With the role of reservists soldiers becoming increasingly important in the British Army, defence correspondent TOM COTTERILL meets the men behind the area’s newest reserve infantry battalion.
Inside an innocuous-looking building in Cosham sits one of the nation’s newest military units.
The site, in Tudor Crescent, could easily be overlooked, nestled among ordinary rows of terraced houses.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the high wire fences and odd military vehicle dotted about the base’s quiet car park, it could be mistaken for an old school or community hall.
But as soon as you step through the doors, it’s clear that this is no ordinary building.
The first thing that greets those who enter is a large red sign, emblazoned with gold writing that reads: ‘Army Reserve Centre Portsmouth’.
This is the new home of C Company, 4 Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR) – Britain’s latest army infantry battalion.
What sets this 120-strong unit apart is that those who are part of C Company are all reservists, part-time soldiers who balance their civilian day jobs and family lives to serve their country.
‘My team is incredible,’ says a proud Captain Connor Bowdidge, the company’s officer commanding and a six-year reservist.
‘There’s no mould to them, that’s the beauty of it. For example, I have a soldier who is a genuine rocket scientist and he’s a private soldier who doesn’t want to commission.
‘I’ve also got a builder, a carpenter, a lawyer, a security guard, a chef.
‘They’re bringing all of their civilian skills to the army and that can only be a benefit.’
A large hall is the central focus of the barracks, with a number of doors on its perimeter leading to small offices, classrooms and even a bar.
Separated by a makeshift wall of billboard-sized adverts for the British Army, all stitched together, is a fully-equipped gym featuring free weights, rowing machines, pull-up bars and benches.
The base is still a work in progress with C Company working out how they can fit into it since their formation was announced a few weeks ago. But things are going well getting the squad settled in, Capt Bowdidge assures me during my visit.
While there, I’m given a tour of the building and witness a team of about 15 soldiers being introduced to their new home, which used to just house Army Cadets and a small number of medics from 243 Field Hospital – who only parade once every two weeks.
The men – most in green military fatigues – stand in neat rows inside the large, wooden-floored gymnasium as a gruff-looking soldier gives them a no-nonsense safety briefing.
For some, this is territory that isn’t unfamiliar; a number of the troops transferred over from A Company of 3PWRR based near Guildford, in Farnham.
But for others, it’s a new and exciting experience.
Second Lieutenant Ed Coleman is one of them. Aged just 22 and fresh out of the officer training, the young soldier is a platoon commander in charge of 24 soldiers and is eager to impress.
He has been undertaking his training, in one way or another, for about two years, first working at the officer training corps at the University of Southampton, before completing his commissioning course at Sandhurst last month.
Walking with an air of self-assured confidence, the Southsea student – who is completing a computer science degree – says being part of the army has always been an ambition.
‘I’m really excited to get stuck in,’ he says. ‘I haven’t been worried about anything yet.
‘The welcome I was given was perfect. I feel really positive about it all.’
The ambitious officer admits his time training with the army has been a major benefit to his student life and his work.
He has been working part-time at BAE Systems in Hilsea as a software designer and hopes to clinch a job at the defence firm after he graduates.
‘The skills I have learnt here go hand-in-hand with my civilian life,’ he adds. ‘They both compliment each other really well. That’s why I think being in the reserves is perfect.’
Capt Bowdidge admits some of his regular staff are stunned by the commitment of the reservists.
‘My regular staff here are constantly baffled by our reservists’ abilities to balance their work and family life with their military one,’ he says.
He adds: ‘The good thing about being a reservist is that we have opportunities. We have some minimum training requirements but actually often what you’ll find is that people join the reserves for their own personal reasons.
‘More often than not it’s because they want the reserves to compliment either their civilian job or they maybe don’t have a family and this is another type of family they can join
‘But it’s usually because they have got some spare time somewhere amongst all of those things I have just mentioned and just want to do something challenging and achieve something,’
The new squad is made up of 120 soldiers, split between Cosham and Southampton, with the bulk being based at Tudor Crescent.
Two platoons of about 30 soldiers will be based in Cosham, as well as a command unit of about a dozen.
One of the groups will be a rifle platoon while the other will specialise in anti-tank warfare, operating with the Javelin missile system.
Private Adrian Woolston, 27, of Portsmouth, is a carpenter and has been a reservist for three years.
Having transferred from A Company 3PWRR, he is now relieved to be working closer to home.
He adds: ‘Being a reservist is fun. It’s exciting and it’s challenging.
‘When you’re in the army it’s like you part of a brotherhood. I should have done this when I was younger.
‘If I knew how much I would enjoy it, I would 100 per cent have joined full-time.’
As part of a major shake-up of the British Army, the Ministry of Defence is striving to create a 30,000-strong reservist force.
It comes as the regular army looks to cut its numbers to 80,000 soldiers.
This means importance of a reservists is growing more important than ever before.
Their role varies – the men could be deployed to tackle natural disasters in the UK, to training troops of foreign armies, military deployments.
As well as this, Capt Bowdidge says there’s plenty of opportunity for travel.
‘There are opportunities to go to Africa, the Middle East, Cyprus, Canada, America – and Scotland,’ he says.
The men of C Company last week held an open day for the community to find out more about them.
Some 50 people attending the evening event at the base.
They are now looking forward to joining this weekend’s Remembrance commemorations in Portsmouth and will be taking part in the Portchester 10k remembrance run on Saturday.
To find out more about being a reservist, see army.mod.uk