Gibraltar Leg

Major A Dunlop OC Support Company

On the 9 August 2015 the Welsh Guards returned to Gibraltar to conduct a weeks offshore sailing and run a marathon around and up the rock to celebrate 100 years of Welsh Guards history.

The sailing was led by Yacht Master Captain Figgures-Wilson, who taught nine novices from the Battalion the skills required to operate as part of a crew onboard a yacht.

In addition to the adventure training activities the crew undertook what has been one of the toughest marathons completed in all of the WG100 events.

April 1939, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards deploying to Gibraltar.

This was the third time in 100 years of Welsh Guards history that members of the Regiment visited Gibraltar.

The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards had been posted to Gibraltar in April 1939 and spent eight months under the Gibraltar Command before sailing to France in November 1939 to join the War effort. They spent their time in Gibraltar on the ranges, building up defences and sunbathing on the two beaches available.

Number Three Company then returned to Gibraltar in 2005 to provide replacements for the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, whilst they were on exercise on Jebel Sahara in Morocco. The company took part in several activities which included the ceremonial guard mount at the Convent, an exercise inside the World War Two Tunnels and a variety of adventurous training exercises .

Guardsman Adams from Number Three Company on exercise clearing World War Two Tunnels, 2005

On this occasion it was Support Company who had the honour of returning to Gibraltar for WG100. The aim was two fold, firstly to conduct a physical challenge in the form of a marathon to commemorate the efforts of the brave soldiers from the 1st Battalion that deployed from Gibraltar into the Second World War and secondly to grow the interest of sailing across the Battalion.

Being August we were blessed with fantastic weather, which made it that much easier to encourage the novice members to throw themselves into the training. They developed the necessary skills required quickly and had the opportunity to experience varying conditions over the week.

The crew used an Elan 37ft Yacht called ‘Pickle’. She is an eight berth yacht that is built for speed, with a fairly comfortable cabin. Her berth is in the Joint Physical Development Unit’s harbour. This unit provides an array of water based activities primarily to the services on Gibraltar, but also accommodate adventure training expeditions from the wider British Forces. They are manned by tri-service instructors that serve under Commander British Forces, Gibraltar.

At first the boys just seemed happy to be out of their Tunics and not too fussed about sailing, especially Lance Corporal Smith who was extremely quiet on the first and quite nervous moving around on the Yacht. All 6ft 7ins and 16+ stone of him definitely seemed more at home in the line out for the rugby team than on a boat swaying back and forth. After throwing up and taking some sea sickness tablets he soon started to enjoy himself and joined in with the rest.

The weather and water conditions around Gibraltar make for an ideal training ground for novice sailors. The rock itself creates a wind break on the western side which allowed the crew to learn the ropes in fairly calm conditions. Around the southern tip and out of the bay the wind would pick up and the strait became choppier. This is a result of the Mediterranean colliding with the Atlantic. It made for some seriously challenging sailing for a novice crew and allowed them to push themselves and test what they had learnt throughout the week.

Support Company sailing South with Gibraltar in the background. Captain Figgures-Wilson, Guardsman Glasby, Lance Sergeant Griffiths 04, Captain Birrell, Major Dunlop, Lance Corporal Crowley, Guardsman Picton, Lance Corporal Smith.

By the end of the week the guys had developed their sailing skills and in particular they loved ‘tacking’ and enjoyed it when Pickle started ‘heeling’. All wanted the bragging rights of being the most competent on the winch. They also enjoyed moving to the stern of ‘Pickle’ to watch the abundance of dolphins that would swim alongside Pickle on a daily basis.

During downtime from sailing and marathon preparation the crew had the opportunity to visit the World War Two tunnels, Commonwealth War graves and several museums and historical sites of importance to the British Forces. The education piece of the trip observed the historical importance of Gibraltar, rather than focusing on what Welsh Guards history as the 1st Battalion had such a short stay on the rock.

At the back of everyone’s mind during the first few days of sailing was the marathon on Thursday 13th August. We liaised with Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Arlow from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment for a reconnaissance of the route and confirmed the logistical support required. Due to the size of the Rock we were restricted to a lap based marathon. This meant we had to run the perimeter of the rock three and a half times before ascending to the top of the Rock.

Whilst on the confirmatory practice lap a few days before the run Captain Birrell and I seriously questioned our intention of finishing the marathon with a 3 mile climb from sea level to the top of the rock, which peaks at 1,398ft. This was because of the several hills throughout the perimeter laps that we would be climbing. However stubbornness prevailed and decided we would go with the plan.

This marathon was executed as a team effort with everyone finishing together. We started the marathon at 0400 to avoid the summer heat which can get up to 32°C by midday. The plan was to finish the three and a half laps by 0800 and then climb the 1,398ft up the rock over the remaining 3 miles. We were aiming for anything between four and five hours.

The first lap was completed in the early morning darkness with the street lights lining the route. Once the first lap was over the nerves started to settle and we started to enjoy the run. As the darkness faded and the sun came up we managed to enjoy the views across the strait to Spain and Morocco and looking up at the rock itself with all the tunnels and observation points.

We finished our last ½ lap at around 0820 and then began the ascent to the top. Everyone was extremely tired but in good spirits. Our support crew (made up of some family members on holiday) made sure we had the reserves to finish the marathon, by supplying us with plenty of energy boosting liquids and foods.

3 mile climb to the top of the Rock, 1,398ft.

The route to the top was an extremely steep zigzag road that weaved its way to the top. We intended to keep these last few miles above a walk, but in reality sections where so steep it prove quicker and more energy effective to power-walk. This was highlighted when Lance Corporal Crowley overtook those of us still jogging and said “come on guys…, just walk I am overtaking you”! As a precaution we took the opportunity to run across to the southern peak before heading to the higher northern peak just in case we were scrutinised for not going to the highest point. Some will argue it was merely a navigation error, but they would be wrong! We arrived at the finish line approximately at 0915 completing the marathon in just over five hours. All were suitable exhausted and enjoyed riding the cable car to the bottom.

Marathon runners at the top of the Rock. Commanding Officer, Guardsman Picton and Glasby, Lance Corporal Smith, Major Dunlop, Captains Figgures-Wilson and Birrell, Lance Sergeant Griffiths, Lance Corporal Crowley, Regimental Sergeant Major.

Overall the WG100 visit to Gibraltar was a huge success. Those that took part completed a marathon, learnt a new skill and have all expressed an interest in completing the Competent Crew sailing course.

Click to read the Gibraltar Chronicle article.