Best of Defence Imagery 2020

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As the year comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at some of the most memorable images of 2020 for the UK Armed Forces.

From the dust and dirt of a warzone to the gleaming uniforms of a parade, military and MOD civilian photographers capture the images that show the reality of life for UK servicemen and women. Many who capture these images are servicemen and women first and photographers second, deploying with their rifle as well as their camera, taking the same risks as others but also giving the public a unique, candid view of the realities of conflict. Away from operations they also capture the day-to-day reality of military life.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “During an extraordinary year, defence photographers have helped capture the diverse work of our servicemen and women, from fighting COVID at home to deploying on operations overseas. Their work offers the general public a unique glimpse of what life is like for our personnel.”

Defence Picture Editor Panay Triantafillides said: “The versatility of our Armed Forces and the type of work they do is visible throughout this year’s collection. In 2020 our military and civilian photographers have been busy at home and overseas capturing moments in time, that will live forever for future generations to marvel.”


6,400 servicemen and women are deployed overseas over the festive season on 39 operations across 46 countries. Thousands of personnel are also deployed and held at high readiness at home as part of UK resilience operations.

11 Royal Navy vessels are deployed overseas, whilst others are held at high-readiness ready to respond when required.

Here are some of our favourite photos:

A UK peacekeeper deployed on United Nations peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, is seen here playing with children at a Protection of Civilian camp. Over the last 4 years the UK has had 300 personnel deployed to the UN mission in South Sudan. This highly successful deployment has built 2 hospitals and upgraded local infrastructure including schools, prisons and bridges. To help prevent sexual violence UK personnel have upgraded 16 kilometres of roads so local women can safely travel to collect food and water. This activity has contributed to preventing instances of sexual violence along the route. Complementing this, the UK troops have provided self-defence classes to over 300 women in the Protection of Civilian camp, along with training on womens rights.
Image of a soldier from the Royal Corps of Signals, seen here painting a poppy mural in honour of the fallen, onto the compound wall in Gao Mali. UK personnel have been deployed on Op NEWCOMBE in non-combat roles in Mali since 2018, with RAF Chinook aircraft contributing a unique logistical capability to the French-led op BARKHANE.
Image of two Royal Navy Merlin Helicopters, seen here carrying out a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Exercises (HADR) exercise on the Caribbean Island of Monserrat. RFA ARGUS has been conducting HADR exercises in Monserrat. ARGUS embarked aircraft from 845 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons (NAS), 24 Commando Royal Engineers, 539 Commando and Mobile Air Operations Team have all conducted readiness training in preparation for the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
HMS Queen Elizabeth ship’s company celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe), with the flight deck team using glow sticks to spell out the message (VE Day 75). The Armed Forces have led the nation in commemorating the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe and have paid tribute to the enormous sacrifices of the Greatest Generation in restoring peace to the continent. On Friday 8 May 2020 sailors and Royal Marines around the world paused to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by their forebears in World War Two. Ships and naval bases at home and abroad joined the rest of the UK in marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Image of Royal Marines in rank. Ships Company of HMS Albion as well as embarked forces formed a hollow square on the flight deck for Remembrance Day. Representatives from the Royal Navy, Army and RAF each laid wreaths under the ensign respectively. The group will also support NATOs Mediterranean security operation Sea Guardian alongside new patrol ship HMS Trent which is now permanently based in the region – and provide options for the UK to respond to any potential crisis in the area. Known as the Littoral Response Group (Experimentation) deployment, the force includes the headquarters and staff of Commodore Rob Pedre, the Commander Littoral Strike Group, flagship HMS Albion, destroyer HMS Dragon and amphibious support ship RFA Lyme Bay.
Image of Marines from Plymouth based 42 Commando are seen here at a Mobile Testing Unit in Salisbury. To ensure social distancing protocols are maintained, they use signs and mobile phones to communicate with drivers. Marines from Plymouth based 42 Commando have set up a Mobile Testing Unit in Salisbury to conduct COVID 19 as part of the Armed Forces is helping to support the governments efforts to increase testing . The 8 marines have been undertaking tests at MTU facility as part of the Military Assistance to Civilian Authority (MACA) taskings during the COVID situation. The MTU is facilitating the testing of individuals and their families who have been identified as essential workers who have shown symptoms of coronavirus. On arrival individuals are directed to a drive through lane where they are provided with instructions on how to conduct the test through to how to dispense it in the collection point. The Armed Forces continue to support the NHS and other Government departments with the COVID-19 response.
Image of the Royal Military Academy Adjutant Major A J Salusbury, Welsh Guards, rides his horse up the steps and in the front door of Old College upon completion of the Sovereigns Parade. As Guest of honour and the parades inspecting officer the Secretary of State for Defence, The Right Honourable Ben Wallace MP watches on in the background. 213 Officer Cadets from Commissioning Course 193 will pass out as army officers at the Sovereign’s Parade to be held at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on Friday 14th August. Guest of honour and the parade’s inspecting officer will be the Secretary of State for Defence, The Right Honourable Ben Wallace MP who will represent Her Majesty, The Queen. Following his duties as the Inspecting Officer and in tribute to the 75th anniversary of Victory in Japan, the minister will lay a wreath in Chapel Square, tour the Indian Army Memorial Room and speak with a number of the international cadets. The commissioning cadets have been restricted to inviting only two guests so as to ensure the strict social distancing policy is upheld, the cadets will march on and perform their drill movements in open order to maintain their distancing, then finally and unusually for the Sovereigns Parade there will only be two divisions on parade instead of the three the junior division having started later in the year due to lockdown are not ready to take to the famous parade square in front of Old College.
Image of the Pakistan Military Academy Team, high kicking as they halt at the end of their performance. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) has hosted its annual Pace Sticking Competition which took place on Tuesday 13th October. This year was very different from the norm; with COVID-19 causing travel restrictions for international teams and strict government guidelines to be adhered to on social distancing, the All Arms International Pace Sticking was put on hold and instead substituted with The Tri-Service Pace Sticking competition, a first at RMAS. The situation was not set to dampen the day or competitors’ spirits, after all awards for the Best Pace Sticking Team, Best International Team, Best Individual Pace Sticker and Best Driver were still up for grabs. Whilst there was some disappointment in camp that some members of the international teams were unable to attend and fight to keep their titles, last year’s international team winners – Pakistan were able to meet the requirements in order to enter the event. Making the event even more unique was the rivalry between Services and of course the appearance by the Old and Bold with our Chelsea Pensioners. There were eight teams in total who took part, these included the Grenadier Guards, the Royal Air Force, The Queen’s Colour Squadron, several RMAS teams from across the Academy including an Officers’ team and a team from the Royal Hospital Chelsea. In-Pensioner Dave Coote, the team’s Driver said, It’s great to be back and leading the team, I last took part in pace sticking in 1977 as a RMAS Colour Sergeant. Marching on the Drill Square has bought all of the good times flooding back to me.
Image of Chelsea Pensioners watching a virtual Guard of Honour within the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London. Troops from the Kings Royal Hussars (KRH) Public Duties Roulement Company (PDRC) provided a ‘virtual’ Guard of Honour for their Colonel-in-Chief, HRH The Princess Royal, at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC) in London. The occasion was to recognise HRH’s 50 years of service as Colonel-in-Chief of the unit (first as 14/20 Kings Hussars and then as KRH) and included the gifting of a bespoke medal to the Princess. The parade was static and social distanced with a film crew capturing the event on a live link through to HRH and enabling the virtual’presentation of the medal. The choice of the Royal Hospital as a venue is significant as it provided an entertaining but responsible and safe event for the In-Pensioners, notably those who share a link to HRH through her various military commitments and the current Governor of the Hospital is General Sir Adrian Bradshaw KCB OBE, who is also the Colonel of the Regiment.
A music conductor is seen here setting the tempo for the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, as they play at a Gurkha Company passing out parade at Helles Barracks, Infantry Training Centre in Catterick. The band played at the Gurkha Company pass out parade at Helles Barracks, Infantry Training Centre Catterick, 26 November 2020. Recruits of Gurkha Company graduated as Riflemen from the Infantry Training Centre Catterick in a pride-filled ceremony at Helles Barracks. 2020 saw the highest intake of Gurkha recruits to the Catterick-based institution, which moulds prospective soldiers into future frontline infantry. The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, Secretary of State for Defence, attended as the Reviewing Officer of the Pass Off Parade, giving his support to the recruits of Gurkha Company upon their appointment as fully-fledged soldiers of the British Army. The parade marked the end of the recruits nine-month long training programme, whereafter they will each join their chosen Regiment in The British Army. A proud day for the recruits, instructors, Gurkha Company, Infantry Training Centre and The British Army.
Image of Captain Sir Tom Moore as he leaves the Army Foundation College (AFC) in Harrogate, to the applause of hundreds of trainees during his visit. Captain Sir Tom Moore visited the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, today (Monday, August 3, 2020) in his new role as their Honorary Colonel. World War II veteran, who raised a phenomenal £38.9 million for the National Health Service’s charitable wing, NHS Charities Trust, upon completing 100 laps around his garden at his home in Bedfordshire, during the lockdown period, has become a household name and national treasure. The foundation college is the only Junior Entry basic training establishment in the British Army and it plays a vital role in delivering initial military training and education for under 19s, developing the Army’s future leaders and provides them with the knowledge and skills to excel in their military career and lives beyond. Keighley-born hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore, was shown around the college, met and chatted with many of the Junior Soldiers and received his new Colonel’s rank slides marking his role as the new Honorary Colonel of the college.
A drill sergeant from Nijmegen Company, Grenadier Guards, shouts out instructions to troops on the parade ground at Wellington Barracks in London. Learning socially distant drill to the standard required to present to visiting foreign and British dignitaries has been a challenge for the whole company with many of the Guardsmen having only recently passed out of the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick. The Grenadier Guards non-commissioned officers have worked tirelessly on drill and turnout, instilling a pride in the Guardsmen to ensure they achieve the highest of standards. Nijmegen Company, Grenadier Guards this week provide Guards of Honour for the visits of General Joseph Aoun, Commander in Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces and Andriy Taran, Ukraine’s Defence Minister. Accompanied by the Band of the Scots Guards, the Guardsmen have spent an intensive period on the drill square to ensure they present a polished, professional performance for their first public ceremonial duties since the start of lockdown. Bringing a sense of team work into the training, Nijmegen Company spent a day conducting a series of activities and exercises designed to test physical stamina, military skills and coordination. Starting with massed rifle drill, the technical elements of foot drill were introduced then the Band of the Scots Guards arrived and the Company practised marching with the Band; a first for many. Focusing on social distancing added another dimension of precision to the exercises as the troops practised the formation changes. Throughout the pandemic the soldiers have continued to provide Royal Guards at St James’ Palace, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London but these duties have largely been performed behind closed doors. For many of the Guardsmen in Nijmegen Company, this week’s two Guards of Honour are the first time they have been on parade in public.
Image of troops paying a socially distanced tribute to Her Majesty on her official Birthday at Windsor Castle. The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, turned out in the Quadrangle accompanied by a reduced Massed Band of the Household Division today (13/06/2020). Ordinarily, Guardsmen would be shoulder-to-shoulder, enabling them to maintain dressing’ or staying in line with one another, but in keeping with government COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing, each Guardsman was tasked with standing 2.2m apart, measured by three turns of the pace stick. Soldiers were chosen due to the fact they are either living in the Windsor area, on duty at the Castle, or based in Barracks nearby, so limiting the amount of travel required. The special ceremony for Her Majesty was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Llewelyn-Usher. Music included many stirring Welsh favourites and was conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Haw. An event of this nature has not happened in Windsor for the Sovereign’s birthday since 1895, and today the Household Division demonstrated new ceremonial drill moves that have been developed in order to deliver the ceremonial standards for which they are recognised around the world while conforming to strict social distancing guidelines. Immediately following the ceremony, the Windsor Castle Guard returned to the guardroom to resume their guard duty.
A solder from 2 PARA (right) provides range overwatch as French paratroopers fire a AT4 (Anti-tank 4) on Salisbury Plain training area for Ex Wessex Storm. British and French paratroopers are training side-by-side to be ready to respond together to international crises. Exercise Wessex Storm sees the 2 PARA Battlegroup, which includes a company from the French 2e Régiment Etranger de Parachutistes, training on c to confirm its skills and readiness to serve as the lead infantry unit within 16 Air Assault Brigade, the British Army’s global response force.  The six-week manoeuvres (2 Nov-12 Dec) has started with live-fire battle runs for the French paratroopers to introduce them to British training procedures and British and French paratroopers demonstrating the capabilities of each other’s heavy weapons. The troops fired their anti-tank missiles – Javelin for the British and MILAN for the French – and mortars to show the capabilities of each other’s weapons and the tactics each employs, to be able to work together better.  The 2 PARA Battlegroup is a 1,500-strong unit built around the paratroopers of Colchester-based 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, supported by signallers, engineers, artillery, medics and logistics specialists from 16 Air Assault Brigade. It is training to be ready to deploy at short notice on operations around the world. The involvement of 2e REP is about maintaining the partnership between British and French airborne forces, which have been trained and deploy to deploy together on operations since 2013. 
Image of Gunners from the RAF Regiment, seen here in a gruelling stretcher carry to raise money for the Centurion Fund. On the 28th of September 2020, Gunners from the RAF Regiment based at 903 EAW, raised funds for The Centurion Fund by completing 2020 metre open water swim, followed by 2020 metre cycle climb and a 2020 metre stretcher carry. The fund is charged with the care and maintenance of the Corps’ name, traditions and history, fostering esprit-de-corps and comradeship amongst members and former members of the RAF Regiment. It exists to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives or suffered injury or put themselves at risk of loss of life or injury during their time in the Service.
Members of 63 Sqn RAF Regiment, fire flares over an enemy position in order to provide vital illumination for personnel conducting an attack during a training exercise in Scotland. From the 20th to 22nd of January 2020, members of the Queen’s Colour Squadron (QCS) – known as 63 Squadron RAF Regiment in their field role – undertook a series of training and exercise scenarios at Barry Buddon Training Area near Dundee, Scotland. The squadron was broken down into its respective sections and fireteams, allowing those present to stay current and experienced in terms of valuable infantry skills. The various fireteams conducted simulated scenarios in which they would come into contact with an ‘enemy’ and had to respond proportionally and effectively. QCS are the custodian of the Queen’s Colour for the RAF in the United Kingdom and have the honour of providing the Escort Squadron whenever the Colour is paraded. They regularly participate in high level ceremonial duties involving The Royals and members of Parliament. They also rotate on a regular basis with the Navy and British Army to guard Buckingham Palace.
Image of Bravo Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines receiving a bergan drop from a Malloy Aeronautics heavy lift drone whilst on exercise Olympus Warrior in Cyprus. LRG (X) will operate from Royal Navy shipping to provide forward presence in the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Levant and Black Sea, focussing training and operations with NATO and regional partners whilst developing experimentation (X) and innovation trials that underpin the Littoral Strike concept, the Future Commando Force vision and the Royal Navy’s Transformation strategy.
Members of 45 Commando make their way through a forest, whilst on exercise Green Claymore in Scotland. Ex GREEN CLAYMORE 2020 is delivering a rigorous mountain warfare training package designed to; reinforce basic Commando skills, build understanding of the mountainous environment and its impact on warfighting operations, and enable the successful execution of Winter Deployment 21. Crucially, planning for Ex GC was done with the Future Commando Force (FCF) Concept in mind and has incorporated the trialling of 12-man team tactics and assault techniques. Ex GC is being undertaken in the Cairngorms National Park with ranks from across the Unit plus enablers As a prelude to Winter Deployment 21 (WD21), Ex GC presents a significant opportunity to communicate the capabilities of the RM and the UK’s ability to conduct Cold Weather Warfare (CWW), whilst demonstrating fundamental skills of the Future Commando Force (FCF) concept.

Photos: UK Ministry of Defence 2020  

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