Could this documentary series following 24 raw recruits as they aimed to ape the original D-Day landings 60 years ago add anything new to the ragged reality army formula? The answer is perhaps, but not just yet.
This format has been overdone in recent years (SAS: Are You Tough Enough, The Trench, Lads’ Army) so Destination D-Day sought a distinctive voice through the presence of three D-Day veterans. But the problem is that army training techniques
had been pretty much perfected by 1944 and have therefore changed very little, so the veterans added little insight into the recruits’ training other than remarking how similar it was to their own.
Also when basic training is so truncated for television purposes, in this case cut to a period of four weeks, the whole mission has a sense of a sham. The 1980s series about the Parachute Regiment was the definitive thesis on training in the British Army, and would be a far more relevant perspective than the short-cut antics on show here.
The villain of the piece is the vexatious Sergeant Martin Westley – an unwelcome stereotype – in possession of a Napoleonic complex impelling him to bark orders with gratuitous volume, finding fault if someone looks at him during inspection or berating the recruits for ungainly marching. That’s been seen so often in the past his strictness isn’t amusing. The only joy to emerge from his presence was a sharp observation from Private Elliott who was pleased about “getting praise from a diminutive sergeant major carrying a stick larger than himself” after Westley had complimented his parading skills.
However, Captain Porteous came across well. The laconic commanding officer of the platoon seemed fair-minded towards his new charges, but also had the resolve not to tolerate lily livered civilians who struggled with the hardship of army life. One recruit had an injury Porteous said could be remedied by a hot bath. One left because hated ironing; another just moaned about it (“ironing is not for men, it’s a known fact”).
The veterans trailed around after the platoon occasionally offering a perceptive view on proceedings, but for the most part were superfluous. Their real value will come when the recruits move on to exercises specific to D-Day, and their unique anecdotal expertise will be essential to the recruits’ success or failure on the battlefield.
When Destination D-Day replicates the momentous assault, it could be exciting. But, as one recruit commented after three days on freezing cold Dartmoor, there will be a “long, long crap build-up towards it”. But a most blessed relief is that ITV didn’t come up with the idea first or we’d have Christopher Biggins, Shaun Williamson and Jono Coleman storming the beach stoutly defended by Herr Flick of the Gestapo and Grange Hill’s evil Mr Bronson.