BRNC - Passing Out Parades
Officer Cadets at the college undergo intensive drills, under the command of WO Honeychurch who is assisted by two sergeant Royal Marines and two petty officers, to prepare for their big day on the parade ground, which marks the culmination of their training at the college.
Training divisions are held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with up to 150 cadets and staff officers taking part in the practice marches. Parades, also known as Divisions, can potentially be called in any ship or Royal Navy establishment. Although a more natural element in training establishments, traditionally it was a way for commanding officers or visiting admirals to inspect and address a ship’s company.
Once they have passed out, many of the young officers are unlikely to march again. But all they have learnt from the experience will stand them in good stead for their Navy days, WO1 Honeychurch said.
‘Marching teaches them all the core values of the Royal Navy - courage, commitment, discipline, respect, integrity and loyalty.
‘Learning how to march is a huge team builder because the cadets identify as a unit and with a sense of belonging to a team and if you make a mistake you let the whole division down.’
During the initial Naval training period, young cadets are taught basic drill skills – how to stand, salute and dress correctly in Naval uniform.
‘We do get tested. Some officer cadets might be very intelligent but they can’t walk in a straight line,’ WO1 Honeychurch laughed.
‘During ceremonial training they assemble on the parade ground, march up the ramp, along the terrace and down the other ramp before marching off if they have done a good parade. If they haven’t, I make them do it again.
‘It looks easy but it’s not. You need to learn physical control and physical fitness. You have to remember to step off on your left foot and keep an arms-length distance from the person in front of you and to your left or right. You have to look straight ahead unless you are told otherwise. During the parade the cadets are told ‘eyes right’ when they have to look right and salute the VIP or saluting officer, while still walking forward. That’s quite hard to do.
‘You also have to concentrate when marching because the formal passing out parades can last up to two hours, depending on who is doing the inspection, and it can get really hot out there.
‘There is not a lot of air movement on the parade ground, it can be very, very still and quite stifling. Before their passing out parades the cadets have to eat a proper breakfast and are advised not to drink the night before because they can become dehydrated.
‘I tell them to keep moving by wiggling their toes and tongues – as long as I can’t see them doing it.’
Once the cadets have got to grips with basic marching skills, they then have to learn how to carry the ceremonial naval sword unsheathed. Instead of gripping the sword, it rests within an open fist, balancing effectively on the index finger of the right hand. Cadets have to learn how to salute both standing still and on the march.
All of the officer cadets take part in the passing out parades, not just those who have finished their training at the college, although they do take pride of place at the front of the line-up.
The parade is also formed of new entry cadet divisions and the rifle bearing ceremonial guard, formed of the more recent intake who are selected on their military bearing and drill skills. There is also the colour guard consisting of a white ensign carrier and a ceremonial cutlass bearer accompanied by two cadets.
The Royal Marine Band, which can travel to Dartmouth from HMS Collingwood or Plymouth, also form part of the parades, of which there are four a year.
The most prestigious Passing Out Parade is the Lord High Admiral’s Parade which takes place every April. The Queen, as monarch, is the Lord High Admiral (although she bestowed the title to Prince Philip last year to mark his 90th birthday) and Buckingham Palace designates a representative of the Lord High Admiral to attend the ceremony each year. The college is not officially told who will be taking the Lord High Admiral’s Parade until three or four months before the event.
The Queen last took the Lord High Admiral’s Parade in 2008. The salute at the spring parades have also been taken by various members of her family including Prince Philip in 2009, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Diana.
WO1 Honeychurch hopes the newly married royal couple, Prince William and Kate Middleton, will one day take the salute at the Lord High Admiral’s Parade.
‘I think they will do it,’ he said. ‘Obviously, Prince William is second in line to the throne. He trained here briefly and one would like to think that at some point he and/or his wife will come down and take a parade.’
The parading cadets mark their successful passing out by slow marching off the parade ground, up the steps past The Bridge and into the college itself. It is at that point they are no longer referred to as officer cadets but as young officers and are addressed by their rank.
The college’s new commander, Jason Phillips OBE, remembers his own passing out parade at BRNC in 1990 and is looking forward to playing a key role in the college’s next passing out ceremony later this month.
One of Commander Phillips’ roles will be to present the parade for inspection. He said: ‘It’s a fantastic day. The cadets get quite nervous because they are doing it in front of their families and they don’t want to let themselves down.
‘Once they have passed out they are allowed to go through the college’s main doors for the first time. It’s a big moment and once they are through and the doors are slammed, you hear this fantastic roar inside. It’s an awesome moment.’
The passing out parades are also proud events for WO1 Honeychurch, who said: ‘To compare the original shabby, scruffy group you started off with to the cadets going out onto the parade ground to pass out at the end of their training is a proud moment. And it must be fantastic for them to see their families dotted all around the parade ground.’
Passing out parades also provide the chance to present prizes to top students, the most coveted of which is surely the Queen’s Sword. A college sword is presented to the top overall cadet at each parade, but the gold plated, engraved Queen’s Sword is reserved for the Lord High Admiral’s Parade.
Once the ceremony is over, the young officers enjoy a reception inside the hallowed college with their parents and whichever VIP took the salute. The reception also gives parents the chance to chat with staff who trained their offspring. Everyone is then treated to a hot buffet.
Passing out parades are held on Thursdays. The college lays on a ball for the new officers the following night, before they leave the college for their first deployment on the Saturday.•
Interviews by Ginny Ware
First Published July 2012 By The Dart