Anatomy and Ammunition: A Day in the Life of a Student Soldier

Bryony on exercise during the summer
Bryony on exercise during the summer
Adam Webb

Bryony, 23, is the Senior Under Officer of the University of London Officer Training Corps (part of the Army Reserve). She is studying for a BSc in speech and language therapy at City University, and lives with course-mates in North London.

"If I’m in the field, I’m up half an hour before first light. During the summer this can mean we’re up by 4am, but in November I’m crawling out of my sleeping bag at half 6; practically a lie in. I’m already in full kit - we sleep in our boots, spooning our rifles in case of a night ‘attack’ - so I fire up my tiny hexamine cooker to try and warm up whichever rations the Army has lovingly provided me with. Each 24-hour ration pack contains upwards of 4000 calories because of the level of exertion required of us. The worst breakfast (of a bad bunch) is the so-called ‘Mushroom Omelet’, which is amorphous and brown and tastes just how it looks. I’d much prefer to be eating fresh eggs from my chickens, which I have back home in Wales.

"The frosty expanses of Salisbury Plain are a far cry from my early childhood in the Caribbean. Dad was the chief dental officer on the island Anguilla for six years before he was ‘promoted’ to the land of leeks and dragons. Mum is a specialist nurse, so I suppose a healthcare career was a natural choice for me. I love children too. I was a nanny for 3 years after I left school whilst I worked out what I wanted to do. I’m happy I opted for speech therapy because the one on one time you get with the people you treat is great. I also now have an intimate knowledge of ENT (ear, nose and throat) anatomy, which can be handy. It’s less obvious why I choose to spend time with the Army; it’s totally incongruous with the rest of my life. I think it has to come down to a kind of latent masochism.

"Commanding other university students can be trying at times. When we’ve had 3 hours sleep in 48 hours and we’ve been patrolling all day carrying 20kg of kit, people get stupid and forget their drills, myself included. We might get into a ‘contact’ and people will run around in plain sight because they’re too tired to leopard crawl in cover. The platoon commanders will be screaming down the radios at their subordinates to get a grip of their guys. But it’s worth it when I get home and ask my housemates what they’ve done over the weekend, which tends to entail getting drunk and sitting around in their pyjamas. While they’ve been doing that, I’ve become fitter, mentally tougher, strengthened already solid bonds with my army mates and received a paycheck for the privilege. Being paid to go skiing or yacht racing a few times a year isn’t so bad either. There’s no commitment to join the regulars when you graduate but it’s not hard to see the appeal.

"After an exercise we usually head to the Nando’s around the corner from the regimental headquarters - our muscles are pleading for protein and we get 20% military discount. I’m exhausted in every way and I need to be sharp for lectures the following day - especially if it's neurology - so I’ll have a mammoth shower and head for bed as soon as I get home, maybe 8pm. Nothing feels better than crawling back into civilisation."

As told to Isabella Smith