Preparation for the Sir Steuart Pringle Trophy started back in May when Harry Remnant, the head of the Royal Marine section and Pringle team captain, assembled a strong squad. Ably assisted by Freddy Williams and Tom Plaut, the training programme was both arduous and comprehensive. As those living in Mary Sidney Hall and The Grove will testify, there was never really a night when the squad was not attacking a fortified enemy position on Bottom Common, or a Monday morning when the area outside Mr Johnson's office in Oldham's was not used as an opportunity to react to effective enemy fire.
Preparations went well, and it is worth noting the participation of Charles Bane, William Unsworth, Oscar Glendenning, Nikita Martynov and Arthur Myrddin-Evans, who did not make the team but who were integral members of the squad. Their involvement in the training only illustrates the strength in depth in the Shrewsbury School team this year.
The final team of Harry, Freddy, Tom, Alex Ainslie, Luka Cassidy, Emma Graham, James Martin, Jonathan Snell and James Weir arrived at the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon ready for almost anything apart from a guest appearance by Bear Grylls, who is an honorary Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel, and Phil Campion, a decorated former member of the SAS. Their motivational words not only encouraged the team but also reflected just how seriously the competition is taken by the Royal Marine Corps.
On Saturday morning, the competition began in earnest as the team started on the map reading stance, just one of the three stands that the section won over the two-day competition. The larger than life figure of Colour Sergeant Sanderson, a Royal Marine physical training instructor and ultra-fit champion, who is affectionately known as the toughest man in Grimsby, was heard remarking "they smashed it", which was a clear sign that we had made a terrific start.
Next came the first aid, then the first of two command tasks and drill. Results on stances are only revealed at the end of the competition, but it was clear from the feedback given by the directing staff that Shrewsbury School was doing well. A special mention should go to Freddy Williams for his performance on the drill square and to Jonathan Snell, who managed to iron his shirt collars with such force that he fooled a hardened drill instructor into thinking that he had used velcro to stick them down.
Following ‘scran’, Royal Marine for a meal, the cadets headed out onto Woodbury Common in the afternoon for the kinetic stances. First came the section attack, which was commended for its command and control by both Harry and Tom. Then came the contact drills stance, which illustrated the skills and drills of each member of the team. The unity shown throughout the competition was no more evident than during the second command task, when a well-considered plan was executed efficiently using each member of the team, and the observation stance at the end of the day where every member of the team scored full marks.
It might seem that it was wrapped up on day one, but it was clear that old rivals in the form of King's College, Pangbourne College and Winchester College had also performed well. The Sir Steuart Pringle Trophy is almost always decided by fine margins given the depth of talent at the competition, as many who take part will go on to commission as Royal Marine officers in later life, and this year was no exception. The team took advantage of Royal Marine hospitality and had their first dinner at 5pm, followed by their second dinner at 9pm, or ‘niners’ as it is called by the Royal Marines. The empty plates in front of them indicated that they would have probably also won an eating stance if there had been one.
The following morning was the last stance of the competition, the endurance course, which is largely the first commando test undertaken by adult recruits after 31 weeks of training. The Shrewsbury team made good progress and light work of the obstacles in front of them, including the sheep dip: an innocuous-sounding name for an obstacle that involves throwing each other through a narrow two-metre tunnel that is submerged under a few feet of bitter cold, dark, foul-smelling water. The Colour Sergeant monitoring it assured us that even "salad dodgers can make it through", but it certainly doesn't feel roomy when you're passing through it. Luckily, niners must have involved some salad, as everyone made it through the tunnel alive and ready to finish the course. The victory was largely made possible by Alex Ainslie, who despite an ankle injury and a slip that had resulted in a gash on his leg and half his trouser leg missing, made it to the finish line along with everyone else.
On return to Lympstone, only the prize-giving was to follow. Nerves grew as our rivals took the first three trophies, but victories in observation, map reading and the endurance course, together with strong performances in all the others meant that Shrewsbury School were announced as the overall winners of the competition this year.
Given our strong performance in recent years and our last victory in 2015, it is worth noting just how much of this is driven by the students themselves. They design their own training programme and deliver it largely themselves, which has meant that the knowledge is being passed down each year to the more junior members. It would not be possible without this monumental effort by students who continually maintain the standards of previous years. James Martin, Johnny Snell and James Weir are now in that position of passing their experience onto the younger years, which I am sure they will do well. Emma, the Shrewsbury School staffs' pick for the top cadet over the competition, also deserves mention as she is the first girl ever to be on a winning Pringle Trophy team, which illustrates just how magnificent her contribution has been.
It is also important to note how much of a school effort the victory is. From Lieutenant Colonel David, Sergeant Major Byrne, Major Billington and Lieutenant Corbett, in particular, who set the high standards we work to, to the coaches of rugby, rowing, hockey and the Hunt who have ensured that their fitness levels are phenomenal. The staff of KH who have kindly prepared extra rations for them, sympathetic Housemasters and Housemistresses; and the teachers who have shown understanding in recent weeks, as well as those who sent their warm wishes before the team's departure last Friday. Mr Graham, who is a sports coach, also deserves our thanks for his good nature during his first visit, as he helped enormously with the logistics during the competition.
Lieutenant Ciaran O'Rooke
The pupil podcast 'ShrewsNews' features an interview with Tom Plaut, who gives a great insight into the experience of training and taking part in the Pringle: ShrewsNews - 12th October