Portsmouth journalist tells of his experience working as a reservist with the British Army

SOARING through the sky in an RAF helicopter on my first overseas exercise in Cyprus with the British Army reserves and one thought came to my mind: ‘I’d never be doing this back home.’

By Tom Cotterill
Sunday, 31st July 2022, 10:28 pm

It was almost on the one-year anniversary of passing out of basic training at Pirbright that I was now choppering into a four-day exercise in the searing Cypriot heat.

I was surrounded by other reservists from across Portsmouth, Southampton and London as part of 106 Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Our task: take control of the crumbling training village of Paramali in the arid foothills of the south of the island.

Gunner Tom Cotterill, a journalist with The News, pictured running from a helicopter on exercise with the army in Cyprus

After touching down, I was tasked with being point-man leading the rest of the regiment on a 6km march to the village.

The mission was a culmination of a two-week annual training camp, which tested our ability to shoot, apply first aid, control prisoners and carry out section attacks.

And it wasn’t long before we had to put our skills into practice as we entered the village.

My section, armed with the general purpose machine gun, was ordered to clamber up a hill dominating the village, and provide covering fire for the rest of the assaulting force.

Gunner Tom Cotterill, a journalist with The News, pictured during his basic training. Photo: Cpl Taylor

It was exhausting and sweaty work. Once the village was captured, it was into military routine - vastly different from my civilian career as a journalist.

If you weren’t manning guard points or out on patrol, you were keeping yourself ready - cleaning your rifle, eating and sleeping when you could.

The final morning was an all-out firefight against a large enemy force.

Screams and shouts mingled with loud bangs from practice grenades and blank-firing rifles. It was a thrilling and unforgettable experience.

British Army reservists from 106 Regiment, Royal Artillery, run from a helicopter in Cyprus during their annual training camp in May. Photo: Tom Cotterill

Back home in Portsmouth, and my work has always backed my reservist career.

When I told my editor in 2020 of my ambition, he seemed almost excited to help me where he could.

I now do 27 days a year with the army, with much of that being completed at weekends or in the evenings. My work gives me 10 days of extra leave to help cover my training two-week annual training camp, which really helps.