After being kicked out of school James Cross thought his dream of serving his country was over, but six years on he is making his grandad proud by following him into the Royal Navy.
The 21-year-old grew up hearing stories of his grandad’s time in the Royal Marines, and was always intrigued about life in the Armed Forces.
But after an incident not long after starting sixth form meant he had to leave, he feared this would never become a reality.
Determined not to let it get in the way of the future he had dreamed of since he was a child, he decided to work for a year before enrolling at Derby College to study engineering.
Two years on, he is now about to finish his first year at the University of Derby, where he is working towards a degree in Electrical Engineering, in the hopes of becoming a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and rising through the ranks.
He said: “I have experienced working in an industry job, from visiting Rolls Royce and Bombardier, but decided that environment wasn’t for me.
“An electrical engineering degree will help me gain qualifications throughout my career and specialise me in the engineering trade.
“Joining the Reserves has given me motivation and something to aim for when I leave university. I have realised what I want to do with my life.”
James joined the Royal Navy Reserves in summer 2019 and is currently an Able Seaman based at HMS Sherwood, in Chilwell near Nottingham, where he trains one day a week.
He said: “We learn basic survival skills both on land and at sea as well as navigation.
“We are also taught how to maintain the uniform to the standard expected of the Royal Navy. This includes polishing boots, ironing kit and folding.
“It has taught me to be more organised and improved my time management.”
Fitness is a huge aspect of the role and Reserves have to go through tests to assess their fitness.
James said: “We are regularly tested with little notice so we have to make sure we maintain our standard.”
There are strict medical and physical requirements you have to meet to be eligible to become part of the Royal Navy, including a swimming test during the recruitment process.
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James worked hard to become the fittest he had been in his life to be confident of passing the requirements with ease.
He said: “I like challenging myself and keeping myself fit so run regularly and go to the gym everyday.”
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The reserves undergo 24 days of training each year with 12 at their base and 12 around the country.
James said: “I really enjoy the weekends away. We are introduced to life in the navy and do lots of leadership activities and team building exercises.
“They give us fitness tests where they show us the standard of the navy and what will be expected of us.”
The Armed Forces is known for taking its toll on people’s mental health with its strict orders and responsibilities.
James said: “Discipline-wise they can be really strict with you, but they always have your back and mean well. They mainly do it to give you advice and help you improve as a recruit. They are our mentors and always share their own experiences and tips on life in the Royal Navy.”
Gary Horvath, aged 59, joined the Armed Forces shortly after he turned 18 and served for three years and nine months.
He said: “I think I joined to rebel because a lot of my family was in the navy and I wanted to do something different and get away from home.
“I loved being part of it. Travelling and having lots of friends to rely on was great. We were like a big family.”
Mr Horvath embarked on two tours of Northern Ireland and witnessed shocking scenes.
He said: “It was really bad and I think it put me off wanting to continue serving massively.”
He explained how the things you see can deter people from staying in the force.
He said: “With it constantly involving time away, it isn’t for everyone. Some people join and last years and then other people can’t hack it and last two weeks.
“I’m not sure of the experience today but, in the past, it wasn’t how it was portrayed on adverts, it was worse than that.
“They put a lot of emphasis on seeing the world but there was a lot they didn’t tell us.”
Mr Horvath reveals the harsh realities of life in the army and how there was bullying between those in the barracks.
He said: “Corporals would start kicking certain people’s beds when they were sleeping for no reason. It wasn’t nice to see.”
Mr Horvath left the forces to do something different but many young men are still choosing a career in the forces.
Mia Kicks, aged 21, expresses how proud she is of her boyfriend, Kelsey, who has recently joined the Royal Navy.
She said: “I’m so proud of what he’s doing because he has worked so hard through the training.
“I think it’s such a good opportunity as he will get to travel the world as well!”
But she explains how hard it will be when he is deployed as he could be away for a long time.
She said: “It will be hard to be away from him if he gets deployed on a ship as he could be away for nine months.”
She believes the forces is now much clearer about what you are signing up for and they are portrayed accurately in the media.