The British Army Masters flew to Bermuda on Sun 9th Nov 2014 to participate in the World Masters Classics. They had been invited by the Classics organisers to play warm up games against the Atlanta Renegades and a Bermuda Barbarian select side prior to the semi finals and finals of the tournament; a remarkable gesture considering that non International teams are rarely if ever invited to the tournament.
The Masters also planned in advance to use the trip to deliver some useful Defence Engagement in support of the Bermuda Regiment, who the British Army have had significantly close ties with over the last 100 years and who had a detachment of their force serve through WW1 with the forbearers of the Royal Anglian Regiment, with whom they still have very close links. To that extent we were helped significantly in the organisation of the tour by Lt Col Mike Foster-Brown, CO of the Bermuda Regiment (a current serving British Army Officer on secondment).
Sunday saw the Masters congregate at Gatwick Airport for the trip out to Bermuda. Having been pleasantly surprised by the BA staff stopping business and moving out from behind their desks to observe a 2 minute silence at 1100 hrs, it was a moment to reflect on comrades lost and a look forward to the Remembrance Day parade that we would be participating on in Bermuda. The flight passed by relatively quickly and touch down in Bermuda saw the Bermuda Regiment staff in the capable hands of Major Ben Beasley, rush us through immigration in advance of every other passenger. Next stop was our hotel, the Fairmount Southampton, were the organisers had kindly agreed to host us alongside the South African, Italian, French and All Blacks International Classic teams…… Heady stuff indeed for rugby-holics and sharing a drink or two on the first evening in the company of such legends as Robbie Fleck and Percy Montgomery of South Africa proved a somewhat surreal experience.
Monday morning saw an early start for about 15 of the Masters side who had been asked to attend a Remembrance Service at one of the local schools; Mount Saint Agnes school in Hamilton. We duly arrived to be greeted enthusiastically by the children, the teachers, Senator Jeff Baron and a variety of governmental officials representing His Excellency Mr George Fergusson. A humbling and heartfelt service designed and led by the children was then followed by a brief talk from Senator Baron on his experiences as a former Police Officer serving overseas in the Balkans as part of a peacekeeping force in 2011. After this and the obligatory photograph that everybody seems to wish have taken with us, we were then taken round some of the kindergarten classes to meet the younger children who it has to be said had us and their teachers in stitches. A delightful 45 minutes or so was spent in their company, before we retired to return to Warwick Camp to carry out our rehearsal for the Remembrance Parade on the Tuesday.
An hour later and wilting under the sun and hot and humid conditions, (which is a somewhat unusual state of affairs for Bermuda that traditionally has heavy rain in the first few weeks of November), 27 jetlagged players attempted to practice drill. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of military rugby players over the age of 35 try to do this and look like a somewhat coherent body of soldiers….. It takes some imagination, and the boys required a little fine-tuning to get them into something passable for the next day. All good fun though and only surpassed by our next Civil engagement duty that day which was to deliver a rugby clinic to a group of U16-19 players in the grounds of the National Police Academy. A great afternoon and early evening discovering that Bermuda has some serious rugby talent in its youngsters, some of who we might see more of in 5-10 years time on the International 7’s circuit (if the USA can get their hands on them), if their speed and footwork was anything to go by.
And so the end of a busy first day, but one spent having great fun mixing with a number of different parts of Bermudian. Back to the hotel and just the bulling of boots and polishing of brasses, for the parade on Tuesday….all in the daily routine of any touring rugby player, surely? Well maybe not quite that early as the Classics tournament beckoned, and so we wandered down the road to the International stadium with the obligatory and by now famous tentage of the Bermuda Classics rugby competition. Suffice to say the next couple of hours were spent watching fabulous rugby from the All Blacks, France, Argentina and Italy in gloriously mild and dry weather in temperature of about 20C. The odd beer or two may have been consumed and our relationship with the South Africans was further fostered as they joined us in the bleachers to chew the fat about rugby heroes of ages past, whilst ruminating on the merits of current International players and how good, or maybe not so good they might be… Always an insight to talk to an ex-International and get it from the horse’s mouth. Percy Montgomery for instance is a physical beast of a player in his upper body, but openly ridiculed by his teammates for having ‘pigeon’ legs. Not chicken legs, we asked? The response came back in a thick South African accent ‘ You can get some meat off a chicken, you don’t get nothing useful off a pigeon…..’!!! Enough said.
Onwards and upwards and more to follow as the days progress.