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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



01 January 2017

As part of their Annual Continuous Training (ACT), 204 (North Irish) Field Hospital have the fantastic opportunity to attend an audience with the Pope in Rome.

Their ACT consisted of 2 phases - a Hospex in York, followed by a trip to Italy for some adventurous training and a battlefield tour.


Exercise Jorvick Mirror was to incorporate a build onto the tented hospital at Dishforth Airfield near York, already erected by 34 Field Hospital.  204 (NI) Field Hospital, along with 243 Field Hospital (our sister unit) and some augmentees from various other units around the world, were to increase the hospital’s size, to enable it to take on extra casualties. Once this was completed, training in each department was carried out, allowing personnel to familiarise themselves with procedures and equipment, before running a test exercise, with test casualties and scenarios.

By day two of the HOSPEX clear roles and routines had been established.  Surprisingly after only one day we all automatically fell into the daily routine of drug and equipment checks no different to that of any NHS hospital.  Functioning as a hospital in this environment is not without its difficulties - documentation not always being available being one of them.  It was very apparent how important it was to have effective processes in place for reporting and communicating between Heads of Departments and teams.  

Certainly, the new Vanguard Hospital set up, was of immense interest to military forces around the world and the Visitor’s Day was packed with representatives from all corners of the globe. Athene Gordon ensured all the employers were being well looked after and, having spoken to a few of them afterwards, they were amazed at the whole set up and very pleased to have been part of it.

We were fortunate to have our friends from UTV, Mr Paul Clark, with his trusty cameraman, John Vennard on that day. They were able to capture some valuable footage, which was aired later that week, further promoting 204 as a leader in military medical practices and worth a closer look to those interested in joining the Army Reserve.


Following on from the HOSPEX, 204 Field Hospital personnel travelled to L’Aquila in Italy.

During the camp 23 members of all ranks had the fantastic opportunity to attend a Papal Audience in St Peter’s Square, Rome.  The atmosphere was electric.  The group were privileged to gain seats only 4 rows from where Pope Frances was seated.  The cardinals took it in turns to read out which groups were present in the audience in their native tongues.  The RSM and his Blackthorn Stick was extremely popular with the people sitting near and he took great delight in posing with many of them for selfies.  This was probably a once in a lifetime experience for our group.

A joint Sergeants & Officers Regimental Dinner was held in a Monastery in L’Aquila.  The Michelin star chef produced an exceptional Alfresco 5 course meal whilst the local band were delighted that they were able source the music and vocals for the National Anthem.

The ancient monastery, with exceptional views of the mountainous countryside from its rooms and courtyards, still has many of its original features including paintings inside the church from the 16th century.    The monastery is now a small hotel and used for many weddings and functions.  Some of the ladies present were delighted to know that in 2009 George Clooney had stayed in the room they were accommodated in.  

Ex GLADIUS SERPENT included a three day adventure training package, set in the Apennine mountains. For this activity, unit members stayed in two lodges, close to the town of L’Aquila.  Activities included mountain biking and trekking, in the most breath taking scenery imaginable. Even the weather was on our side, with not one dribble of rain.

While we were there, we had the opportunity to conduct a Battlefield Tour at Monte Cassino. Local historian (local to us!), Richard Doherty joined us for this memorable journey, following in the footsteps of the Allied Forces in early 1944. Richard certainly knows his subject and the whole day was interesting and highly informative.


The ACT was a fantastic experience for all of those involved, who are all looking forward to next year's adventures!