Blackpool’s boy soldiers

New Army recruits were at Blackpool town hall this morning to officially swear their oath of allegiance.'Recruits are pictured with the Mayor and Mayoress of Blackpool Cllr. Joan Greenhalgh and . PIC BY ROB LOCK'06-01-12
New Army recruits were at Blackpool town hall this morning to officially swear their oath of allegiance.'Recruits are pictured with the Mayor and Mayoress of Blackpool Cllr. Joan Greenhalgh and . PIC BY ROB LOCK'06-01-12
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Blackpool has smashed junior Army recruitment records for the second year running in England.

The commanding officer overseeing the oath of allegiance for the latest batch of raw recruits says he’s “humbled” by the commitment he finds in Blackpool.

It’s just days since British Army careers adviser Major Marc Steventon of the Duke of Lancaster’s received his MBE from the Prince of Wales. But he couldn’t be prouder of the recruitment office on Church Street, Blackpool, where Colour Sergeant Andy Power has just spent his last day in uniform bidding farewell to his last recruits, 21 teenagers off to Army foundation and development colleges at Harrogate and Winchester. Most are 16 years old.

It brings the total of junior Army recruits to 48 in recent months – well above any other Army recruitment office in England.

There couldn’t be a better day to bow out of service, says C/Sgt Power whose outreach work in local schools has paid off. “We knew we had to get out to reach kids of the calibre we wanted, rather than wait for them to come to us.”

He’s about to go back into training, this time in close protection work with a view to moving into private security in hotspots. “I’m not ready for civvy street just yet.”

Sceptics may argue high unemployment and low pay may boost recruitment, but Major Steventon stresses: “We’re not the last resort, but the first resort. The Army is highly selective. The selection process and training has determined these young men know just what they want to do.”

Jack Heaton, 16, of Layton, who will join the Duke of Lancaster’s (infantry), agrees: “I want to be where the action is, that’s why I want infantry. For the full 24 years too.”

Shane Railton, 16, of Fleetwood, is off to the Royal Engineers. “It’s the best of both worlds, as the training I get there will help me in later life too when I come out.”

He admits he had to emotionally blackmail his mum Karen into giving her consent.

“I told her I wouldn’t go to sixth form college if she didn’t sign. This is what I wanted to do, it’s all that I’ve wanted for years now.”

Karen, daughter Maxine, and mum Sheila Ilsley, were there to see the young men taking the oath before the Queen’s representative in the resort, the Mayor, Coun Joan Greenhalgh, who also told them how proud she was.

Karen admits: “I don’t know how I’ll cope when he’s serving, but his mind was made up and I have to respect that. I will cope.” Shane’s sister Maxine adds: “We know he will raise spirits wherever he serves. He’s the joker in the pack.”

Joe Larkin, 16, of North Shore, is also off to the Duke of Lancaster’s, the infantry having traditionally drawn its recruits from Lancashire and the North West. Joe’s girlfriend Katie Jackson, 16, gives Joe some orders of her own. “Write. I don’t mean text, or email, or Facebook. I mean proper letters.”

Zach Ferrigno, 17, of North Shore, will ultimately join the Queen’s Royal Hussars, one of the regiments of the Household Cavalry/Royal Armour Corps, descended from the cavalry regiments who rode into battle on horseback – as depicted in War Horse (which opens at the cinema on Friday).

Zach’s already a four star sergeant in the Army cadets – which he joined at 12. “I needed to be sure I liked it. From 13, it’s all I’ve wanted to do – join the Army, do my bit, see the world. I’m very sure that this is the life I want. I’m in for 12 years.” His mum Tia adds: “Whenever he sets his mind to anything he comes through with flying colours.”

Paul Monaghan, 16, of Cleveleys, is off to Winchester, for the Army Air Corps. “I’d like to do the full 24 years. We all feel sorry about the cutbacks in the services. I couldn’t do one press-up when I started, now I can run a mile and my fitness is improving all the time.”

He’s followed in a family tradition. “Both my grandads were in the Army, one was in the paras, one was in logistics, and my uncle was in the Scots Guards, so I’ve grown up listening to their tales.”

The last word goes to Major Steventon: “All of these lads will go far. Each will have his own personal end-of-bed experience, that moment you sit there, at the end of your bed, and wonder what the heck you’ve done, and why.

“But a sense of humour is their greatest weapon – and form of defence. The banter will carry them through some difficult and dark times. The best advice I can give them is live for the day.

“Don’t worry about the future. Live for the moment and enjoy every minute.”