Piper Andrew wakes up the Dolomites!

Officer cadet Andrew Grimes
Picture credit - Kevin Janiak
Officer cadet Andrew Grimes Picture credit - Kevin Janiak

A trainee Scottish soldier from Sorbie has joined other reservists and regulars from around the country to train alongside Italian soldiers.

Hosted by the 8th Alpini Regiment, a mountain infantry corps based in and around the town of Gemona Del Friuli, nestled under the beautiful Dolomite mountain range, near Udine in the north of the country, the men from 6SCOTS were there to develop their skills to ‘CT2 (company level)’ which would mean that they could serve alongside the regular army anywhere in the world, and in any situation.

And amongst them was a 22-year-old officer cadet from Sorbie.

Andrew Grimes was asked along to be duty piper, and as such, he was making friends by playing reveille at 6am, providing stirring background tunes as the reservists attacked dummies with their bayonets, and supplying the music for a “hollow church” service held by the Battalion’s Padre, Stephen Blakey, from Duns in Berwickshire.

Andrew said: “I’ve been in the OTC [Officer Training Corps] for four years while I’ve been in university. I have just graduated with a Batchelor of Science in Forensic Biology.

“I will be looking to join 6SCOTS soon after this camp is done. This week has been really challenging, and quite interesting, as I have not been assigned to a platoon ... I have been shown different roles while I have been here.

“I have been working with disposal of pyrotechnics, and I have been out in the field, helping with the enemy, so it’s been quite interesting. Being shot at is a bit of a rush!”

In today’s changing army, in which regular soldier numbers are being cut, reservists are now beginning to fill the gaps – and as such, they are shaking off the Territorial Army “weekend warrior” tag which has dogged them for years. Now, trained to a relatively similar level and equipped with the same kit supplied to any regular soldier, they form a fair slice of the army cake,

While many 6SCOTS recruits end up joining the regular army, there is a good mix of youth and experience, as soldiers leaving the army often join the reservists to keep their eye in, as well as share their knowledge and skills with the young lads.

One of these is Colour Sergeant Gary Simpson, a 38-year-old from Berwick, who mans the recruitment office in Galashiels for two days a week.

He said: “I did nearly 18 years in the regular army, with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. When I got out, I just fancied a change, and my sergeant major said I should get into the reserves ... you still have the comradeship with the boys, you can still keep in touch with your friends and you get to travel to places like this.

“I’ve never been to Italy before ... it’s breathtaking scenery ... it’s great getting out into the world and seeing new places.

“There are a lot of opportunities within 6Scots for young lads joining up.”

Also bringing a wealth of experience to 6Scots is Warrant Officer 2 Mark ‘Sparky’ Hogarth from Eyemouth.

By day, he is a gravedigger for the council, but at weekends and for several weeks throughout the year, the 45-year-old, originally from Denholm, shares his 24 years of experience in his senior signals role in the battalion.

In 2004, Mark did an observational tour in Iraq, posted with the 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

He said: “I was running Y Company’s operations room in Al-Amārah city as commander for the six months I was out there. It was probably one of the roughest tours in Iraq at the time, as we were basically under contact for the whole six months.

“We were getting mortared daily, we were being shot at, there were rocket attacks, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], IEDs [improvised explosive devices], everything they could throw at us. In terms of the length of time we were there, it was a long six months ... but the days flew past as we were busy for eight hours every day.”

Asked how he felt about putting himself into that sort of situation as a volunteer, he said: “It feels good, because you are actually doing the job that you trained to do as a reservist.

“The changes in the army have been changes for the better. We are getting a lot more professional training and we are no longer weekend warriors – a lot of the boys in the reservists now have service or operational tours of service under their belts.”