It’s that time of year again where the UK joins together to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our country. We wear our poppies with pride and some of us attend our towns parade. We stand and remember and listen to the words and poems’ spoken. The last post is played, we stand in silence , then we go home.
For the average, everyday person this is probably the most they think about the armed services. They pay their respects and express their gratefulness and carry on with their lives, doing the same every year. It is, however very different for the men and women who served and still serve, their families and friends.
I have a very large family, particularly on my dad’s side. He is after all, one of nine children. I come from a family that has a very large military background. My granddad was in the RAF, my dad and his brothers in the army and his sisters married into the army. I am what is commonly known as a “pad brat”.
This is my experience as a child with a serving soldier as a father.
I’m not sure what date my dad joined the army. I do know that he joined when he was young. He left for a short period and met my mum. A nice surprise happened to them and along came me! At some point my dad made the decision to re join the army. I don’t remember much of him re joining as I was very young. I do have vague memories of him being based at Weeton Barracks.
My first real memory is when my dad was posted to Berlin (not in a parcel hardy haha). I was four years old. Speaking to my mum about this, it was quite the trauma for us all. We were moving country. My mum had to start her life again. No job, no friends and no family to help. We said goodbye to family and friends and off we went. No social media, no internet, no mobile phones, no sat nav. We got lost in East Berlin and my mum remembers asking a farmer for directions in her northern English accent. She didn’t get very far with this!
Due to my age our time in Berlin was blurry to me. I remember the odd thing. Speaking German pretty well (easy to pick up when your 4!) ordering from the Schnelly burger van. The huge block bbq’s we had and a horrendous thunder storm we had that blew in the windows of our flat (the reason I am terrified of thunder). I also remember the start of a new Christmas tradition of using my dad’s huge green army socks as a Christmas stocking! The one biggest memory I have is meeting our lifelong friends Liz and Jeff. Still very good friends to this day. The one thing I did learn at such a young age is how the army is a big family. We looked after each other and had a bond that nobody else could understand. This was proven when a child went missing and literally the entire regiment went out to look (found safe and well).
I have fond and upsetting memories of my dad being in the army. After Berlin my dad was posted to a lovely place called Beaconsfield. It was fancy! We lived on base and again it was a family. This is where my brother was born. We had a house this time and I remember being excited because it had stairs! I was now six years old. I understood a little more about what my life was about and how I was different to other kids who’s family weren’t in the army.
One memory I will never forget is Halloween. There was a party for us kids and then we went trick or treating. We didn’t have all of these fancy costumes you can buy now. Nope, we made our costumes. I was a witch. I had a cape made from a bin bag that had tin foil stars and moons glued on. I also had a witches hat. I looked awesome, but that wasn’t the best bit! My face was painted green. Not with face paint! oh no!!! that would make too much sense!! Instead my mum used my dads camo cream, which when she tried to wash off it wouldn’t come off!!! My face was literally still green the next day! So off I went with my bright green face, my bin bag cape and another bin bag for my sweets. We had a good night. We went to the brigadier’s house because he had the big fancy house so of course we assumed he had the best sweets. The night was going well then all of a sudden the sirens sounded. The sirens sound like the old air raid sirens you hear in war movies. We all knew when these went off, something was “going down” and we had to get back to our homes as soon as possible. Off we ran. literally running. These times were scary for us. We had no idea what was going on. We were kids but we knew it wasn’t good but we also knew we were safe because we literally had an army to protect us.
I get home and my dad is in full uniform heading out of the door (this wouldn’t be the last time this happened). Hours go by and we don’t know what’s happening. Then my dad walks through the door. Unexploded hand grenade, sorted by the bomb squad. Controlled explosions happened more often than anybody would know about. All is safe.
As I said before this wasn’t the last time my dad would have to run out at a silly time in full uniform. I vaguely remember sitting watching TV and again off went the sirens. Dad jumps up, runs to get his uniform on and runs out of the door (and I mean run). Hours go by again. In the morning I ask what happened and I hear they had found bombs. Two of them. I can’t remember if they were real or if they were hoax. This happened often. Not just things to do with bombs but also threats from people trying to get into base etc.
Living away from family was hard. I know it was hard for my mum. She had two children to look after. My dad would be away on exercise a lot. Sometimes a couple of weeks, sometimes a month or so. I helped my mum a lot with my brother as he got older. I would make his packed lunch for school, get him dressed in the mornings and pick him up so that my mum could go to work. So every now and then we would travel back up to Preston to stay with my nan. I loved it. I missed my family so much and so did my mum. I would be so excited knowing on the Friday after school we would jump in the car and off we go! The travelling never bothered me. I was used to it. My mum didn’t do flying. So when we would come and visit from Germany we would drive the whole way home. Sunday would come around and it was time to drive back. I was devastated. Heartbroken every time I had to say goodbye to my family. I would cry the whole way home, insisting on them leaving me there and asking why we can’t move home and telling them they were unfair. This was soon forgotten about when we got home.
Two years in Beaconsfield passed and we were re posted to a place called Tidworth. I hated it. All my friends were in Beaconsfield. I missed them. I missed my school. We didn’t live on base this time. We lived on a horrible, rough estate. I hated my school. The teachers weren’t as nice here. I remember being screamed at by one of them because we watched a video and I said I had seen it before. I wasn’t being hard work I was just telling the girl sat next to me that I had liked it.
We didn’t stay here long. I can’t remember how I was told but my dad was going to Bosnia. For six months! Why? I had no idea but this was the longest my dad had been away from us. I didn’t know there was a war. My mum and dad did their best to protect me and my brother from the reality of it all. My mum didn’t want to stay by herself in this awful place we lived. She made the decision to move back to Preston while dad was away. Brilliant!!! I am going home!
We moved back up north and my dad was away. I didn’t feel so bad at first because I was distracted from everything by my family and starting a new school. Reality soon hit and I missed my dad. We didn’t have any form of communication from him for two months! We didn’t have the internet or mobile phones back then. We had letters written on blue pieces of paper that folded into envelopes. We had to wait for a satellite call. I remember being sat with my mum, upstairs on my nan’s bed, waiting for my dad’s first phone call to connect. We didn’t know where he was, how he was or even if he was still alive!!! The only source of comfort we had was that nobody had come knocking on our door to tell us terrible news.
I was getting older now, understanding more and realising what was going on. I sat and watched the evening news with my granddad. I knew. My dad was fighting in a war. I was petrified I would never see him again.
A few months past and we get word my dad is coming home for two weeks R&R. I am so friggin excited I cannot wait! He comes home, but he doesn’t look right. He looks tired and troubled. We enjoy our time together as a family and within the blink of an eye his two weeks is up and he has to go back.
My dad takes me to school that morning. I can’t even look at him, if I do I know I will cry. I am after all the biggest daddy’s girl. He walks me into class and helps me put my coat on the hook. He gives me the biggest hug and kiss and explains to my teacher that he has to go back today and that I might get upset. He walks off, leaving me holding the teachers hand. I am 7 years old. This might be the last time I see my dad. My heart breaks again.
I write to my dad a lot. I used to ask every time I got back from school if there was a letter for me and get so excited when there was. I draw him pictures and we talk on the phone when we are allowed. He can’t tell me much. I ask him questions all kids ask their parents. Where are you dad? what are you doing? what did you do yesterday? His reply always the same, “I can’t tell you sweet heart”. One day we even got to go on the radio and talk. It was a radio special about people who were away serving and their families. There were a few other kids there too. Every one of them cried when they spoke to their dads. I told my dad mum crashed the car and thanked him for sending me the pogs out of his crisp packets!!!
Dad came back from Bosnia after six months. He wasn’t the same but he was home!!! forever??? No. Now he had to go to somewhere else (I can’t say too much about the places he has been for certain reasons). He had to go there for a year. My dad is leaving again. Not only that but my dad was not the dad I remember. He had seen things in Bosnia that I can’t repeat. He never really talks about it to me. He has, however spoken to Mr Ormerod about things. Some things I have heard him talk about, he has seen things that makes me sick to my stomach. Things you would never hear about in the media because it is far too distressing. How my dad ever learned to live with these demons I will never know. But it had affected him. He was angry all of the time, for a long time. At times I was scared. This is very personal to us as a family but it is the reality.
The time came for dad to leave again. We took him to the airport and I cried and cried, as did my mum and my brother. We waved to his plane as it took off. This time It was a little better as we could actually go and visit him. We could talk on the phone every day. But my dad was still away. We were very lucky though, he was able to come home for our birthday’s and Christmas. My dad would always make sure, whenever he was away he would be home for these special times. I don’t think he ever missed one.
Things seemed to be a little more stable where he was. We didn’t feel as worried about him and relaxed a little bit. Mum would speak to him every morning before work and night before bed. Then one night there was an incident. Mum phoned dad as usual but he didn’t answer. She phoned again, this time there was a voice “I can’t talk now” those bloody sirens in the background and he hung up. It was only the next day we found out what had happened. A mortar bomb had been fired at my dad’s base. Not just that, but very close to my dad. There was also (from what I understand) a car bomb outside of his bedroom window. My dad was very lucky, none of them went off. I thank the lord every day for this.
There were many more incidents like this to come. My entire childhood was spent missing and worrying about my dad.
“Dad has a new posting” mum says to me. “Oh where are they making him go now??” I asked frustrated. “Fulwood!” my mum tells me. My dad is coming home!!! His posting is in our town! This is where he would spend the last couple of years of his career before he retired.
The day my dad retired from the army was a huge sigh of relief for me. This was also the time of the 9/11 terrorist attack. My dad got out just before we went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan so he never had to go. But my cousin did. He did several tours. He too lost close friends.
The army lifestyle is exactly that. A lifestyle, a family that is not linked by blood. It is not a 9-5 Monday to Friday job. It is a brotherhood. My mum and dad made friends for life. They supported each other in the darkest of times, and believe me the dark times were pitch black. My dad lost friends in the most violent of ways. He lost friends in battle during his time in service and he has lost friends to demons years after they served together. War takes lives, whether it is at the point of war or later on in life. We have lost friends to suicide and to medical problems they have sustained during their service.
My dad has been retired for many years now, but we still have a strong link to the army. Every year we attend a reunion and my dad gets to have his time with his friends, remembering past times, good and bad. The ways these guys deal with things is brilliant. If there is somebody having issues they come together and do everything they can to help. This is also my family. When I found out I was pregnant I was told everything would be Ok. I didn’t just have friends behind me to help me, I had a battalion. Eddie has uncles and aunties coming out of his ears!!
I thank each and every member of the service for the things they do, from infantry soldiers on the front line, to the medical staff to the vets and the bands. In the words of my dad’s regiment “Loyally you serve”.
I hope this has given you some insight into the life of a family in the army. There are so many more things I could write about but I would be writing forever. If you want to know more just drop me a message.
My mum has starting writing about being a veterans wife. I may even post some of it on the website.
For now I leave you with one of my favourite remembrance day poems,
Stand down soldier,
Your mission is done,
The danger over
There’s no need to run,
You were trained well,
To obey each demand,
So take this and heed,
This final command,
Rest your body,
close your eyes,
As we weep the loss,
When a good soldier dies,
Bask in peace,
that you can enjoy,
Embrace it for us,
Let it too be our joy,
The life you have lived,
will constantly remind,
And bring on a smile,
to those you leave behind,
We thank you for your serving,
Your loyalty stood true,
And hope someday,
we will meet up with you.
Lots of love