Sea cadets celebrate 70th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 September 2012
AT A time when youth services and activities are being constantly scaled back, there is one group which often goes unmentioned in talks of budgets, protests and the future of our young people - the sea cadets.
Weston’s Sea Cadet unit Training Ship Weston (TS Weston) has been an integral part of the town since 1942, providing waterborne activities, training and camaraderie for generations of young people – but most importantly, a sense of identity, responsibility and belonging.
This month, the unit, based in Sunnyside Road North, celebrated its 70th anniversary, and is still going from strength to strength.
Cadet Tom Smith, aged 16, of The Brambles, St Georges, said: “There are lots of activities, and qualifications you can earn and it also gives you life skills.
“It feels really good to belong to something. If you’re looking for responsibility and fun, then come and join us here.”
Cadets can take part in dinghy sailing, canoeing, pulling (or rowing), power boating, windsurfing and sailing, both in nearby waters and further afield, often taking trips across the country to meet with other units and sail in less familiar territory.
It is the training which lends cadets the bulk of their skills and experience. Any cadet can specialise in a number of subjects including seamanship, communications, marine engineering, physical training and first aid.
There are also a variety of BTEC courses available in public services and music and marine engineering, each the equivalent to four GCSEs.
But all cadets pick up skills and also learn about meteorology, target shooting and music – with the cadet’s band actively encouraging drummers and buglers to further their creative skills.
As the unit’s aims state, the cadets ‘ensure that we provide the best opportunities for physical, educational, emotional and moral personal development, thus providing life skills for the cadets and responsible adults for the community’.
And it is working. The 80-strong unit has won the title of best in the country – out of some 400 units – three times since 1996.
One reason the unit has been such a success is due to the attitudes of those who lead it and the inclusive nature of the organisation – originally just for boys, opening up to girls in the early 1990s.
First Lieutenant and Chief Petty Officer Adrian Main said: “We cater for everybody. It doesn’t matter what background people have, you are welcome here. That’s in our doctrine and that’s very valuable to the cadets.”
Commanding Officer Barry Fear added: “We are all a family, a ship’s family. Age doesn’t get in the way, we have young cadets mixing with older children and we have a broad mix of people.
“There is no conflict between cadets of different ages like there can be at school.
“The cadets enter competitions with other units across the country and make new friends in all sorts of places. It is not just a little town thing, it is a big picture worldwide.”
Each unit is entirely self-funded and is a charity in its own right, raising its own money to keep going.
The unit is made up of three sections – juniors, aged 10-12 and the ‘blue jacket’ sea cadets aged 12-18 and the Royal Marine cadets, aged 13-18.
As Lieutenant Mick Fitch explains: “The juniors provide an elaborate and progressive training programme.
“It is based on fun and they can earn badges by doing modules, such as waterborne and outdoor activities.
“The success of the juniors shows in that 90-95 per cent of them go on to become seniors.”
The Royal Marine group cadets have been part of the Weston unit for about 18 months. They complete the same activities as the other cadets but also complete camouflage training and other extra outdoor activities.
As Lt Fitch puts it: “They also put grass on their hats and crawl through mud.”
When cadets turn 18, they have to leave or become a member of staff – an option many of the cadets explore.
Brad Wheatley, aged 18, of Hayward Avenue, West Wick, was a cadet until last week, when he became became a civilian instructor.
He said: “I have been with the cadets for four-and-a-half years. Being in the sea cadets has definitely helped give me more responsibility in myself, through activities and the training.”
Commanding Officer Fear added: “We are not here for recognition. We do these things because we think it is something we should be doing in the town.
“We have always been important, whether there are cutbacks or not. We have always been here. What with the cutbacks, people are more aware and are looking around for something else.
“We only cost £1.80 a week, and that gets you two free uniforms to wear.
“I would say to any young person reading this – just come down, give us a try and see what we do first hand.”