Royal Marines Commando School

The newest documentary from Channel 4 follows Royal Marine Commando recruits as they go through hell to get their Green Berets

Ever since I was a child I knew I never wanted to go into the armed forces. To me as an outsider it looked like a lot of exercise, excessive shouting, an obsessive attention to detail and shared accommodation. Channel 4’s new documentary, Royal Marines Commando School, has done nothing to alter my perception; in fact it has enforced everything I thought and then some. From the team that bought us Educating Essex/Yorkshire this six part series follows recruits as they strive to earn the coveted Green Beret. Rather than follow one set of recruits for the duration we follow a different set through each stage of training, as week by week things get tougher, more demanding and a lot more emotional.

The first week covered new recruits, and some may have been amazed at small details we found out about life in barracks. All new recruits have to sleep naked, no socks or boxers allowed. Why? To be honest it was never adequately explained, but no one seemed to bat an eyelid. Their lockers have to be as neat and clean as a shelf in a department store, and their combats have to be spotless at all times. The fact that some recruits had no idea how to fold a shirt or use an iron may not have come as a massive shock, but when they had to be shown exactly how to clean their private parts, you did have to wonder about their pre enlistment hygiene!

Now we are half way through and the training is really hotting up. Amazingly a lot of the recruits still can’t fold their shirts, clean their weapons or make a bed, but I have confidence that they’ll have this cracked before they finish. This episode centred around the midway test on the camps infamous Bottom Field assault course. Involving everything I would fail miserably at (rope climbing, scaling walls and crawling through mud) this is the part that really separates the men from the boys. Fail at this point and you go back four weeks, join a new group of trainees and do it all again.

Trainee Dilliway was the focus of the episode. A fat kid at school, his dad was in the navy and he had always wanted to enlist. He discovered the gym, bulked up and signed on, but boy was he struggling. He couldn’t get over the wall, kept falling off the rope and couldn’t run for 100 yards with a man on his back without collapsing in a heap. It was easy to see this as something to laugh at, but when he received his second warning and retreated to his barrack, crouching on the floor crying, it put everything these guys are doing into perspective. “I’m trying so f***** hard” he wept as a colleague tried to console him. This isn’t just a job to these guys; it’s a vocation, where failure is not an option.

With each episode we start to see exactly why the trainers shout at them, humiliate them and come down so hard on them. These young men are training to go into war zones where every decision they make could have fatal consequences. They are being trained so their first thought is the right one, so that their kit is all in exactly the same place every time so when hostilities start everything is second nature to them. It’s tough, brutal, demanding and draining but you can already tell that when these guys reach the end they will be better men than when they started.

Royal Marines Commando School is the kind of documentary that restores your faith in TV’s ability to be able to educate and entertain. It may not be a world that you want to be a part of but it’s a fascinating one, and we should all be very grateful that there are young men who want to go through the hell of training in order to get that elusive Green Beret so that they can protect civilians in war zones around the world.

P.S. Dillaway got there in the end!

Duncan Stripp

Updated: Aug 08, 2014

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