The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award not only provides a widely respected qualification: it is also a fantastic gateway to new experiences and adventure. It helps young people develop important skills and qualities including leadership, teamwork, discipline, confidence and courage; some of the many reasons why it has become such an important part of the ACF’s activities. Four cadets from Cambridgeshire have just returned from their four day DofE expedition to Dartmoor, which has helped them to develop all of these qualities, and more besides.
Cdt Sgt King (left) and Cdt Cpl Percival. Picture: Doug Stuart
Staff Cdt CSM Ryan Dunthorne, 18, (Whittlesey), Cdt Sgt Ollie King, 17, (Chatteris), Cdt Cpl William Percival, 17, (Chatteris), and Cdt Sgt Erin Williams, 17, (Cambourne), joined cadets from many other counties at the Okehampton Army Training Camp, Dartmoor, where they planned their expedition with the support of the DofE Assessment Team. This involved familiarising themselves with the maps, route and location of the camping areas as well as how to collect water, which would be provided for them.
Staff Cadet CSM Dunthorne (lying at the front) with his expedition group. Picture: DofE Assessment Team.
The cadets present were all veterans of previous expeditions and were working towards their Gold DofE qualification. The three male cadets had already completed the obligatory practice expedition, and so were taking part in their final assessment to be able to complete this important element of their Gold qualification. This practice had occurred in Snowdonia, where they had been joined by Cdt RSM Jack Badcock (Swavesey) and Cdt Sgt Mathew Parker (CRC), and the experience had taught some of our cadets valuable lessons. Cdt Sgt King said; ‘Our experience in Wales taught us to pack our bags better and lighter, and the vital importance of ensuring we had the right equipment for cold weather.’ The practice expeditions are slightly shorter than the assessed ones, with the training team intervening to give guidance and hints for improvement - factors absent from the assessment.
Cdt Sgt Erin Williams used this trip to Dartmoor to complete her practice expedition, and her assessment will be at a later date.
Cdt Sgt Erin Williams (left) with her practice group. Picture: DofE Assessment Team.
The cadets had been supported during preparations for the expedition by SI Lloyd Lester, who taught them Navigation, Expedition and Emergency skills, including 1st Aid in a Remote Location, as well as how to contact emergency services and deal with casualties. He set the cadets a challenging route plan and route card homework exercise, repeatedly pushing them until they achieved the right standard to ensure they would be safe.
The cadets had to carry everything they needed. Although a re-supply of water was provided for them at safety check points, they needed to carry enough, with a reserve, to reach these points. Their equipment included clothing, toiletries, waterproofs, head torch, phone, one-man tent, sleeping bag, first aid kit, roll mat, cooking equipment and provisions. Their meals included noodles which could be re-hydrated, porridge, pitta breads and high energy snack bars.
Cdt Cpl Percival (left and Cdt Sgt King (standing second left) with their group at the start and finish point of the expedition. Picture: DofE Assessment Team.
Having been properly briefed, trained and equipped, they set off on their challenge which involved a loop of the Ten Tors area. Though their safety was closely monitored by an adult assessment team from a distance, they would be without supervisors in their immediate vicinity in order to ensure that their decision making was theirs alone, a daunting and exciting prospect for the cadets. This meant that they would have to deal with their own mistakes- including getting lost, though with help always available in case of emergency.
Cdt Cpl Ollie King said: ‘The area is notoriously wild; there’s nothing for miles. We felt free, it was really exciting.’
The groups of between five and seven cadets had to navigate the route using map and compass, deal with rapidly changing weather, and arrive at pre-arranged camping points before nightfall at the end of each day. Things did not always go to plan; on the second day the group containing Cdt Sgt King and Cdt Cpl Percival became lost and disorientated. Unable to reach their designated camp site before nightfall, they had to pitch their tents in a less ideal location. Luckily the following morning they were able to use their training and team work skills to re-establish their bearings and get back on track. Cdt Sgt King said; ‘We had to deal with it, we wern’t sure which valley we could see, but we discussed it and realised we were heading in the wrong direction so were able to turn around.’
Some of the impressive scenery on Dartmoor. Picture: DofE Assessment Team.
Along their journey they met up several times with the other groups, and also met with their assessors to check how things were going.
The team members also had to choose an activity to work on throughout the expedition: in the case of Cdt Sgt King and Cdt Cpl Percival, they chose to photograph and document wildlife they encountered, including wild horses, insects, birds and plants. On the 4th day, they completed the expedition and returned to Okehampton Camp, where they were able to get a shower and a much needed hot meal.
County DofE Officer AUO Whyall said how proud she was of the cadets, noting they had ‘worked hard and achieved incredible results.’
Staff Cadet Csm Dunthorne (right) with his expedition group. Picture: DofE Assessment Team.
All four cadets are extremely enthusiastic about their experiences on Dartmoor, especially about the excitement of the expedition, and the teamwork, friendships and camaraderie they forged together, sometimes in adverse conditions.
Cdt Cpl Percival said: ‘It was really enjoyable. There were a lot of exciting bits- camping, amazing views. It was great to be really pushing my comfort zone.’
Staff Cdt CSM Dunthorne, who has now completed all the elements needed to get his Gold qualification, said: ‘the exped was one of the best I’ve been on, and definitely challenged me physically and mentally. Dartmoor wasn’t as flat as I expected it to be, but it made the walk more interesting. The best part was definitely wild camping. And as per always, it was great to meet other cadets from around the UK and find out how they do things in their counties.’
Cdt Sgt Williams said; ‘It was a brilliant experience even if I wasn’t sure of it at first, and meeting an entirely new group of people and being thrust on an expedition where you have to rely on one another is a really good way to build strong bonds. We are hoping to do our qualifying exped with predominately the same group in October. I think it’s a really good thing to do, and it gave me a lot of confidence to give my opinion and really make my voice heard in a team, and that will be very useful to me in the future no matter what.’
Cdt Sgt Ollie King said; ‘One of the best things about doing DofE is that it impresses people- they look up to you for doing it. It takes a lot to accomplish all that, and live in a tent for four days, and they understand what a great achievement it really is.’
by PI Doug Stuart