Roman Basic Training v Modern British Army Basic training

A common phrase used during my days as a crow at Depot Para in Aldershot was “Train Hard, Fight easy” and from research, the Romans were no different.

From studying the Roman Army you can see where the British Army adopted its training and doctrine.

The first training objective for all new recruits is how to march as a body of men. The historian Vegetius tells us that it was seen as of greatest importance to the Roman army that its soldiers could march at speed in formation.

Any army which would be split up by stragglers at the back or soldiers trundling along at differing speeds would be vulnerable to attack.

Those who have attended one of my bootcamps will understand why you were required to pass a selection process before being considered.

Fom day one of recruit training the Roman soldier was trained to march in line at the same pace and to keep the army a compact fighting unit on the move.

One of the Romans most famous formations was the Tortoise (testudo). Testudo is the Latin word for “tortoise”.

The soldiers in front and sides interlocked their shields. The soldiers in the back lines placed their shields over their heads to form a protective “shell” over top of the men.

For this, we are told by Vegetius, during the summer months the soldiers were to be marched twenty Roman miles (18.4 miles/29.6 km), which had to be completed in five hours.

In the British Army we call this a TAB Tactical Advance to Battle.

Vegetius mentions running, long and high jump and carrying heavy packs.

During the summer swimming was also a part of training. If their camp was near the sea, a lake or river, every recruit was made to swim.

Next in line, after the training for marching and fitness, came the training of handling weapons. The correc use of the gladius and scutum.

For this they primarily used wickerwork shields and wooden swords. Both the shields and the swords were made to standards which made them twice as heavy as the original weapons. Evidently it was thought, that if a soldier could fight with these heavy dummy weapons, he would be twice as effective with the proper ones.

Train hard, fight easy

Dummy weapons were at first employed against heavy wooden stakes, about six foot high, rather than against fellow soldiers. Against these wooden stakes the soldier trained the various moves, strikes and counter-strikes with the sword.

Only once the recruits was deemed able enough in fighting against the stakes, were they assigned in pairs to train in individual combat.

This more advanced stage of combat training was called armatura, an expression which first was used in the gladiatorial schools, which proves that some of the methods used in training soldiers was indeed borrowed from the training techniques of gladiators.

The weapons used in the armatura were, though still of wood, of the same, or similar weight as the original service weapons.

Weapons training was deemed of such importance that weapons instructors generally received double rations, whereas soldiers who didn’t achieve adequate standards received inferior rations until they had proven in the presence of a high-ranking officer that they had attained the demanded standard. (inferior rations: Vegetius states that their wheat rations were substituted with barley)

After completing the initial training with the sword, the recruit was to master the use of the spear, the pilum. For this the wooden stakes were put to use again as targets. The pilum used for practice was, once again, twice the weight of the regular weapon.

The Modern day army being live firing tests.

Vegetius notes that weapons training was given such importance that in some places roofed riding schools and drill halls were built to allow for training to continue throughout the winter.

Like my time at Depot Para, Physical conditioning and skill at arms was the bread and butter of soldiering. Without getying to grips with them you would not last long or be able to progress forward.

The Roman Army recruits were progressively trained to a high standard as you can see from the following. The British Army are no different.

Roman army training objectives.



Cutting down trees

Carrying heavy packs

Vaulting onto horses–mounting and dismounting from both the right and the left with their weapons drawn or holding their pila. Wooden horses were used until the recruits became proficient. Then real horses were used

Running in full armor

Digging defensive ditches

Erecting ramparts and palisades

Other camp construction activities

Taking care of equipment

Erecting tents

Giving first aid

British Army training objectives

Attestation (a formal ceremony to join the British Army), kit issue, administration, Drill calling out the time until you pass off the parade square at week 4. weapons training and Exercise Icebreaker (teaching Exercise) – your first night in the field. Exercise first fence.

Military skils aptitude tests.




Military Swim Test.

Nuclear and biological warfare

Progressive physical development. Running, upper body conditioning and Tabbing. ( running and fast walking with equipment.

Basic wales

Introduction to blank Firing at section, Platoon and company level.

Training cast how to TAB in South Africa.

Advanced Wales

Bringing it all together with Live Firing at section, Platoon and company level.

My final training test on Salisbury plan 1989 not knowing back then I would be back 30 years later advising on 1917.

Physical tests P company

The Author during his early Basic training day in Depot Para Aldershot.

Letters from the front. Napoleonic war research.

Credit to the Facebook page Napoleonic wars research forum and poster Jonas De Neef a great page to join if your interested in more research material.

Here we have three letters from the French officer Faré, captain adjutant-major in the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. In the first letter, the author confides to his parents his destitution, but also his despair in front of the horrors he encountered and the exactions committed by hordes of Cossacks. He then felt anguish for his family.

In the third document, he speaks of the general appeal: peace and rest. Faré mentions, in his opinion, the task that the new government has to undertake if it wants to be appreciated by the people of France. The outcome is well known…

Reims, 16 March 1814.

My dear parents, I am taking advantage of a moment’s rest which we have finally been granted to share my tidings with you. In the midst of our forced marches and unremitting stay in bivouacs, it has been impossible for me to find a single opportunity to write to you. I have never found myself in such a situation.

I no longer have any boots or trousers. Never have we marched so much and had so little rest. We are fighting a fierce campaign and, if we finally succeed in driving the enemy out of our country, I believe that we will have deserved it well. How I express my relief that you have not yet had to receive these ferocious guests! It is said that in the interior, people do not want to believe the atrocity of their conduct. Certainly, I do not wish the unbelievers to be convinced by their own eyes.

I do not ‘publish newspapers’ and [thus] I report what I have seen. Twenty fold, tears of rage have flowed from my eyes at the sight and account of the horrors they have committed. The most shameless plunder is the least of their crimes. Arson, rape, death: these are the benefits that the liberators of France provide. It seems that sex and age, instead of being for them an object of respect, are an object of fury. Of course, it is in the countryside that the great horrors are committed. In the cities, where there is a sort of order, they show kindness.

They encounter a citizen in the street, they throw him to the ground and take his boots, his buckles, his shoes, his watch. They enter a house, and make hand over the utensils that the inhabitants have not had the time to stash away. It is especially common for them not to leave any curtains in the rooms where they sleep. The officers observe all this, and, far from objecting, proceed to do the same.

If misfortune were to threaten Touraine, hide all the money, linen, furniture, etc., that you can find, and take refuge in the city where it is always safer. But for goodness sake, don’t stay at Amandières!

The idea of seeing them ravage our beautiful regions makes me furious. Ah, why don’t all the Frenchmen have a better understanding of their interests? In less than a month, all these brigands would have crossed the Rhine again. Yet they have managed, by dint of their horrors, to stir the peasants of these regions, who are beginning to chase them [away] vigorously. When the season is less severe, I hope that everyone will rise up.

At the bivouac near Essonnes, 5 April 1814.

My dear parents, I am in good health, and that is a lot in these sad circumstances. Courage, health, that is what you want.

Egreville, 16 April 1814.

My dear and kind relatives, at last, after a great deal of pain and fatigue, I am enjoying a little peace and rest. When I wrote a few words to you at the bivouac on 5 April, we were still unaware of the events which had taken place in Paris [capitulation of the city on 30 March, and the entry of the Allied army the following day] and we were expecting to march on this city. It was the same day that Marshal Marmont’s defection took place, whereupon we were forced to return to Fontainebleau where we were informed of everything by the newspapers. What treachery! What cowardice! What ingratitude! In truth, men are both horrifying and pitiful. Who were the first to abandon the Emperor? Those whom he had showered with wealth and dignity. Who were those who remained faithful to him until the last moment, who almost unanimously asked to accompany him in his exile? We, the junior officers of the Guard, and even more so our soldiers, many of whom have deserted since we gave our support to the new government. What favours had we obtained, what special graces, that our services had not earned us under any government?

And our brave grenadiers, without pay for six months, many without shoes, without trousers, marching ceaselessly in the middle of the harshest season, rushing from one army to another, securing victory by their presence: was it interest that guided them? No: it was honour, shunning [men wearing] cords, plates and embroidery, who then took refuge in our ranks.

We submitted our adhesion on the 11th. We could do no more for the Emperor than he himself wanted. Here we are, then, subjects of a new government which, when once we have given our oath, will be able to rely more on our fidelity than on that crowd of cowards whose only motives are self-interest and fear, and who have so often brought down the idol which they worshipped the day before. Napoleon deserves a part of what happened to him. He committed great faults, everyone mentions them. One of those which I reproach him the most, is to have called to him or suffered people who were not worthy of this honour. He could and should have chosen better.

If the new government is cautious and firm at the same time, it will be easy for it to be adored. Peace. Rest is the general cry. He who grants it, this much desired peace, will be a god for France. Happy inhabitants of the banks of the Loire, you are still unaware of the evils of war, you know this only through hearsay. I congratulate you. My father did well to come and settle in our beautiful and peaceful Touraine!

We are quartered here some four leagues from Nemours, eight from Fontainebleau. Our village, Egreville, is quite nice. We are waiting first for peace to be concluded, then for what the new government wishes to do with us.

Your whole community must feel very triumphant, very pleased with what is happening. Well, I too will be happy if the well-being of France is the result. Faithful to honour, I have done all that my duty required of me, without animosity, without agony. May my country be content, and I will adore those who will make it so.

(Arthur CHUQUET, L’Année 1814. Lettres et Mémoires, Fontemoing et Cie Éditeurs, 1914, pp. 123-126).

The following letter was written by General Christiani and was intended for General Pelet. The document was published in the Carnet de la Sabretache in 1905, as an appendix to an article devoted to the Guard infantry at Waterloo. This letter bore the inscription: ‘Letter from General Christiani, commander in 1815 of the 2nd Grenadiers of the Guard, to Mr. Lieutenant-General Baron Pelet’.

Paris, 24 April 1835.

My general,

I can only answer rather imperfectly to the enquiries you made in your letter of 21 January. My memory, which is too ungrateful, and the time that has elapsed since 1815, are factors on which I can hardly rely. However, I will try to answer your questions as best I can. These answers will at least prove to you my willingness to comply with your wishes.

Question – What was the strength of the 2nd Regiment of Grenadiers on Foot of the Guard at the time of the start of the campaign? Answer – I believe it did not exceed 1,000 to 1,100 men. Q. – How many casualties did this corps suffer on the 16th June? A. – None. During the battle of the 16th, the whole corps of Grenadiers on Foot stayed in reserve, and only changed position twice. The second time, it passed through Fleurus, took position on the left of this village, at a distance of perhaps half a league from Ligny, which the enemy still occupied in part. The four regiments of Grenadiers received the order to clear it out. This movement was conducted without any resistance on the part of the enemy, but while we were being formed in squares by battalions by debouching on the other side of the village, we were surprised by a charge of Prussian lancers who passed through the intervals of the squares, without us being able to make use of our musketry, the squares not having had time to position themselves in echelons.

The enemy would have fared better if they had undertaken a second charge, but they did not return. We spent the night of the 16th to the 17th on the battlefield, that is to say on the height which crowns the village of Ligny. Q. – Where did you spend the night of the 17th and 18th? A. – The next day, the 17th, we left our position around eleven o’clock or noon. We marched all day. I followed the movement of the regiments which preceded me.

The weather was dreadful, and it was already late at night, when I saw a bivouac. It was the one belonging to the 4th or 3rd Grenadier Regiment. I found no one there to indicate to me the position which I was to occupy. The night was dark. In this state of affairs, the tired and soaked grenadiers put themselves together with their comrades of the regiment who were already in the bivouac. This bivouac was situated astride the main road, behind the imperial headquarters, near a hamlet or village whose name I do not remember.

Q. – What were the various positions you occupied during the day of the 18th, and particularly from five to six o’clock in the afternoon, from six to seven, and from seven to eight? A. – The next day, 18 June, a ray of sunlight appeared at about nine in the morning. We were ordered to get our weapons ready and engage the enemy. Subsequently, we took up positions behind the Emperor, who stood on a hill on the right of the Brussels road. Here I do not remember the movements of the other regiments of Grenadiers on Foot, but I do remember being ordered to go forward with the 2nd Regiment and take up a position on the right of the Brussels road.

I stood close to a very deep ravine on my right. I remained in this position all day. I observed the return of the remnants of four regiments of the Guard on foot which had been sent forward under the orders of General Friant to capture the position occupied by the English, a position which was defended by a very deep ravine and numerous artillery which were entrenched. You know as well as I do the sad result of this attack. Between five and six o’clock, perhaps later, I received the order to send forward a battalion of the regiment to a village situated to the right and to the rear of the position which I occupied, to drive out the Prussians, it was stated, who had just seized it [it concerns Plancenoit, where the French Young Guard and the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Chasseurs with Pelet were already present]. It was Mr. Golzio, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the regiment, whom I charged with this mission.

I did not see him again until the evening when we retired. I do not remember if he lost many men, but only that he told me that he had done much harm to the enemy.

Finally, towards seven or eight o’clock in the evening, I believe, I departed with the 1st Battalion, which remained to me, to go and join the Emperor who was on the left of the road, at a short distance from the position which I had just left. He was alone, on foot, and General Drouot was with him. I ordered my battalion to form square. The Emperor remained some time to observe, I think, the retrograde movement which the artillery of the army made on the plain on the left of the road, and he then mounted his horse to withdraw. At about this time the enemy commenced a cavalry charge on the main road, and found themselves entangled with our cavalry and infantry who were withdrawing in disorder.

The English skirmishers also appeared, and began the fusillade. Then I began my retreat alongside my battalion [still formed up] in square. A few bullets hit us and caused confusion in the ranks. The voices of the officers were disregarded, and arriving at the height that the 1st Regiment of Grenadiers was occupying, my soldiers disbanded and, then, it was impossible to rally them. I joined the road in front of Génappe; General Roguet also arrived there. There we attempted to rally as many men as possible to wait for the night, but we were abandoned.

Nevertheless, General Roguet and I did not retire until we heard the enemy advancing on the road at the sound of their fifers. Compelled then to withdraw, I lost sight of General Roguet in the commotion, and I followed a path to the left of Génappe with the intention of reaching Charleroi, when I encountered you and General Petit.

Please accept, General, the assurance of the most sincere affection of your

Most devoted servant.

Signed: CHRISTIANI, maréchal de camp.

How realistic is Trigger Point? Bomb disposal experts weigh in

Vicky McClure
Vicky McClure plays explosives officer Lana Washington CREDIT: ITV

On Triggerpoint We had a current EOD adviser and police adviser on set but its always going to be dramatic licence and the need to tell a story in 60 minutes which will override any realism on these shows.

TV drama are not documentary’s. They need to have dramatic tension and none of the idle moments that form a large part of real working lives. If you want that watch 24 Hours in Police Custody. 🙂 Here are the views from former EOD experts on the show. (Not facebook or twitter experts) 😃

ITV’s bomb disposal drama Trigger Point looks to blow Line of Duty away. Not to mention – as seen in the literally explosive first episode – plenty of supporting characters and civilians.Written by Daniel Brierley and executive produced by LoD’s Jed Mercurio, Trigger Point is the latest pulse-pounding procedural that boasts plenty of grit and ultra-realism. But how real is it?In the story, Vicky McClure plays Lana Washington, a London Met explosives officer – or “Expo” – who’s called to makeshift bomb factory at a block of flats, where she discovers the first of several bombs.True to life, Washington and her Expo partner, Joel Nutkins – played by Adrian Lester – both served in Afghanistan. 

The Met’s real bomb squad is made up of ex-Army ATOs (Ammunition Technical Officers) who have typically 20 years’ experience and various technical qualifications. “It’s an extremely meticulous trade,” says Dr Kristian Gustafson, former War Studies lecturer at Sandhurst, ex-Canadian Army officer, and now deputy director of the Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies.Devices like those seen in the show are difficult to make, with materials for “high explosives” hard to come by in the UK. “Tell me, where in this country do you order 20kg sacks of shaved aluminium?” says Dr Gustafson. But they are plausible.

Adrian Lester
Adrian Lester stars as Joel Nutkins in the first episode CREDIT: ITV

The first bomb, rigged to the flat’s toilet, has two triggers: a landmine-style pressure plate and the hallway light switch – cue McClure’s character almost detonating the device when she goes to turn the lights on.“It’s pretty Hollywood,” says Gustafson. “But not impossible. The knowledge to do that wouldn’t come from the kind of information you’d find online.

That’s coming from experience in Afghanistan, or someone trained by the Iranians in Yemen or something like that.”Lucy Lewis is former EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and was Britain’s first female bomb disposal officer. She explains that bombs using two triggers are actually “basic”, and praises the show for eschewing fanciful tropes. “I was delighted that they didn’t do the digital-clock-counting-down-to-detonation business,” she says. “And no discussion about cutting the red wire and the blue wire!”But Lewis says that a rookie mistake like flipping the light switch was a “spitting out tea moment”. Panicked, McClure’s character has to hold her finger steady on the switch while her partner deactivates the trigger.“Every soldier across the land will spit their tea out at that,” says Lewis, who now works as Cambridge University’s marshal – the head of the university’s private police force. “On day one you’re told to never touch anything. If she’s done even a week at bomb school, she’d know never to do that.”A real Expo would be less panicked, too. “You take a deep breath, compose yourself, and carry on,” says Lewis. “If you’ve served in Afghanistan, this is everyday bread-and-butter stuff. If you tread on a landmine you freeze.

We practice it so many times.”While the show’s two Expos tackle the device together, real bomb disposal officers go in solo. They take what’s called “the long walk” – a lonely journey to the live bomb. “Whatever needs to be done, they do it alone,” says Lewis. “Because it’s only one life at risk. They’d have a camera and people back in the van would be watching.”Lewis appreciates the show’s small, personal touches, such as Lester’s character having marriage problems. “They all say EOD stands for ‘everyone divorced,’” laughs Lewis. “We said it would be a gross representation of the trade if they didn’t have marital difficulties in there. It’s a tight pressure thing. You have to focus, you can become very detached, and you try not to look at a photo of your wife and kids before you go on that long walk. That doesn’t help your mental state.”

Eric Shango
Eric Shango co-stars as rookie Danny CREDIT: ITV

Other small details include Washington having her blood type displayed on her arm, and both the Expos having Felix the Cat tattoos. “Felix means lucky,” says Lewis. “He has nine lives. Felix is the symbol of counter-terrorism bomb disposal.”Both Lewis and Dr Gustafson credit the show’s use of real-life technology, including a small tripod-like a disruptor device, which uses sand to disable the toilet bomb. Later – at the site of a suspected car bomb – they send in a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow. “If there’s a device that they’re not convinced they can diffuse,” says Gustafson, “they’ll try and disrupt one component within the battery, initiator, explosive, trigger circuit.

They do that with a little cannon that blasts a bullet of water.”As Gustafson says, Trigger Point also shows the search-and-diffuse process as being a “multi-hour event” – lots of hanging around and waiting. “It’s also good at showing the layers of police control,” says Gustafson. “Gold Commander, outer cordon, inner cordon.”There’s some dramatic licence as the Expos, SO15 (counter terrorism), and CTSFO (counter-terrorism specialist firearms officers) jostle for jurisdiction and superiority.Simon Harding is a former DCI in SO15 and now the director of Specialist Crime Consulting Group. He recalls working with bomb squad to deal with suspicious packages – even an unexploded Second World War bomb that once dredged up from the Thames close to Parliament.“There is a relationship,” Harding says about the Expos and SO15. “Bomb disposal is almost part of SO15, but sits as a silo outside of it.

Everyone has a job to do. There’s no room for egos with that kind of stuff. It’s a world-renowned slick operation.”The first episode’s big set-piece comes when they discover an innocent man strapped with a suicide vest. The explosive is rigged with mobile phones, which allows it to be set off remotely. It seems the stuff of Hollywood fantasy – one tick away from Speed’s gold watch-powered bomb on the bus – but it’s real. Dr Gustafson recalls that in Afghanistan, Casio watches were commonly used as timers, and mobile phones were indeed used for initiation.

The officers are accompanied by a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow
The officers are accompanied by a Short Circuit-like robot, known as a Wheelbarrow CREDIT: ITV

Lucy Lewis, however, doubts the professional credentials of the show’s bomb makers. “It’s very amateurish to use a whole phone,” Lewis says. “You only need a sim card.”Trigger Point uses another piece of real-life tech to suppress the phone signals – an ECM (electronic countermeasures). In the show, it looks like a wireless router.

 In real life they’re much bigger – backpack-like devices with large antennae – but also highly classified.“If you see images of patrols in Afghanistan, you’ll see someone carrying a big backpack with an antenna on it,” says Gustafson. “Those are electronic countermeasures. Pretty much anywhere a British patrol went in Iraq or Afghanistan, it had a big mobile phone suppressing bubble around it.

Anywhere an ATO would go now, they would probably have those countermeasure bubbles.”Unlike real life, however, Trigger Point’s terrorists are able to bypass the ECM. A call comes through to the mobile phone anyway.The experts agree that the terrorists’ methodology is scarily true to life. The toilet bomb and suicide vest are just a distraction – a much bigger bomb is hidden in a van nearby. “The idea of having a small charge to draw you in, then killing everyone with the big one… that is very realistic,” says Lewis.

Cal Machaninch
Cal Machaninch as Lee Robbins SCO-19 CREDIT: ITV

The IRA used such tactics – planting a bomb, alerting the authorities, then waiting to see how they reacted. “The IRA gave you one bomb then put another one where they thought we’d put the cordons and RVPs [rendevouz positions],” says Simon Harding.Adrian Lester’s character suspects as much, wondering if the first bomb was a “come on” to lure them in. (Even the term “come on,” says Gustafson, is legitimate army talk. “The writers have spoken to ATOs,” he says. “Clearly, they’ve done their research.”)Lucky for us, the show’s yet-to-be-identified bombers are a very rare breed. “The kind of people that get radicalised to blow stuff up tend to not be the brightest,” says Gustafson. “But to build a bomb properly you need to be pretty clever! Those two factors tend to keep anything other than rudimentary devices from being built.”The kind of domestic bomb factories seen in the show are also rare. “The last time I remember the term ‘bomb factory’ being used was in the Nineties with the IRA,” says Harding.Overall, Dr Gustafson rates Trigger Point for being well researched and notes that it jettisons the less pulse-pounding aspects of the job – reports, weapons intelligence, and science lab work.“If you went into the nitty gritty of the devices we faced in Afghanistan, it gets quite technical and boring,” he says. “Making a device safe is not great action – it’s the stuff of puckered sphincters and sweat

Training of conscripts during the Boulogne camp 1805

“Dear Father and Mother  I am writing these lines to find out how you are, hoping that like me you are well for the time being.

We have drill twice a day. I have arrived in Boulogne, and as for the victuals it’s very dear The English come and say hello every day, they’ve done for six of our men but they’ve lost two ships.”  

This letter, dated November 28th, 1805, from Private Joseph Goupil of the 46th Infantry Regiment to his parents, neatly sums up what everyday life was like for the men stationed in the coastal camps. From the summer of 1803 to 1805, the temporary camps were transformed into permanent military installations which acted as army training and instruction centres.

Three intakes of conscripts from Years IX, X and XI were trained there, representing 30,000 men a year, plus 60,000 in Year XII. The camps also gave men who had served longer an opportunity to improve their skills.

Not many soldiers have left a detailed account of the experience of their first months of army life. Although some memoirs talk of the induction period,  they pass quickly over the time spent in training.

When they do so, it is often to say that conditions seemed “a bit harsh” to begin with, “among old soldiers who stank”.   But the descriptions are often mixed with fond nostalgia, as with the story of Marbot and his moustache.  

Many recruits mention intensive training, but within a few weeks they had learnt the drills and how to handle a musket.  

The discovery of soldiering, and the instruction that came with it, was not always easy for conscripts, especially as their army life was often involuntary rather than chosen.

The training of recruits started the day after their arrival at the regiment, once they had been issued their kit.


Napoleon believed that simply bringing men together was not enough to “turn them into soldiers; only drill, instruction and skill truly do that.”  So conscripts joining a regiment did not become soldiers until they had been given strict instruction and rigorous training.

For the Emperor and his contemporaries, it took three months for an infantryman to become effective in battle,  and rather longer for a cavalryman: the minimum instruction time for them was four to five months.  

At Boulogne they had two years to perfect their skills. The formal framework for instruction during the Empire was established under the Consulate.

The overhaul of the existing system was based on the decree of 1 Vendémiaire Year XII (September 24th, 1803), which reorganised the regiments and the general framework of the army. It instituted the regimental depot as the headquarters of the regiment and the place where soldiers were trained, under the command of a major.  

Second-in-command of the regiment, this officer was responsible for keeping the depot in good military, administrative and financial order, and for training recruits. He appointed the instructing officer (a battalion or squadron commander or captain), who in turn commanded NCOs (sergeants and corporals) and private-instructors. Commanding officers were responsible for deciding soldiers’ timetables, which led to considerable differences between regiments.

Instructors had a whole set of official ordinances to help them organise their training of recruits. Inherited from the 18th century, these regulations were the last links in a long chain going back to the Enlightenment.  

They marked the triumph of the Prussian spirit in the French army: precise manoeuvres and automatic movements ensured that soldiers in battle would not have to think.

For many officers who had emerged during the Revolution or early Consulate, Boulogne was an opportunity to get to grips with the Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manoeuvres of the Infantry of August 1st, 1791, and to brush up their soldiering skills. From the Revolutionary Wars onward, the 1791 were subject to critical review and adapted to the realities of warfare.  

Much thought was given to their suitability during the Boulogne Camp, not least by General Meunier, who started to revise them. The resumption of hostilities put an end to these endeavours, however, and the 1791remained in effect throughout the Empire period.

At Boulogne, marshals’ instructions emphasized the importance of these manoeuvres and insisted on strict compliance with the rules and regulations.  The manuals for both infantry and cavalry approached their subject matter in the same way. Recruits were initially trained individually in the School of the Soldier.

For infantry, this meant marching drill, arms drill and basic movements. For cavalry, it covered seat on the horse, work on the longe, work mounted, singly and by squadron, and at the gallop. These drills were then performed in increasingly large groups. In the School of the Platoon, the same material was applied to basic groups while introducing formations and “manual exercises”, or musket drill.

The School of the Battalion or Squadron focused on formations and their manoeuvres. The final stage consisted of full regimental manoeuvres (in columns and lines, plus the transition to battle order), and brigade movements.

During initial instruction, new recruits were drilled three or four times a day. One reason was to fill their time in order to prevent morale-sapping boredom. In the absence of gymnastics, forced marches of 30 to 40 kilometres in full battle order were also designed to harden up recruits as quickly as possible and prepare them for the rigours and hardship of military life on campaign.

After a few days’ instruction, the most able or the quickest to grasp the drills were sorted from the rest.

The former became first-class recruits, the latter second class, or even third class for the least able. The first-class recruits would drill only once or twice a day, while those in the second and third class would continue to have three intensive sessions. To encourage third-class recruits to make progress, they were deprived of “the honour of doing service”. They were assigned to all the chores, “without the same preventing them from attending drill”, until they were sufficiently well-drilled to move up to second class.  

Instruction was based entirely on the endless and systematic repetition of simple movements that every soldier could learn. Combat in the 19th century was structured to the extreme: soldiers were merely a fragment of space, a piece in the line. They had to unlearn their individuality and their own movements in order to take their place in the column and rank.

That is why position was the first thing conscripts were taught. They learnt how to stand in rank without moving for 15 minutes, then how to march in step in order to perform basic manoeuvres.

In 1806 General Duhesme drew a number of conclusions about infantry rules and regulations from his experience at Boulogne. In particular, he criticised the over-mechanical approach of the Prussian school, adopted to excess in France.

“Recruits were tormented for six months”, he wrote, “their chests often damaged in order to teach them the first position, how to march in step and how to bear arms; every morning the poor devils were kept motionless or in awkward positions for two or three hours at a time, enough to put off even those keenest on the military life.”  

It is not hard to imagine the suffering of conscripts that lies behind that observation. They had to repeat the drills over and over again in order to achieve the perfect movements or ideal positions prescribed in the manual. Jean-Baptiste Boisson, writing in 1809, recounts how “horrific training” began the day after his arrival at 

2nd Light Infantry Regiment. “The NCOs allowed us hardly any respite. We had to repeat the ‘Attention’ and ‘At ease’ positions a hundred times.” He goes on: “We had to learn the march step, two feet in length from one heel to the other, seventy-six paces per minute; that’s what the sergeant kept yelling at us. We were also initiated into the mysteries of the oblique step”.  

The instruction concerned not only positions but also movements, first singly, then in increasingly large groups. Soldiers had to move together precisely and quickly, and so had to relearn how to march the army way. “The men are told a thousand times to stretch the calf, to skim the ground with the foot. They have to learn the balancing step, which makes them clumsier than before.

A recruit who has often journeyed several hundred leagues to join his regiment may be supposed to have some idea of how to march.”  The principle was that as the infantry rarely became involved in bayonet fighting, the line had to hold. So everyone had to march together in order to create a mass effect that would sap the enemy’s morale and break them.  

These constant drills, not very different from dance steps, transformed the body, developing the musculature and giving soldiers an erect posture, unlike any other, that would remain with them for life.  But when evening came, as Jean-Baptiste Boisson admitted, “we were done in”.

The second stage of instruction was learning how to use the 1777-pattern musket. This involved bending the future combatant’s will to the weapon that would become his constant companion and the guarantor of his conduct on the battlefield.

The principal purpose of these drills was to automate movements. There was no time to think in the heat of battle: soldiers had to load and fire their weapons automatically.

The first drills – marching and mounting guard – were conducted with the weapon unloaded. It was heavy on the arms for young men unused to handling a musket nearly five-foot-long (over six with the bayonet) and weighing nearly ten pounds. Montesquiou-Fezensac, who joined the 59th Line Regiment in 1804, recounts that once he had settled into his barracks at the camp in Montreuil, he started to “learn the drill”, which he found “rather hard, the musket seeming heavy for lack of practice”.

 The barrack-room was where the recruits learnt how to take care of their weapon (along with much else, like ranks, and how to behave, and chores, and how to maintain their uniform). They had to learn how to assemble and disassemble it, and the name of each part. This drill, which had to be performed within a reasonable time, was of paramount importance for the soldier. He was responsible for his weapon, and especially for ensuring that it worked properly in all weathers.

Only when the soldier had mastered his musket, including during foot drills, did he learn how to shoot. Loading was performed on 12 commands and with 18 movements.

The solider had to be able to load as quickly as possible, and also be familiar with the faster reloading procedures used in battle. For the instructors, constant repetition of these movements was needed in order to perfectly assimilate them.

Napoleon, like many army instructors, insisted on the absolute need for soldiers to know how to shoot, even if not always in harmony with their comrades. Shooting drills were frequent in the coastal camps, both at targets and in more or less large-scale formation.  Although many conscripts were familiar with firearms, some confessed to being shaken, on their first drill, by the noise of so many detonations.  

A painful process

One might think, reading the authors of memoirs, that induction into the regiment was an educational experience, and that it made French soldiers superior to their opponents. However, the image conveyed by legend did not tell the whole story.

During those first few weeks in the regiment, everything combined to make the new recruits lose their bearings and their identity. In addition, the instructors responsible for knocking the conscripts into shape were often veterans with better martial than educational skills, and an already well-developed esprit de corps.

The following extract is taken from the book, “Waterloo, The French perspective”, by Andrew W. Field:

Corporal Canler was only seventeen years old when he fought at Waterloo, though he had volunteered for the army four years before. He was in the 28th de ligne, the second regiment in Bourgeois brigade. He also gives us an exciting account of the attack:

“Soon there was a terrible duet executed by these two batteries that were composed of nearly two hundred guns; the balls, bombs and shells, passed whistling over our heads. After a half hour wait, Marshal Ney gave the order to attack and to take by assault the English battery; three beats on the drum sufficed to get the corps ready to march; we were formed up in colonne-serrée par bataillon; I remembered that adjutant-major Hubant, charged with forming the divisions, an old soldier who had taken part in all the campaigns of the Empire, was preoccupied and very pale. Finally, the columns were formed. Général Drouet d’Erlon took position in the middle of his army corps, and with a strong and clear voice pronounced these few words: ‘Today it is necessary to vanquish or die!’

The cry of “Vive l’Empereur!” left all our mouths in reply to this short speech, and, with ‘forme au bras’ [ordered arms], to the sound of drums beating the charge, the columns moved off and directed themselves towards the English guns without firing a single musket shot.”

As they advanced the Grand Battery continued to fire over their heads at the few, obscure targets that were available. Although the columns were in dead ground to some of the allied guns for part of their advance, the amount and accuracy of the enemy’s fire inevitably increased as they slowly climbed the gradual slope, and casualties began to fall more frequently.

Lieutenant Martin :
“Death crept up on us from every side; entire ranks disappeared under the caseshot, but nothing was able to stop our march; it continued with the same order as before, with the same précision. The dead were immediately replaced by those who followed; the ranks, although becoming fewer, remained in good order.”

Despite the increasing casualties as more allied guns came into play, the French soldiers marched on.

The skills acquired after two years of drill truly came into their. The pace of instruction accelerated from 1806. By the end of the Empire, with the machinery of conscription running full tilt, recruits did not always have time to get properly acclimatized to the business of soldiering. Some were thrown into battle without uniform, hardly knowing how to manoeuvre or handle their musket. Nevertheless, the esprit de corps forged in the camp at Boulogne lasted throughout the Empire and beyond, deep into the 19th century, enshrined in memoirs which helped to create and perpetuate the imperial myth.

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Theatrical Firearms Explained.

In the wake of the tragic events on the set of Rust, team PB thought it best write a short blog to highlight the difference between theatrical firearms, live rounds, blank rounds and SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)

Theatrical firearms (prop gun)

The term “prop gun” or Theatrical firearm includes a variety of weapons, including nonfunctioning or nonpractical weapons, like cap guns, BB guns, top venting blanks and fake guns constructed of wood, plastic or rubber. Soft and hard rubber are primarily used by stunt performer’s when carrying out hard demanding falls.

The term also can mean real weapons modified to fire only blank cartridges, in the UK we call them section 5 firearms or practical weapons and if fired at close range they can cause serious injuries and potentially kill if not closely monitored by proficient firearms professionals. 

How theatrical weapons work

When filming with semi- and fully automatic weapons like the AK47 or M4 that are gas-operated, which means the combustion gas from firing a round is what reloads the weapon, the barrel typically has a mechanism called a “restrictor.”

Restrictors function similarly to the blank-firing adapters (BFAs) used in the military which are deliberately coloured Yellow or Red for identification, except for the film world where the device is internal, rather than attached to the exterior of the muzzle.

Theatrical weapons have the restrictor down the barrel to conceal the fact that it is a blank firing weapon.

Devices like BFAs or restrictors do two things: they help prevent debris from escaping from the barrel through the muzzle when a blank round is fired and they help the weapon chamber another round by preventing the combustion gases from fully escaping the barrel.

But weapons that are not gas-operated, like revolvers, bolt operated rifles and muskets don’t require a restrictor to help chamber another round. Which means there is no physical barrier between the blank round fired and whatever the weapon is pointed at.

The image below demonstrates the amount of flash from a futuristic weapon which was actually a Colt revolver with plastic mouldings built around. Note the amount of flash.

Live rounds

A live round or cartridge is ammunition fed into the barrel of a fully functioning weapon that comprises of several parts: 

  • The casing (sometimes called a shell)
  • Propellant material (gunpowder) inside the shell
  • The percussion cap or percussion primer on the bottom of the cartridge. (Where the firing pin strikes)
  • The actual projectile (bullet) itself

The bullet is the part of the cartridge that flies out of the gun towards the target.

Blank rounds

Blanks are shell casings loaded with gunpowder. They lack the deadly bullet point, which is usually replaced with cotton or paper wadding.

When blanks are discharged, they create the sound of gunfire, and the gunpowder combusts, causing a muzzle flash. The force of firing a section 5 firearms provides the actor with real recoil and case ejection.

SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)

UTM’s Silent Blank Rounds (SBR) cycles the firearm, which provides realistic recoil and weapon function, including bolt or slide lock-back, yet with no noise or projectile.

With the silent blank rounds the piston is solid, when it’s driven forward the gas can’t escape, so the cartridge is silent with no flash. This action allows the cycling of the firearm in an enclosed space without concerns around noise or injury.

UTM’s pistol conversions prevent a live round from fully seating inside the barrel so incapable of firing a live round

Their blank weapon conversions for rifles feature an off-set firing pin, enabling the weapon to only shoot UTM’s rim-fire blank training ammunition.

Silent Blank rounds are ideal for close-up shots to the body or camera and can be fired directly at the head without any danger to the actor.

Live rounds are to never be on set at any stage.

Set protocols 

The use of firearms on set is subject to stringent safety standards. Specialists such as who provide weapons for use on film sets and advise on their safe use. 

Before weapons leave the armoury they’re test fired, cleaned and inspected. The weapon serial numbers are sent to the police authority who over sees all theatrical weapons used in the UK film and TV indindustry.

Every weapon on set must be accounted for and it is the armourers responsibility to know every weapon be it non practical or practical while on set. 

When on set and not required the practical weapons are concealed and constantly manned by the armourer until required.

Before being issued weapons a safety brief and training is provided highlighting important features of the weapon and the importance of trigger and muzzle discipline. 

Strikeback 2019

A demonstration of the danger a blank round can do is provided by firing a blank round into an orange or apple to provide a visual demonstration on the effects to skin. 

Before shooting a scene,  rehearsals are mostly carried  out ‘dry’ which means no blanks are loaded in the weapon.

Dry rehearsals Strikeback 2018

Ear and eye protection will be offered to crew within the set area and the armourers will ensure saftey distances for firing in close proximity are observed along with limiting the chances of hot ejected cases bouncing back to hit the actors. 

Strikeback 2018

Once ready to shoot the armourer will show weapons are clear to the actor and show him the blank rounds before being loaded.

Once the working parts are released forward and a round is chambered the safety catch is applied and the armourer will announce ‘Weapons Hot’ to everyone on set. 

If at any time the armourer observes something they feel is not safe before and during the shoot they will step in and stop everything until any safety issue is resolved. 

If a weapon misfires during the shoot the actor is instructed to simply play out the action until the director shouts cut then simply raise their hand and with the weapons barrel pointing towards the floor and the armourers will clear and inspect the weapon. 

If the weapon needs to be fired off for safety reasons, such as a black powder musket or test fired,  the armourer will notify all cast and crew by shouting ‘ fire in the hole’ before firing in a safe direction. 

Cast, stunts and extras are all instructed on the importance of not playing with weapons during breaks, leaving a weapon unattended or walking off set without handing it back to the armourer. 

Once filming has finished all weapons are accounted for and serials checked against their lists before being packed up and taken back to a secure location, cleaned ready for the next day.

Training Bootcamps

Most productions will invest and provide weapons and tactics training to everyone participating in the action scenes involving weapons.

1917 bootcamp 2019

Military Technical Advisers along with armourers will assess and train for what is required in the script to a high standard and preferably two to three days before the action is to take place.

Cast training for strikeback and Wrath of Man

Anyone deemed unsafe or not confident around weapons will be issued a non firing weapon. 

Bootcamps ensures everyone is fully briefed and confident in weapon handling and safety protocols beforehand which then only requires a ‘remind and revise’ before going on set. 

Theatrical firearms courses 

I have touched on such courses in the past and frequently asked if I run my own course. 

I run production financed training for the specific roles required for the production who hire my services to train cast, stunts and supporting artists who are paid to learn for the required role.

Room clearance drills.

There are numerous courses out there some good some over hyped and some very bad. Some lay claim being on their course will ensure you are picked for action roles over those who have not.

Some issue certificates as proof of attendance which are waved under an armourer and advisers nose to demand or stake claim to forgoing any training and being picked first to fire weapons.

Such claims are solely a sales pitch and untrue.

The following hurdles only apply.

1. The Director choses the look he requires. 

2.  The Armourer and the military advisor will assess and decide who is safe and able to fire a blank weapon on set.

3. Armourers weapons and procedures may be different to what your course provider taught you.

Allways remember. The armourers weapons so its their rules.

Such courses are a ‘nice to have’ and will help you better understand weapon safety but they will not turn you into an overnight expert nor will they bag you your big break. Skill fade will factor in once you leave a course no matter how long it lasts. 

No firearms courses are recognised by any governing body or production. No armourer or military advisor will accept firearms certificates or even previous military qualifications as an insurance of safety on set.

Finger on the trigger punishment during a bootcamp.

To end this blog,  armorers and military advisors teach and allways remind you the “three golden rules” of weapon handling, and it’s the same on a range as it is on a film or set. 

1. You always treat a weapon be it real or plastic as if it’s loaded.

2.  You never point a gun at another person.

3.  You always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re absolutely ready to fire. 

PB Military Technical Adviser for film and tv Ltd

Exciting Opportunities in the Film and TV industry

Team PB have more opportunities for the right people. (Open to Ex Armed Forces based in the UK only)

As more productions are gearing up the requirements for the company have increased so more quality Military Technical Advisers are required on the team.

1. Must have good availability.

2. Willing to travel world wide and for prolonged periods.

3. Physically fit (no pie eaters).

4. Ability to communicate and be respectful to others.

5. Good work ethics. 

Please read link for an insight to the job.

If you think you have what it takes send your CV and a current photograph to

Good luck.

IMDB “Paul Biddiss – IMDb”




British forces in Libya had been roundly defeated by Rommel in mid-1942, and a reshuffle saw Bernard Montgomery take over the 8th Army dangerously close to Alexandria. Some essentials for success had been put in place by his predecessor, but Montgomery’s refusal to attack until he was ready, careful briefings, pep talks to troops and coordination of land and air power all strengthened his hand.

The battle began with a huge artillery bombardment on October 23, and owed much to Montgomery’s belief that, wherever possible, metal, not flesh, should do the work.

There was hard fighting in the middle phase as British and Dominion troops clawed through the German and Italian defences.

It’s easy to say that Monty, with over 200,000 troops to Rommel’s 100,000, should have won, but previously defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.

Alamein paved the way for Allied victory in North Africa, and Churchill was right to hail it as a turning point