We're not celebrities... get us out of here!

PUBLISHED: 18:49 09 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013

The girls with their Help For Heroes banner

The girls with their Help For Heroes banner

The Brunei jungle isn't perhaps the first place you'd expect to find five 40 plus Surrey mothers. Yet, that is exactly what happened recently as a group of women tested their survival skills to raise funds for Help for Heroes. Here, is their ...

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The Brunei jungle isn't perhaps the first place you'd expect to find five 40 plus Surrey mothers. Yet, that is exactly what happened recently as a group of women tested their survival skills to raise funds for Help for Heroes and their Epsom rehabilitation centre, Headley Court. Here, is their first hand account, brought to Surrey Life by one of the intrepid adventurers, ANNMARIE YEELES

For pictures from the girls pre-jungle fundraising event at Epsom Downs Racecourse keep an eye out for the January edition of Surrey Life magazine, out in all good shops from Monday December 29

If, like the rest of the nation, you have just enjoyed the recent series of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!, then spare a thought for five British women, myself included, who have just returned from the jungles of Brunei on a six day survival trek, raising money for Help for Heroes. The charity was set up in September 2007 by Bryn Parry to raise funds for the treatment of injured servicemen and women returning from conflict - particularly Iraq and Afghanistan.

We were inspired to organise the challenge after reading about the plight of several servicemen in the national press and after a heart-rending visit to Headley Court, the rehabilitation centre in Epsom - which is very close to where four of us live. All aged 40 plus and with children whose ages range from 26 to 4-years-old, we started to plan our unusual journey just over a year ago and have so far raised over 30,000. The idea, sparked into life by Morag Mack, mother of three, soon gathered momentum and the challenge was accepted by four of her close friends - Helen Foster, Julie O'Sullivan, Ruth Rowbotham and I.

Surviving like Bear Grylls

In April last year, we were lucky enough to meet one of the key people in organising our trek, when we took part in a survival weekend organised by Andy "Woody" Wood of Bushcraft Expeditions. Woody, primarily through his military background, is an expert on jungle survival and frequently called on for his unique skills - indeed he is an integral part of Born Survivor, Bear Grylls, the Channel 4 survival series.

Thanks to sponsorship from global security consultants Armor Group, he was joined by a second experienced ex-military man, Phil Jones, who would lead the trek with Woody and keep us girls safe during our trip - and check our slip knots (but more on that later...)! So, accompanied by our very own Ant and Dec, we set off on the long journey to Brunei.

Snakes, rats and crocodiles...

None of us had imagined what to expect - I had my own personal issues with snakes, Morag has her fear of rats and Helen hates crocodiles - but one thing was certain - we were under no illusion of just how tough this was going to be. Woody had told us to adopt the jungle discipline of one set of clothes for day (wet) and one set of clothing for night (dry). You should never muddle up the two - even if it means putting on wet clothes in the morning which we always did. At least it simplified our 'what to pack' issues. Add to that the ever buzzing multitude of insects, some nocturnal scorpions, a thousand mosquito bites, aggressive centipedes, the darkest of nights and the horror of leeches, and clothes become the very least of your priorities.

I want to say right now just how amazing the support has been from the Brunei Garrison. On our arrival they made over one of their houses for us to use as base before and after our six day trek and we were very comfortable there. On our first day we paid a visit to the Garrison to meet the deputy chief of staff there, Steve Rogers, and to familiarise ourselves with the Bell 212 helicopter which had been arranged to transport us into the furthest reaches of the jungle. This involved a safety instruction briefing from Sergeant Scott Kelly including Julie being winched down from the helicopter as a demonstration of emergency evacuation procedure. Happily this was never needed but we are very grateful to Scotty and his team who literally showed us the ropes.

Packing for the jungle

After a couple of days of acclimatisation, including a preliminary walk in the 'trees' to settle our nerves and give us a preview of all the terrors to come, we attempted one of my biggest challenges to date - the packing of our kitbags. Packing is not my strong point - as my husband will testify - but under the watchful eye of an ever-patient Phil, we managed to get it all in with room to spare and essentials only. Very liberating.

So equipped with hammocks, mosquito nets, shelters, perang machetes and Camelbak water carriers, we set off for the helicopter pick-up. We travelled in two batches over eighty miles south west from Bandar and from all civilisation; Scotty wrote us a note as we travelled: "We will be back for you on Thursday". I prayed he wouldn't get the day wrong.

We made our camp among a thick canopy of trees surrounded by a river. As we were higher up, there was no need to fear crocodiles, present in the lower estuaries of Brunei. We put up our shelters - our basha in army speak - and the hammocks entwined with mosquito nets, which were to prove most effective. Phil and Woody religiously checked the security of the slipknots which held everything in place. We explored the surrounding area and discovered a waterfall in which we could bathe and collect water for purifying.

Bush-tucker trials

With no need for bush-tucker trials, our food was largely provided through the ever-resourceful army rations which included a wide range of easily consumable food, and although we never thought we'd eat two heat-stable Yorkie bars in a day, we managed it easily. With the heat and trekking and carving our way through the jungle with our machetes, it became clear that energy was needed to keep going and it was especially necessary to drink plenty of water (8 to 12 litres a day).

As it goes dark at about 6pm and remains so until 6am, we kept to a good routine of trekking, learning survival skills such as tracking, fishing or shelter building often in heavy rain before we ran out of daylight. We even trekked along ridge lines using a compass and clickers to orientate ourselves.

The nights were long and noisy - well we did try to keep it down - and we entertained ourselves after supper with a variety of games, some of which I am pleased to say we were able to teach Woody and Phil. After the second night, I finally felt able to let go my fear of a big snake visiting me in my hammock and although they were all around us, they know to keep away and I was not going to arouse them. The night shift of beetles, frogs, wild pigs and cicadas sounded away all night and eventually we were able to accept the noise and fall asleep. To finally feel secure at night was a huge high point for me.

Hair troubles

It would not be a full representation of our trip if I did not mention just how frizzy the humidity makes your hair and although on the first day I said that I most missed my skinny latte from Starbucks, by the end of the week I was fantasising about a decent blow-dry and would have willingly crawled through a pit of vipers to get one.

I must mention the toilet facilities - if only to make you shudder. At the start of our trip, Woody and Phil laughed as we all went to the loo together - safety in numbers we thought - although not in the way we meant as the numbers did increase as the 'pit' attracted scores of bullet ants, fire ants and hornets! However, by the end of our trek, we were happy enough to 'go' alone but only by daylight. We even managed to stay free of leech bites after following Woody and Phil's advice on bootlace tying and the use of insect repellent around the rim of our boots. For that piece of information I shall always be grateful.

Escape back to freedom

After our six days Scotty did indeed come for us and helicoptered five very grubby and smelly girls and two equally grimy ex-soldiers back to civilisation. We took a final photo holding the Help for Heroes banner and with one last look, left the trees behind.

So what did the experience teach us? That we all faced our fears and were able to rely on ourselves and each other? That grown men still hate losing to a girl in a game? That is certainly true but I think the most important thing I will remember is that you need a good sense of humour and not to let the little things get to you. Little things like swallowing a fly or falling out of your hammock in a state of undress.

We could not have done this without the support of our armed services or of the many people who sponsored us (all the money we have raised has gone to Help for Heroes) but probably the biggest thanks of all must go to Woody and Phil who for a few short days this winter became our closest and most reliable friends, kept us going and laughed at our jokes. Even when they weren't funny and for that we are eternally grateful.

For pictures from the girls pre-jungle fundraising event at Epsom Downs Racecourse keep an eye out for the January edition of Surrey Life magazine, out in all good shops from Monday December 29

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