Inside the army’s jungle school where Portsmouth soldiers learn to survive

Major Sean Caine, the officer commanding the British Army Training Support Unit Belize, teaches the troops methods of lighting fire without the aid of a lighter or matches inside their jungle classroom. All pictures: Corporal Jamie Peters RLC
Major Sean Caine, the officer commanding the British Army Training Support Unit Belize, teaches the troops methods of lighting fire without the aid of a lighter or matches inside their jungle classroom. All pictures: Corporal Jamie Peters RLC
The new commanding officer of HMS Collingwood, Captain Rob Vitali. Picture: Keith Woodland/MoD

New captain vows to make base greener

  • Infantry soldiers from Portsmouth are learning how to fight and survive in the jungle
  • The News has joined the troops as they learn about jungle survival and warfare
  • They will then be sent out to survive for 48 hours using their new skills
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Infantry soldiers from across the area have been training to fight and survive in one of the world’s toughest environments – the jungle. Defence correspondent SAM BANNISTER joined the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment on exercise in Belize.

Now these are the laws of the jungle, and many and mighty are they...

The soldiers tasting the freshest coconut straight from the tree as part of the survival training

The soldiers tasting the freshest coconut straight from the tree as part of the survival training

So goes the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling and for the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (2PWRR) it is a truth worth remembering.

Around 120 infantrymen, including many from the Portsmouth area, are learning to fight and survive in the jungle of Belize.

The training is aimed at making them better soldiers by putting them through their paces in one of the most hostile environments in the world.

The heat is intense and the hazards are numerous but jungle warfare instructors are on hand to teach the infantrymen how to deal with every challenge.

The jungle can hurt you, and kill you, and take your control of the situation and environment away

Major Sean Caine

And according to one of the officers in charge of the training, the jungle can often lead to some surprises.

Major Sean Caine, 49, is the officer commanding the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (Batsub).

He says: ‘Generally what you see is that it’s not always the stronger characters who shine out here in the jungle.

‘Somebody here will be an absolute natural at this but it won’t necessarily be the stronger characters.

One of the jungle instructors cuts open a fresh coconut

One of the jungle instructors cuts open a fresh coconut

‘The stronger characters are used to being in control.

‘But the jungle can hurt you, and kill you, and take your control of the situation and environment away.’

And Maj Caine is not exaggerating.

From deadly snakes to falling trees, the discomforting heat and potential for dehydration, the risks are everywhere.

'Don't stand 10ft away from it and expect it to light!' Major Sean Caine shows the soldiers how not to light a fire using fire steel. 'You need to be up close and striking the steel directly into the wood shavings,' he says.

'Don't stand 10ft away from it and expect it to light!' Major Sean Caine shows the soldiers how not to light a fire using fire steel. 'You need to be up close and striking the steel directly into the wood shavings,' he says.

So it is vital the soldiers are fully prepared for their time in the jungle – because once their training is complete they are being sent out into the jungle to survive in small groups for 48 hours.

‘It will be a real test of what they have learned,’ adds Maj Caine.

‘Not just because we’ve been telling them about all the creepy crawlies that can scare them – or kill them.

‘Jungle training is really sought after because of how much it can teach you.

‘It is a really life-changing experience for most of the soldiers.’

The survival part of the soldiers’ jungle training is taught in a series of classrooms built among the trees, next to a giant rock formation which towers above.

Coconut husk fibres make good kindling for fire

Coconut husk fibres make good kindling for fire

Smoke hangs in the air from a series of fires which have been lit to demonstrate various ways of cooking food in the wilderness.

Benches made from pieces of wood and tree stumps are arranged in front of a number of stands which the jungle warfare instructors will use to teach different aspects of jungle survival.

It’s a cozy environment but it serves a serious purpose.

Here the soldiers will be taught how to hunt and kill animals for food, then how to safely skin, cook and eat them.

They are shown a dozen ways of lighting a fire – without the assistance of matches or a lighter – and how to build a shelter from the rain using trees and vines.

Dehydration can be fatal in the jungle, so finding water is one of the most important tasks and one of the first things the soldiers will need to do when out on their own.

Instructors teach the infantrymen how to use the tops of their shelters to catch water using certain types of leaves and how to find various vines and fruit which can provide sustenance.

Some vegetation can be chewed to provide an energy boost – earning it the nickname ‘jungle Gatorade’ – but eat the wrong plant and you might find yourself feeling less than energised or worse, seriously ill.

By the end of the lessons, the troops know how to build various different kinds of shelters, benches and cover for fires using only things from the environment around them.

Private Josh Deacon, 18, from North End, says: ‘I have really enjoyed the training, not just because it makes us better soldiers but because it is good life skills as well.

‘I joined the army when I was 16 and I had wanted to join since I was a kid.

‘This has been an amazing experience and things like this are the reason I joined.

‘It has been a real eye-opener.

‘Not many people get the chance to come to the jungle and learn about things like this.

‘Soon we will be going out and having to survive for 48 hours and I’m really looking forward to that.

‘We will be well prepared to deal with anything that might happen and it will be a good experience.’

The soldiers of 2PWRR are split into different groups which are each learning about a different aspect of jungle warfare – survival, live firing and tactics.

At the end of each section the troops rotate and move on to the next area.

The News is following soldiers as they make their way through the army’s jungle training programme – a vital experience to help them in their role as the battalion at high readiness to deploy in the Middle East and north Africa.

Sergeant Cowen, a Jungle Warfare Instructor from the Yorkshire Regiment, teaching the soldiers methods of gathering water using jungle materials

Sergeant Cowen, a Jungle Warfare Instructor from the Yorkshire Regiment, teaching the soldiers methods of gathering water using jungle materials

The News joined soldiers from the Portsmouth area in the jungle and will be running a series of special reports every day this week

The News joined soldiers from the Portsmouth area in the jungle and will be running a series of special reports every day this week