Army reservists showed off their skills on a Challenger Two battle tank at a special live firing session.

Guns blasted, canons flashed and smoke billowed across the Lulworth ranges yesterday as reservists from the different squadrons of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry put all their training into practice on the live firing exercise.

The exercise saw reservists driving down the ranges and firing practice ordinance, including the 120mm gun and the 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.

The shells flew through the air glowing orange as they homed in on their targets.

Some of the projectiles travel in excess of 1,000 metres per second – nearly three times the speed of sound.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris MacGregor said the exercise was the culmination of their training for the year.

He said: “The capability of a tank comes through the crew working as a team. What we have achieved is a crew working in a very professional manner.”

He said the level of interest was so high that people would soon have to ‘reserve your place in the reserve.’ Trooper Marcus Cribb, 23, lives in Weymouth and trains with A Squadron at Bovington.

He recently qualified as a tank driver. He said he had been really enjoying the exercise.

Drivers lie down and have to look through a periscope when the tank is ‘locked down’. Marcus said that there was a blinding white light when the main gun went off and when the machine gun was fired the casings ‘pinged’ off the tank in front of the periscope.

He said that even when the tank was firing the drivers didn’t take it easy as they were constantly looking for new targets.

Corporal Sue O’Hara, 32, joined the Bovington squadron in the summer after 12 years in the regular army. She works as a driver in the Army Reserve and in her civvy life is a cleaner.

She said the opportunities available with the Army Reserve were ‘vast.’ Corp O’Hara said that the camaraderie was the best part.

She said: “It’s a big family.”

She added: “I absolutely love it. It’s brilliant. The money’s not the issue – I don’t do it for the money.

“I do it for the friendship and camaraderie.”

Private Emma Mannings, 24, has been with the Bovington squadron for four years and is a medic. In her civilian life she is a dance teacher.

She said she wanted a new challenge.

“I have gained so much confidence in my abilities, both physically and mentally.

“My medical qualifications have got me opportunities in civvy street.”

  •  Under changes to the army following the publication of the Government White Paper, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry will soon become the only Armoured Reinforcement unit in Britain and will be working towards integration with the British Army’s three regular armoured units.