can really mean only one thing – a beach. The Welsh Guards’ enjoyed a  R & R package that included the opportunities to indulge in water sports, snorkelling, fishing and for many simply a chance to allow the warm waters of the Caribbean to wash away the grime and sooth aching feet from their days spent in the  ‘close country tropical environment’ (taken from the manual) and perhaps toast their jungle training success with a bottle of the beverage that carries that oh-so-familiar name….