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Captain Tim Rayson, International Training LO, Middlesex and NorthWest London ACF

After virtual exchanges over the last three years due to Covid, 20 Army Cadets from Middlesex and NorthWest London ACF together with 6 CFAVs travelled to New Zealand and Australia in early July to finally put boots on the ground in a multi-country, 16 day exchange programme. They were accompanied throughout by cadets from Australia and New Zealand and are probably the first ACF cadets to visit New Zealand.

The mission was “To take 26 cadets and adults to New Zealand and Australia to meet New Zealand and Australian Army Cadets and participate in an interesting and challenging 16 day programme whilst making new friends and having fun”.

After a seemingly endless flight we arrived in Auckland in the early hours of 1st July and after a few short hours’ sleep (four actually) we started with a tour around the city including a trip to the top of the Auckland Sky Tower, taking part in a stunning VR ride around it. The following day we visited the RNZN dockyard and museum where the catering school produced a wonderful lunch. That evening we engaged with a NZ Cadet Corps Tri service JNCO cadre that was taking place at the Taranaki Leadership Centre where we were staying. This was very much like speed dating and great fun for everyone, including the adults. We also took part in morning colours, this being a naval training establishment and the course being run by the RNZN Sea Cadets.

The following morning after a typically early start (0600) we set off for Waiouru (NZ Army main training base), pausing in the City of Hamilton to meet their local cadets for fish and chips before pushing on to our final destination of the day. At Waiouru we were formally welcomed onto the NZ Army national marae (Rongomaraeroa-o-ngā-hau-e-whā ) in a moving traditional Maori ceremony. That evening we had a private behind the scenes tour of the Army Museum and the following morning spent a most enjoyable few hours shooting on the WeTS simulator ranges (DCCT equivalent) before setting off for Wellington.

In the capital city Wellington we explored the New Zealand National Museum (Te Papa) and visited the WeTA workshops where the special effects for Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and both Avatar films were produced. We also paid our respects by taking part in the Last Post service at Pukeahu National War Memorial where we laid a wreath at the Tomb of the NZ Unknown Warrior. The week finished with a formal dinner at Trentham Camp hosted by Colonel Emma Thomas Head of Support (J4) NZ Joint Command who was representing the Chief of Army and who very kindly promoted two cadets after the dinner.

Cadet Adams-Lloyd 21 Coy
“The ANZUK adventure in New Zealand has been nothing short of extraordinary. The memories we’ve made, the places we’ve seen, and the bonds we’ve formed will forever be etched in our hearts. I eagerly await what the next phase in Sydney holds for us!”

Colonel Emma Thomas Head J4 (Support)
“On behalf of the NZ Chief of Army, firstly, this exchange programme represents an exceptional opportunity for our cadets to engage with their counterparts from Australia and the United Kingdom, strengthening the bonds of friendship and collaboration between our nations. The Chief of Army wants to express his utmost admiration for your commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm …… This programme offers you a unique platform to grow as leaders, develop new skills, and forge lifelong connections with cadets from different cultures and backgrounds. The ANZUK exchange is more than just a training opportunity; it is a celebration of shared values, traditions, and aspirations.”

Then it was off to Australia for a 7 day tour that included a day sightseeing in Sydney (including the Sydney Sky Tower) with our hosts. The day after we set off for the BFS phase at Cowra travelling via the Blue Mountains visiting the famous Echo point and Scenic World which has the steepest railway in the world. We found time for a lap of Mt Panorama motor racing circuit in the minibuses (no records set) before arriving at Cowra. Here we were hosted by the local unit (200ACU) with both accommodation and a great BBQ. The following morning was spent exploring the site of the breakout by Japanese POWs in 1944 before visiting the Japanese War Cemetery and laying a wreath. We then moved on to Cootamundra where we were hosted by another local unit (256 ACU) which put us up for the night and provided an excellent BBQ. Both of these visits were a bit like speed dating as our hosts were determined to meet as many of us as possible.

The following day we arrived in Canberra and visited the Parliament House before touring the Defence Force Academy and then RMC Duntroon (Sandhurst equivalent), where our host was the Academy Sgt Major. That evening there was a tour to Mount Ainslie to see Canberra by night. Next day started with a box meal breakfast before the cadets showed their creativity and ingenuity on the Leadership Reaction Course (command tasks) where they had to work in mixed integrated teams. We also visited the Australian War Memorial and participated in the Last Post ceremony laying a wreath. You can watch it here.

Cadet Lance Corporal Windsor (19 Coy)

“I loved the last post service and I will remember that experience for the rest of my life.”

There was then the first of two endex dinners before we returned to our spartan (but comfortable) accommodation to prepare for the inevitable early morning start!

The following day we visited the Science and Technology museum Questacon and then set off for Sydney and our accommodation at Holsworthy Camp. On arrival there was time for a quick shower and change for the endex dinner Mk2. The ViP was commander of the NSW Cadet Brigade (Colonel Andrew White CSC) who spent time talking to the adults and cadets of all three nations. As ever the food was delicious and plentiful and after dinner the Colonel presented Commander’s coins to three of the cadets (one from each nation) before presenting Captain Rayson, much to his surprise, with a Commandant’s commendation. The evening came to a close with our New Zealand friends presenting the NZ Cadet Corps Haka. A fitting close to a fantastic trip.

The following morning – another early start – we set off for the airport and home; all of us reflecting on the whirlwind nature of the tour.

These comments reflect everyone’s views:

Cadet Colour Sgt Ellis-Phillips
Looking back over the last two weeks, a couple days after we landed back in the UK, I can easily say the exercise has been one of the best things I’ve done, not only in cadets but in my life and if someone came to me and asked if I wanted to do it all over again next week I would say yes in a heartbeat. The experiences I had are things I potentially may never do again. I will cherish them and I know that every cadet involved in the initiative will look back in the exact same way.

Cadet Cpl Mejuto-Ellwood (21 Coy)

Overall, the thing I enjoyed most about the trip was getting to know the other cadets and learning about the differences in the way that cadets are done in both Australia and New Zealand. It was a wonderful experience that I think we very much enjoyed.

Cadet LCpl Windsor (19 Coy)

The whole trip was an amazing experience from making friends in my country to making friends on the other side of the world. I loved learning traditions that people follow as this helped me understand different cultures.

Captain Rayson:

The big question that we all have to ask after trips like this is did we achieve the mission? I can safely say that we did and all of the participants now have multiple new friends in three different continents. This success was due in no small part to the support that we received from GL RFCA, ACCT, our affiliated City Livery companies and Regimental Associations. Another key factor was a dedicated team of CFAVs who having completed the exercise deployed to annual camp a couple of weeks later. There is no doubt that we will go again and, in the meantime, we will meet again in July 2024 where we will be hosting our fellow cadets from New Zealand and Australia.