It was by pure chance that, on enrolling to Cranleigh, neither Ben Durston (East, 2007-2012) nor Ben Cox (Cubitt, 2007-2012) had ever played hockey and so attended an introductory camp prior to their first term. One Ben (who remains unspecified) was considerably less coordinated with a hockey stick, but luckily this did not stop them from becoming friends fairly instantaneously. Despite being in separate houses and sharing almost no classes, they remained firm friends throughout the early days of Cranleigh life.
“It was upon reaching the point at which we were able to join the school CCF that we could embrace our love for the outdoors and adventure whilst also experiencing our first ‘military’ exposure. We will always remember and value those lessons we learned under the vast experience of ‘The RSM’, Gordon Bryant – a true legend to all who know him, a terror to those who haven’t had the privilege. The trips he organised with Doc Young, particularly the Easter Camps adventure training to Wales, are some of the most vivid memories we have of our Cranleigh careers.
When, one day, the Armed Forces Careers Advisor came by, we leapt at the chance to begin our applications to join the Royal Marines together. It would be another six years however, before our applications were to bear fruit. In the mean time we placated our ambition by throwing ourselves into as much of that shared aspect of our lives as we could, both representing the Tom Avery Society for our respective houses and gaining senior positions in the CCF (Durston clinching the top position – much to Cox’s envy).
"Although our academics may have suffered somewhat, we both secured university places and so, for the first time in five years, we parted ways, not speaking for much of that period. Unbeknownst to one another, we both resubmitted our applications to become Royal Marine Officers during our time at university. It was only after Durston narrowly missed out on a place on the 2015 Young Officer Batch, despite passing every test thrown at him, that we came back into regular contact as Cox looked for any help he could get in the process. Finally, in August 2016, we were both informed that we were to attend the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines beginning in September. We recall screaming simultaneously into our phones as we found out that each of us was in ‘The Batch’.
"And so, arriving in deepest, darkest Devon with new ironing boards tucked under one arm and no small amount of trepidation, we embarked upon 64 weeks of training which would test us beyond anything we had imagined. The first four months was ‘militarisation’, the process of removing all ‘civvie’ aspects from us, and suppressing those urges any sane man would have to call it a day and head home for a normal night’s sleep. We then developed our leadership styles in a variety of soggy, cold and dark environments, embracing that specialist role of a Royal Marine, to keep smiling when starving, deliriously fatigued and completely sodden. During our time back in civilisation and on camp we developed our bodies physically, in the gym and then on the assault course, for what was looming in the future.
"In the Summer of 2017, following a three-week field exercise designed to deteriorate our bodies, we faced the famous Commando Tests – four consecutive endurance events, almost unchanged since the conception of the first Commando during WW2, which ensure that all candidates have the necessary personal qualities and both physical and mental robustness to call themselves Commandos and finally don the ‘Green Lid’.
"Following this we concluded our training with a series of exercises around Britain, and passed out as Lieutenants in the Royal Marines on 7 December 2017. Passing out alongside a friend of 10 years is a feeling I doubt will ever be superseded, and a fond memory which will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Ben Durston is currently a Troop Commander at M Company, 42 Commando in Plymouth, and hopes to deploy operationally in the near future; and Ben Cox is a Troop Commander at Medical Squadron, CLR, and hopes to act as an Arabic operational interpreter in the future.
"We owe a lot to our formative years at Cranleigh, and sincerely hope the CCF and Adventure Training budgets will never be cut, as was threatened for various reasons during our time there, as they were genuinely instrumental in aiding us to achieve our childhood ambitions, and we wish to be able to give back some of our experience to pupils like ourselves in the future. Finally, we would like to thank those staff members who supported us throughout our school careers – giving us their invaluable advice and time, and distracting us from our studies so that we could focus on the important things like ambushes on Cubitt Lawn and navigation around the cross-country course. Notably, but by no means exhaustively, we thank RSM Gordon Bryant, Maj Tim McConnell-Wood, Doc Young, and Mr Leeke who always encouraged our passion and engendered in us the personal qualities for which we respect them so."