'˜Being a reservist is a huge honour for me'

Sweat pours off the nose of Luke Barker as he sprints to the finish line, completing his last gruelling exercise of the night.

Friday, 26th August 2016, 6:00 am
Army reservists training on Southsea Common

By day the 29-year-old works at helicopter manufacturer Safran in Fareham.

But Luke has another side to him, one that he admits he is incredibly proud of – he is a reservist in the British Army.

Every Wednesday he attends a training night with 295 Battery of 106 (Yeomanry) Regiment Royal Artillery, based in Hilsea.

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DSC_0080 Army reserves Major Jed Cunningham, left, hands over the reins to Major Ash Morrell

Tonight Luke, alongside more than a dozen other part-time soldiers and wannabe reservists, were put through their paces on Southsea Common as part of their regular physical training session.

‘It’s been knackering,’ he says breathlessly as he hunches over and catches his breath.

Despite the punishing physical regime, Luke says it has never once deterred him from being in the military.

He has been a reservist since 2011 and joined 295 battery, based at the Army Reserve Centre in Peronne Road, when the squad opened in 2013.

Exercises on the common

During this time, he has learned to operate the sophisticated missile systems in the back of a 13.5-tonne Stormer fighting vehicle.

He is now qualified to drive the Stormer and says it’s one of the best jobs out there.

‘Joining the army is something I always thought I would do ever since I was a kid,’ says Luke.

‘I also wanted to go on to higher education but I thought that I would just join the army after that.

DSC_0080 Army reserves Major Jed Cunningham, left, hands over the reins to Major Ash Morrell

‘Before I knew it I was 24, I had a house, a fiancé and was thinking about starting my own family.

‘Life just seemed to get away from me. I began thinking that perhaps I was too old now to join the regulars.

‘But looking to the reserves gave me the opportunity to do the thing that I have always wanted to do.’

He initially joined the reserve battalion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment before moving to 295 Battery.

Exercises on the common

Since then Luke has honed many skills, from warfare to specialist communications.

He has been on live-fire training operations in Wales and tackled testing two-day escape and evasion exercises across the UK.

But he says one of the main benefits reserve life has given him is an improved relationship with his family.

‘This has helped me to really appreciate my family more,’ he adds.

‘You get to spend time away from them and really begin to miss them. Then, when you’re back, it makes you appreciate them even more.’

The battery is a specialist air defence sub-unit of the Royal Artillery and works closely alongside the 12th Regiment Royal Artillery, based in Thorney Island.

Major Jed Cunningham, 54, of Emsworth, was 295’s battery commander and played a crucial role in helping to form it.

He used his wealth of experience from his 31-year career in the regular army, which saw him deploying on operational tours to Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, to lay the foundations for 295.

He has now handed over the reins to the battery’s new commander, Major Ash Morrell.

Looking back on his time leading the Royal Artillery team, Maj Cunningham says: ‘I feel very proud to have helped lead these talented soldiers who have had so many adventures in the last two years.

‘The hardest thing to do was to grow the people. The infrastructure and facilities is easy. But the people are the main drive.

‘We were trying to start from scratch, with a small nucleus of ex-regulars.

‘But now we’ve really grown and are in a strong position.

‘It’s now about turning the recruits we have into soldiers – that’s going to be the job of Ash.’

Maj Morrell was there to watch the PT session on Southsea Common. It was his first night in charge of 295.

It’s a command that he is anxious to sink his teeth into and he is keen to see the battery grow in size.

‘I’m really excited,’ he says with a big grin on his face.

‘I’m going to relish the challenge.

‘Jed has done all the groundwork.

‘Now we need to see the reservists we have getting promoted. I want to see 
them going through the ranks.’

Gunner Kevin Rimington, 50, is one of the newest recruits of 295 and has recently completed his phase one training.

Kevin, who is head of the sixth form at St John’s College Portsmouth, has always had a passion for the military.

‘Years ago I tried to join the army in the early 80s but my job got phased out,’ he says.

‘So I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police as a counter-terrorism officer.’

He adds: ‘I’m really happy to be a reservist.

‘It’s like you’re part of a big club of people who just want to have a good laugh and get paid for it.’

Major Morrell is now keen for more people to join 295 Battery and is urging people to come down to the base and have a chat.

He adds: ‘It’s a job that’s truly like no other. You will get the chance to operate some of the coolest kit around and have the chance to train in other countries.’

For details on becoming a reservist with 295, see army.mod.uk