Not like it was in the War
January 31, 2012
The above is a comment, one of many, left on a news website that shall remain unnamed under an article featuring a rather lovely lady called Amanda Prowse, who has written a novel about a young Army wife. I edited it slightly as the grammar and spelling were appalling. I wish to address it by way of reply here as the amount of people who appear to feel this way are fairly numerous. I do not usually feel compelled to answer back critics but as military partner writing is rather what I ‘am about’, I shall.
I do not need to explain that developments in technology which enable people like the above commentator to inscribe their opinions for all to see were not available in the 1940s. What I feel does warrant some explanation is that the comparisons between six month tours and a world war are hugely unfair.
First of all, everyone in Great Britain was, in some way, involved in WWII. Everyone understood what everyone else was going through. My Grandfather, who flew in the RAF in WWII would often reminisce that those years were ‘the very best time to be alive in this country’. Of course the war brought horror, much suffering and death, but the sense of community and patriotism in Great Britain was quite something to behold. If your husband or son was away fighting, sailing or flying, you had an entire community sharing your pride in him. If he went missing, was killed or injured everyone on your street knew and would surround you, almost smothering you with goodwill. “For his country” was the phrase, and although there were those who may have disagreed with the war there were not any people living here who protested in the angry or hateful manner in the way they do today. The country was united.
Wives were busy. Both my own grandmothers were in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) one in munitions and the other in ops. They were part of the ‘war effort’ and each person in the country played their part, whether they were Land Girls, farmer’s wives, auxiliary servicewomen or teachers, everyone was working hard to keep the country functioning whilst the men were away.
I admire my late grandmothers more than most people I have met. I used to sit and discuss at length what it was like during the war with the youngest of the two and she would always say the same thing, that it was hard. She did not know if she would see my grandfather again. They did grab weeks together and they did write, being in the same service meant they used dead air time to speak on the radio (illegally) too. She always said that she was too busy to miss him properly. I know it was harder back then than she let on, her eyes betrayed her typically English stiff upper lip. I do not doubt that those women with literary talent would have penned their emotions in the same way the wives of today do; it is only that today it is far easier to upload those writings onto the internet and share them with the world. Back then, literary creativity was saved for the love letters posted to sweethearts.
As the partner of a service person in 2012, you are surrounded by people who have nothing to do with the military. You have a civilian job or are a mum at home and you are not part of any war effort at all; in fact you are often left feeling rather more of a hindrance than a cog in a wheel. Yes, technology has surpassed itself but you still cannot call your partner when he is deployed. He can pick up emails but this is not the case for everyone and technology is not infallible. If he is truly frontline you may not speak to him for weeks and weeks at a time, all the while you must go about your daily work as if this is completely normal whilst everyone else around you tells you about their plans with their husbands or what silly thing their boyfriend said to them last night. In a time where most normal couples barely spend a night apart and send text messages to one another throughout the day, you are faced with the same situation women endured decades ago. I was sent two letters in six months, less than one phone call every two weeks and I did not receive any emails because where he was did not have any computers.
Instead of a six year war interspersed with short breaks where they come home, modern day soldiers go away for six months at a time on a regular basis. Many regiments deploy every 2-3 years, a few go every 18 months. Some soldiers who joined in the 1990s have served a collective deployment of rather more than six years, and that away-time does not account for the few months of pre-deployment build up training where communications with partners and children are extremely limited, nor does it account for normal exercises (periods of time away training) where the same applies, which take up much of the year.
As for the partners writing? I like my whiny writing. It means I do not burst into tears in the office. It means I do not cry when someone asks me how he is or what he is doing, as they do not know. It is an outlet and a stress relief and when I am done writing I close the page or shut the notebook and get on with my life, as if all the negative feelings have been popped into a box and left behind me. Whereas in the 40′s your entire local community understood what you were going through, now partners look to the internet to speak to others in the same position and gain support. It can provide a comforting anonymity that allows a stiff upper lip to be visible in public. Some things, you see, do not change.
The other criticism that often niggles is ‘you knew what you were getting yourself in to, so stop moaning’ however, I feel I have addressed this enough in the past. Unless you are a clairvoyant or were married to a servicemen before how can you have any possible idea what it will be like? You do not pick the person you fall in love with and if you are anything like me the military is literally the last place you would choose to marry into thank you very much.
Warfare in the 21st Century is a completely different beast to that of the mid-20th Century and the way partners adapt to it has altered too. I really hoped that I would never have to point this out, but here is the simple truth; Comparisons between military wives during the war and military wives today criticising the latter are frankly ridiculous. If you do not want to read about what life is like for a military partner in today’s world, my advice is fairly straight forward; don’t. It is not any easier today than it was in the First or Second World War, it is not any harder. It is different.