April 23, 2013
On 10th April 2013, military charity SSAFA Forces Help shortened its name to SSAFA as part of a re-brand aimed at improving awareness of the charity amongst members of the Forces community.
SSAFA’s long history of supporting the Forces and their families has made it Britain’s most trusted charity, but research found that many people thought that the charity needed to modernise its identity to better reach its key audiences.
In addition to current members of the Forces, the charity is increasingly helping younger veterans, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s.
Families have always been at the heart of what SSAFA does and they have been put at the centre of the new brand.
A new descriptive strapline reiterates the charity’s commitment to families as well as those who serve. The change of name is supported by a modern new logo with a three colour underline to represent the charity’s lifelong support to the Navy, Army and RAF.
Updating the charity’s image follows a long period of consultation with volunteers and staff as well as members of the military community.
SSAFA’s Director of Communications and Marketing, Athol Hendry, said:
“This work has been driven by the need to make sure that members of our Forces, past and present, know that SSAFA is here for them and their families, for life. Our new brand doesn’t change the great work that SSAFA does, but I hope it will help us to tell our story more clearly than before.”
Chief Executive, Air Vice-Marshal David Murray CVO, OBE said:
“SSAFA has provided more than 125 years of continued support to our Forces and their families. But the work we do now is more important than it ever has been. It’s really important that members of our Forces and their families know that SSAFA is here for them for life.”
Please help spread the word about SSAFA so that more people know who to turn to when they need help. To find out how they help, click on the logo below.
April 11, 2013
With grateful thanks to the anonymous author, an Army fiancée and bride to be
I knew very little about the realities of being a military girlfriend when I accepted a drink from a soldier nearly two years ago & have found that information has become my best friend since then. As much information as possible, from as many sources as possible! Unfortunately this approach led to a world of confusion when it came to applying for SFA (Service Families Accommodation) in the lead up to our wedding.
Obviously there are many situations that could result in you dealing with The Housing Allocations Service Centre (HASC) such as a posting to a different area, or requiring a larger house for your growing family – in our case there is no big move, we’re just tying the knot. One thing that we discovered early on is that even if you know months in advance that you & your military partner will need a quarter by a particular date, the process will still not take place until 2-3 months before you move in. In our case it was a relatively quick process, one that left me slightly traumatised none the less!
My eager fiancé first approached welfare quite a few months ago, it felt to us like married life was just around the corner but in housing application terms it was still worlds away & he was told to come back three months before the wedding to submit an e1132 form. Fast forward a few months & dutiful other half once again approached his welfare team who explained the process; this was an interesting conversation where it was assumed that I was pregnant (I’m not) & didn’t work (I do) but ultimately we received the information that we needed, which was that e1132 Self Preference forms are completed & submitted via DII or intranet enabled terminals. My other half typically works in a garage from day to day so in real terms this meant that he needed to spend some time on the computer in the office, a computer that is often in high demand, so this took a few days to do. The form is very generic, its purpose to find out exactly what you require. We have no children, but we do have two cats so we put down the required details, the date of our impending nuptials and our top three desired locations. You can also opt to have the property unfurnished, partly furnished or fully furnished – the form includes a tick list of items that you can select from.
At this stage we did a bit of research into what size property we were entitled to, I’ve included a quick reference table explaining this below but it does vary depending on circumstances & is slightly different for officers;
We are in the fortunate position of already living in private rental accommodation in the area so choosing our wish list was a simple case of doing a recce of the local pad estates. We weren’t fussy. I didn’t particularly want to live behind the wire because of the hassle of getting on, and off camp but ultimately we would have been chuffed with anything, as long as it was as near as possible to camp & didn’t increase my already fairly horrendous commute to work.
For those of you who have no knowledge of the area that you’re moving to I would suggest taking a look at the ‘Married Quarters for the British Armed Forces’ page on facebook; on the page are lots of helpful ladies & photos of the inside & outside of a range of different SFA in areas all over the UK & abroad.
Once the application had been submitted we immediately received an email confirming receipt (email 1). Unfortunately we then received another email a few minutes later which said that the application had been rejected (email 2) but rather unhelpfully didn’t explain why.
This led to a couple of stressful days in our household, hubby to be logged on to the system in work as suggested & could see nothing wrong with the form, the welfare officer had a look & also couldn’t see a problem so we submitted it again, and again it was rejected. After three failed attempts we finally found the telephone number for the HASC that were dealing with our application – this had been on our fridge the whole time, on the welfare magnet he’d had since arrival at the posting over back in 2011 (typical man). The HASC can be contacted in the UK through the free-phone telephone number: 0800 169 6322 and from overseas on 01904 418000 – please note that they are only open until 1pm.
The phone number is manned by Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) staff who are lovely, and very helpful. It transpired that a common mistake made on the e-form is for an incorrect Pstat to be submitted. This meant absolutely nothing to either of us, but apparently refers to personal status & consists of 5 separate categories, number 1 being a married member of the armed forces. Once this was rectified the ball was rolling.
The HASC aim to offer you a property within 15 days, on day 13 we received the email below & my other half logged on to the system the following day.
When an offer is made you receive a 2 page document which states the address of the property, the type, grade & whether or not anyone else is interested in it. You also get a tiny photo of the exterior of the property. The first thing I did was used the postcode & had a look on Google Street View, unfortunately if the property is behind the wire this wouldn’t be possible. We were offered a property above our entitlement, I imagine because these are more readily available at the moment in our area, which was deemed a grade 3. The grade refers to the condition of the property, its scale, and the presence of local amenities.
Based on the information that you receive at this stage you can use the table below to work out approximately how much you will be paying in rental charges each month;
Before we accepted the house we went & peered through the windows (it was vacant!) but I appreciate that not everyone can do that, however if you do want a couple of photos the housing group on facebook is full of people quite willing to take a few snaps for you, alternatively if you’re about to get married & your fiancé is already stationed there send him on a recce. Again the acceptance can only be done online, and then a move in date can be booked. For us this could be no longer than 2 weeks before the wedding & even then I am not officially allowed to reside at the property until after the big day itself. On the move in day you view the inside of the house with the housing officer, this is your chance to point out any damage that is present before you take over occupation, important so that you avoid being blamed for anything that isn’t your fault when the time comes for you to vacate the property.
On the whole it’s all quite simple, but with so many things to take into account it can feel very stressful, especially if you are a little bit of a control freak like me who wants stuff done ASAP! I would also suggest not listening to horror stories or rumours you hear about the availability, or lack of, in the area as there is every possibility that you will have no problems at all. I found the following links invaluable to my sanity; they greatly helped us to negotiate the entire process;
January 29, 2013
Many of us know what we’re signing up for when we begin a relationship with a member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, we know that HM comes first most of the time, we know that there are likely to be long periods apart but we also know that there are good points about this tripartite agreement, parties at the mess, Armed Forces discounts, the annual spanking that is Army v Navy to name a few. But there still seem to be a few secrets; one of which I unearthed this week – The Indulgence Flight.
I’ve been married 6 months now and husband has been away for 4 of them so when he said he’d booked me on an ‘indulgence flight’ I was beyond excited, it sounded too good to be true, a flight to the Falkland Islands for far less than the cost of a week in the Costa del Sol. Nobody mentioned that this process is actually an exercise in emotional strength and detective research.
Many years ago I studied Communication Studies and Sociology at university and if I’m being honest, neither are that hard and yet the team behind the indulgence flight process seem to have missed out on any such skills, how to share information or to understand people. The whole experience left me with a little voice in my head saying ‘if only someone had told me this beforehand.’ So once returned I decided to right this wrong (or write this wrong) and with a little help from Charlie I’m hoping to help a few others.
So, herewith, my list of things to know when attempting to Indulge:
The booking process for your other half will not be easy, they will have to seek out the right people and meet all requests promptly and comprehensively. It doesn’t matter if he is on a ship thousands of miles away from the booking office, they still want the document signed and hand delivered.
You may or may not receive confirmation of your request. Departure -2 days and I still hadn’t heard anything. I called Brize Norton who firstly told me I had no booking and then found me hiding on a waiting list. Other passengers had wrong names or contact details.
Booking can be confirmed by some unidentified Corporal via a crackly voicemail with no return phone number.
You are not definitely booked on the flight until all military personnel have checked in on along with their luggage.
Don’t try asking about how many spaces on the flight, its done on weight. (one passenger I spoke to was allowed 60kgs of luggage so I suggest you don’t even try and estimate this either)
There is limited car parking at Brize Norton, this must be booked well in advance and to do that you need you reference number. The one you probably won’t get until a day or so before.
If you ask the right person at Brize Norton they can recommend a taxi firm that does off site parking. I’m going to throw caution to the wind and tell you now. Its called Charlie’s Taxis in Carterton, it’s a little basic but it does the job.
The price of the flight varies on location and can be significantly different outbound and inbound. The first I was told of the price was as I handed over my passport.
Your boarding pass will only be given to you once all military personnel are through to the departure gate. Then its all systems go!
The flight may be run by an independent company, old basic planes but no worse than any budget airline.
The inflight entertainment is administered by issuing you with an ipad which was a pleasant surprise.
The food on board is pretty bad, I suggest taking a few extra supplies. To give an example, I was half way through a beige warm mushy roll before I realised that it was a breakfast burrito and that I was just at the hash brown end.
There is no alcohol allowed on the flight.
The usual rules for travelling with liquids don’t apply.
My flight wasn’t full, its always worth having a look at the back of the plane to see if there’s more space back there rather than being cramped into a block of 4.
The following only applies to Brize Norton to Falkland Islands via Ascension but I’m on a roll now so why stop.
You will have a stop off of about 90 minutes at the Ascension Islands. This isn’t so much a transit lounge as more of a cage or pen, but it’s a warm island and they serve ice-cream so there are worse cages to hang out in.
You will need the address of where you’re staying whilst visiting FI. ‘with my husband’ or ‘at Mount Pleasant’ doesn’t really cut the mustard.
On departure there is apparently a £22 tax, not that anyone asked me for it.
This is probably the most important one… to pay for the return fare the office will only take cash or cheque, no such mod cons as debit cards here. No, there’s no ATM in the airport, the nearest is the post office on base or the NAAFI 5 minutes drive away might be able to do a small amount of cash back.
So there you have it fellow MOD dependents, as you can probably tell I was somewhat traumatised by the process, and yes, I admit that’s probably because I usually like to be fully in control of a situation and on this occasion I didn’t stand a chance. But make the most of the offer of indulgence, I hear Cyprus is great but very popular. And if I can ask one more thing of you it will be to share these nuggets of information with anyone you know who is going to take on the challenge.
July 22, 2012
I know exactly how my husband feels when he leaves me to be with his other family. I know because he has written it down. This is how he describes 16th March 2008.
“We kissed and I walked out of the door and down the path, my kit slung over my back. Once, twice, I glanced over my shoulder at Margaret and the life I was leaving behind. There was sadness, but also excitement.”
“My latest adventure awaited. In those few steps between wife and car, I went again from being hers to being theirs.”
Theirs, he says. The Army’s.
I remember that day as I remember every day we have said goodbye over the course of a 25-year military marriage. This particular departure marked the start of what Doug said would, without doubt, be his final operational tour of duty, the twelfth in all (on top of which there had been countless exercises which have taken him away for weeks on end).
As Doug stepped out of sight I remained rooted to the spot, something inside me saying that maybe, just maybe he will come back around the corner for one more look, a lingering smile. I waited for another wave from the man I live with – on and off – and love. Of course he did not turn back. Doug had already switched mode, the gentle compassionate man was now Doug the professional soldier, someone bound by responsibility to carry out whatever task he was given regardless of whether it could cost him his life.
Not for the first time I stood there alone, not quite sure if I was immensely proud of Doug for having such a strong sense of duty or immensely resentful of him putting the military before me. I have never been someone who neatly fitted the mould of the Army wife. Yes I was the partner of a soldier, but that did not make me a natural or subservient member of the ‘military family’.
When Doug served as the Regimental Sergeant Major of 1 R IRISH it was expected that I would, along with the Commanding Officer’s wife, run the wives’ club. But I declined to slot into this role. My life had never previously centred on that enforced sociability and I had no intention of starting just because I now happened to be married to the RSM. It would have been disingenuous of me to do so. Doug held the rank, not me, something many partners forget.
This isn’t to say I was not intimately involved in what happened in the unit or wasn’t close to other wives and girlfriends. Rather, I offered my support as a friend, not as a regimental ‘official’ who got too closely involved in others’ personal lives.
While I have been walked out on countless times as Doug departed for this deployment to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, or training trips to Kenya, Cyprus, Canada I always knew in my heart he would come back to me. But I also witnessed far too often when the husband never returned and the life shattering news reverberated around the married quarters creating fear, apprehension, isolation and loneliness.
For living on what in known to many within the military and outside the military as ‘The Patch’ is like living in a community within a community. And although the place names may change, for an infantry battalion the family personalities remain constant.
As a unit was posted so went the families to a new community somewhere around the globe. It is like staring anew, new house, new job, new school and new places to explore. It sounds glamorous, conjuring up images of exotic places to see and interesting people to meet. Glamorous, that is until you actually arrive at your destination.
The repeated shattering reality was one of dispiriting disappointment invariable caused by miserable accommodation. Over a quarter of a century we have lived in 15 sets of army quarters, ranging from flats to terraced houses, small bungalows to detached properties. Ostensibly they were all different, yet each possessed a common feature: a drab, shabbiness that induced melancholy at best and depression at worst.
If you had tried to put asylum seekers in such conditions there would be uproar amongst the chattering classes. The camp followers of the 19th Century, used as they were to squalid conditions, would not have felt completely out of place. Yet if you as a 20th and 21st Century military wife wanted to be with the man you loved then there was little alternative other than to try and grin and bear things as best you could.
Having made that decision to share your life with a servant of the Crown; having decided to sacrifice your career; having accepted the sub-standard housing; having understood that to a lesser or greater degree your existence would be governed by written and unwritten military rules; you then find that your husband is routinely snatched away for half year periods. The effects on your own self-esteem can be startling. Your physical health can suffer visibly, but it’s the emotional impacts of absence that are felt hardest. The joys and pains of ordinary life fall and are put squarely on your shoulders to deal with.
In the early days of our marriage, Doug missed the birth of both of our children. The second, Luke, was already six weeks old before his father finally saw him. Countless birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas mornings have come and gone without the man of the house being present.
But for the selfless efforts of my parents I do not know how I would have coped. Dealing with their deaths was tremendously difficult. Not only were my mum and dad no longer with me, the grief normally associated with losing loved ones was compounded by the disappearance of the only practical pillar of support I had.
Reading back over what I have so far said I see that I have created an impression of treatment at the hands of an uncaring military something akin to domestic abuse.
There will be those shouting at their computers, “You should have bloody well left him.”
But how does anyone walk away from the most loving man I know? Someone who treats me like a princess when we are together? Someone who adores me, who plays his part in the home, who worships the children?
The privations are great, the time together often all too short, but the rewards, despite it all, are immense.
And through it all you adapt. For all the difficulties, I have managed to come to terms with my life and, just about, coped. You learn to be resilient, self-reliant. You establish a routine that is almost that of a one-parent family. Essential parts of this existence are the radio and TV. Each morning when Doug was away I would get up and turn on the news, trying to catch some detail about the latest war he was is involved in. The day ends in the exact same manner, hoping to see or hear an update, praying even that the footage on the box will portray a glimpse of my husband, giving some comfort that he is, for the moment at least, safe.
During the invasion of Iraq Doug actually seemed to be on the television all the time. Seeing him there helped ease the gut-wrenching fear that stays with me night and day when he is away. For soldiers themselves, danger is often a fleeting thing, something which might actually account for a very small part of their working lives. But for their families the anxiety is constant. We have no way of knowing when the danger is present and when it is absent, so instead we are condemned to always think the worst.
White lies told by the men themselves do little to alleviate the stress. Doug’s first tour of ‘Afghan’ supposedly involved doing a desk job at Kandahar Airfield. I should I have been reassured by this; I wanted to be reassured, but it wasn’t easy. Doug has always yearned to be out and about doing real soldiering. As much as I tried believing he was well out of harm’s way, I never quite did.
When he returned home on R & R with a broken nose, dislocated fingers and cuts and bruises he attempted to pass it off as nothing more than the result of vehicle accident at the base. I suspected something else. But it was only after Doug had returned to Helmand and I foolishly watched the Sean Langan Channel 4 film Fighting the Taliban – which documented an awful, bloody battle, and all too vividly showed my husband’s part in it – that I understood where he got his injuries from and just how lucky I was to have him back at all.
I wished I hadn’t seen the programme. For the final two months of that tour I lived the worst existence imaginable. My coping strategy was shattered and I was constantly on edge. Whilst he was still away I received news that he’d been awarded the Military Cross for his part in the horror that I sat through. This merely fuelled my imagination. If they were giving him such high recognition for his actions the risks involved must have been huge.
I know that I am not alone in my suffering. Today there are thousands of women – wives, girlfriends, mothers – who are going through what I have endured. In the years to come there will be many thousands more.
These women are the real backbone of the British Army, the ones who engender hope, courage and commitment in the soldiers sent away to fight. If only they were rewarded by officialdom with the respect and dignity they deserve. For they give a lifetime of service just as much as the sons, husbands and boyfriends they unflinchingly stand behind.
My husband’s career has been long and illustrious. He went from boy soldier to young ranger; from RSM to a commissioned officer. He has been honoured with the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland Commendation, the Queens Commendation for Bravery, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal and that MC earned in Afghanistan.
Doug always says the medals are mine, as mush as they are his: that we have been through things together, even though so much of the time we have spent physically apart.
Going back to the question I asked at the start of this piece, the answer is both. But while the resentment is a passing emotion, the pride is always there. Though my husband rarely makes things easy for me, even now as we both get older and have not only children but grandchildren.
As it turned out Doug’s 12th operational tour wasn’t his last. Despite what he said to me, despite what he promised, he went on to complete a third tour of Afghanistan. Today Doug still works with the Royal Irish. He promises me that he is now home for good. I’ve heard it all before and every time the phone rings I fear it will be them ringing. His other family. Making him an offer that’s just too good to resist.
This week’s piece in my ‘Women in the Military’ series was a guest article written by the wife of Captain Doug Beattie MC who he previously wrote about in this Channel 4 piece. I am very grateful to her for sending me her words.
April 18, 2012
I had spoken to my boyfriend, David, on the ship-to-shore telephone that is rigged up when a ship is alongside in port. He was off to Portsmouth for some exercises and would be there the following weekend if I wanted to talk to him. I was going over to the Hockenheim circuit in West Germany to watch the first Formula 2 race of the season and catch up with some motor racing friends who I hadn’t seen since the previous season; lots of winter gossip and car changes to catch up on! I said I’d try to call him over the weekend.
I arrived in Germany on April Fool’s Day, Thursday 1 April 1982. When I had settled into my hotel, I put in a call to Portsmouth Dockyard. I asked to be put through to HMS ANTELOPE and they said that she wasn’t due in this week. I tried to correct them(!) and said that I knew she was in over the weekend; my boyfriend was serving on her. They said she had been due in, but was now back in her homeport of Plymouth. Strange, I thought, but sometimes plans are changed. I telephoned Plymouth dockyard and went through the same process of getting put through to the ship. I could hear the tannoy announcement summon David to the flight deck to take my call. He was there in a couple of minutes and sounded a little excited as he said hello. I asked why he wasn’t in Portsmouth but back in Plymouth. “We’re off to war!” he exclaimed! “What?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard him properly. “We’re at war with Argentina! We’re off to war in the Falklands Islands!” War? Falkland Islands? Argentina? My mind was trying hard to process all of this. I know the Argentinians had been exercising with the Royal Navy off Pembrokeshire in the early spring; I was pretty sure that the Falkland Islands were part of the Faroes or something off Scotland; and war? That wasn’t something that was happening with Great Britain in my lifetime. It took David about 20 minutes or so to explain it all to me and convince me that this wasn’t an April Fool! My boyfriend was going to war. It took a few hours for the news to sink in after we had finished our call; and a few days to dawn on me what he might be sailing into. I wished him all the luck in the world and sent him all my love.
I returned to England and back to work. The BBC News was watched at 9 o’clock every evening, but nothing much seemed to be happening. There was lots of diplomacy going on across the Atlantic; maybe this would come to nothing and was just a show of strength? Maybe the politicians would sort this one out?
Bits of news drifted back through the papers and television. We had no internet; no email; no mobile phones. We only had papers, television and occasional letters from the Task Force heading South (usually containing old news because of the time they took to reach home). Our Task Force were gathering – buzz words started to appear: Ascension Islands, Total Exclusion Zone, Galtieri, Malvinas, Port Stanley, Vulcan bombers, Exocets, South Georgia …
Then, on Sunday 2nd May, the unthinkable happened. One of our submarines had sunk The General Belgrano, one of the flagships of the Argentinian Fleet. It was all so surreal. This was war! Real men were dying, drowning, being blown up. Real men were making the decisions to fire live weapons. This wasn’t an exercise. This was real. It took a while to get my head around it. Britain seemed to be in a state of shock. It seemed like a far off dream in a far off place; people went to work on Monday morning and read the papers with dramatic pictures on the front pages.
Then on Tuesday evening, 4th May, I went to Tottenham Court Road to meet up with a couple of friends who were at college and whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We’d arranged it a while ago and had finally managed to sort out an evening when we could all make it.
We sat in a sort of college common room – pool table, bar, television in the corner. Then someone turned the television up … Ian McDonald, the serious-voiced Ministry of Defence spokesman, was announcing that HMS SHEFFIELD had been hit by an Exocet missile and badly damaged. Then the television was turned down again; conversations picked up where they had left off. People were laughing, drinking beer, playing pool. I was in a bubble. Everything around me was muffled. I knew people on HMS SHEFFIELD. I knew the ship. I’d seen her a couple of times. I had plotted her throughout her Gulf tour on the charts for the Admirals’ Briefings when I was in the Royal Navy just a couple of months ago. This wasn’t happening. That’s one of OUR ships. There are British sailors on board. This was peacetime.
The next day or so was a haze, but every newspaper was scanned, every news bulletin listened to more intently, every snippet of overheard conversation on the train was analysed. I needed more information, I needed to know where all my friends were, who was in the Total Exclusion Zone, who was on which ship, where my boyfriend was, where his brother was, what was going to happen.
I was working at a shipping company in the City of London, a job which I took on shortly after leaving the Navy in February. Prior to leaving, my job had been to update the world charts with all our ships’ positions and aircraft flying zones so that the Admirals’ and senior officers were always up to date with our Royal Navy’s movements. I had known, every six hours, where everyone in the Fleet was. Now I knew nothing. I had no information to calm my worried mind. I imagined things that weren’t happening and I didn’t know about other things I wanted to know about.
Time passed and we knew that a landing on the Falkland Islands was the next step and that there would probably be battles to retake the Islands for the British.
I was sitting at home with my parents on Friday 21st May – my Mother’s birthday – and we turned on the 9 o’clock news. Ian McDonald came on with, “A Type 21 Frigate has been hit” – I burst into tears and my hand shot to cover my open mouth. My boyfriend was on a Type 21 Frigate, but I knew there were several of them in the Task Force. I silently begged the announcement to tell us which one, knowing that they wouldn’t release the name of the ship until several hours if not days later. No news was instant. Everything needed signals and confirmation. Everything took an eternity. I jumped up and grabbed my list of telephone numbers – I knew the main dockyard numbers for all the home ports, so I started with Plymouth, my boyfriend’s home port. It was permanently engaged. We didn’t have a ‘redial’ button on our telephone. It was the old ‘dial’ phone with the Perspex circular dial with fingerholes in. It took forever to dial any number. I finally got through and managed to ask someone whether it was HMS ANTELOPE that had been hit. I was told, “No.” That was all I needed to know. I replaced the handset and sank back into the chair sobbing with relief. I had been so certain it was my boyfriend’s ship. My stomach had churned to the point of sickness and my head was spinning. I took a while to compose myself enough to go back into my parents and tell them it wasn’t David’s ship. They look relieved for me. Looking back, I can only imagine what it must have been like for them having me rush out of the room like that.
The next day, Saturday, seemed a pretty normal day and we did a bit of food shopping, some gardening, the normal things. Sunday, too, was pretty much as usual.
Again, gathering around the news on Sunday evening, 23rd May, another announcement with Ian McDonald: “Another Frigate has been hit.” Again, I dashed for the phone. Frantic dialling and redialling began again … I lost track of how many times I tried. The pit of my stomach felt so sick. Plymouth telephones were jammed. I kept trying. I couldn’t get through, so I tried Portsmouth in desperation. I tried again and again. I was incredibly lucky to finally get through to the information desk in the dockyard. “Are you a next of kin?” I said no, I was a girlfriend. “I’m sorry, but we can only give out information to the next of kin.” I asked if it was the ANTELOPE that had been hit? “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to give out that information.” Could they just tell me whether my boyfriend is dead or alive, injured or okay? “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to give out that information.” Call it fate or luck, but the person who answered the phone was a sailor who was actually part of HMS ANTELOPE’s ship’s company – my boyfriend’s ship! He had been injured during a football game just before they sailed in April and had been unable to sail with his mates; he was put on the information desk while the ship was away. I suppose because I had mentioned the ANTELOPE, he asked who I wanted to know about. I said David Trish, Dave Trish, radar operator. He knew David and said, “I’m not meant to tell you anything, but I will tell you that he isn’t on any casualty lists.”
Again, the relief was indescribable. I don’t really remember much more of that evening, it was just a blur.
Monday morning, 24th May, I went off to work as usual – train to Blackfriars, tube to Tower Hill, walk to Mansel Street, up several flights of stairs to the office. As I remember, it was a pretty normal day. I wasn’t dwelling too much on the South Atlantic because I’d been told David wasn’t on any list. My Mother telephoned me in the office at around lunchtime. She never called. I remember her saying that she had just heard it announced in Parliament that it was HMS ANTELOPE that had been hit and that it was now sinking. I was struck dumb again. No-one in my office had military connections; no-one knew what I was going through on a daily basis. A bizarre mix of normal life, unreality, surrealism, fear, worry, anxiety, wandering thoughts, lack of concentration, my mind completely somewhere other than with my body. I took myself out of the office to the Ladies’ toilets and had a quiet cry. I knew David wasn’t injured but didn’t know what he’d seen. His brother was serving on HMS HERMES – would he have been told? I composed myself (again) and returned to my desk. I told my boss what had happened and asked if I could make a personal call. I telephoned David’s Mother and asked her what she knew. She knew no more than the papers, although she had managed to get through to one of the dockyards and found out that David was alive and uninjured and all the crew had been transferred to other ships in the Fleet.
I left work that evening and saw the spectacular photographs on the front page of the Evening Standard showing HMS ANTELOPE’s magazines exploding against the night skies like a vast firework – incredibly dramatic and, even then, fairly iconic. I’m not sure how I got home. I think I was on auto-pilot and don’t really remember that evening.
Little did I know then what a week it was going to be. The next day, Tuesday 25th May, we lost HMS COVENTRY and the ATLANTIC CONVEYOR – carrying vital Chinooks and other aircraft to support our troops. I wasn’t really able to process all the numbers and casualties … none of it seemed real. It was all too much in too short a space of time.
And then we had the first land battle – Goose Green – on Friday 28th May. We heard fairly shortly afterwards that Lt Col ‘H’ Jones had been killed.
I went off to work as usual on the Monday morning but days were becoming muddled and I wasn’t really aware of which day of the week it was. I remember being in the office on either the Tuesday or the Wednesday (1st or 2nd of June) and opening up the Sun newspaper to read the casualty lists. There was a list of everyone killed so far on the ships and in the air, and also at Goose Green. I read the names and one jumped back at me. Lt Richard James Nunn Royal Marines. Well, I had dated a chap called Dick Nunn when he was on the Lieutenants’ Course at Greenwich in 1979/80 and, although no longer boyfriend/girlfriend, we had kept in touch as friends. Hang on! Dick is short for Richard. No, it can’t be. Dick was a Lieutenant, yes. He was a Royal Marine, yes. He flew helicopters, yes. Richard Nunn, Dick Nunn? Oh my god! It must be him. I looked again and again. It was like kitchen towel soaking up a spillage … it was slowly sinking in, against everything I prayed for, that it was Dick, it was my ex-boyfriend, it was my friend. Someone I cared about and shared things with had been killed.
My life changed.
I was inextricably linked to the Falklands War by that one week in May – a Friday to a Friday – a week in which so many lives and friends had been lost. My world was devastated. I crumbled and burst into tears. My boss sent me home. I couldn’t think straight or put one foot in front of the other properly. I just managed somehow to get home.
I really don’t remember much chronology or detail of the following two weeks.
I remember the different battles, the different regiments and ships and aircraft.
I remember seeing my ex-boyfriend, Richard Nunn, buried with such dignity, ceremony, care and love in his silver body bag in a wet, muddy grave with his Parachute Regiment colleagues after the Battle of Goose Green. I remember the service that was conducted by David Cooper.
I remember hearing that David’s brother, Andy, had only found out just before David was due home that he was indeed alive and well after the sinking of the ANTELOPE – he didn’t want to bother anyone and assumed they would tell him when they were ready. ‘They’ (those senior to Andy) in turn thought Andy would have asked if he hadn’t already had the news. He found out through a letter from home that his brother was due into Southampton on the QEII.
My boyfriend David sailed into Southampton docks on Friday 11th June, the QEII had been delayed, originally due to arrive on the 6th. I met up with David’s parents and his family and we were taken to a large shed alongside the jetty. The public were on the dockside, but we were together – ANTELOPE, ARDENT and COVENTRY – three ships’ companies’ families waiting for their men to come home; knowing that some of those crews were never coming home. We watched through the cracks in the doors of the vast shed as the tug came into view; we watched as the enormous bow of the QEII came into view; we watched as Capt David Hart-Dyke, commanding officer of HMS COVENTRY, was the first to come through to be greeted by his wife and daughters. I shall never forget the burns to his face, the look in his eyes, the fear in the eyes of his wife, not knowing whether to hug her husband would hurt him, whether he had burns and injuries hidden from view. Then the men came through to meet their loved ones … you could touch the emotion, feel the relief, understand the pain. All three ships had lost shipmates, colleagues, young lives ripped from their families. So relieved to have them home, but so sad for their losses.
David came through with just the clothes he stood up in. Everything else was at the bottom of San Carlos Waters, Bomb Alley. His brother was still “down South” on HMS HERMES and the war was still going on.
We drove to see David’s sister’s family in Poole, then drove north to Liverpool, to Bootle, to David’s home. Big banners and flags welcomed him home and remember the feeling of him being completely overwhelmed. We wanted to show him how happy we were that he was home and safe, but he told us he could never celebrate so long as the war for still going and his brother was still at sea in that war. I hadn’t really thought of that.
I stayed with his family for a couple of days … we watched the disaster at Bluff Cove unfold – Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad, unforgettable images.
I returned home on the train and went back to work. I was feeling less and less like working, less and less motivated, more and more drained. It seemed ‘wrong’ to be working and being ‘normal’ while people I knew were dying, being injured, losing limbs, being burnt. The Falklands was now my reality, not London and commuting and eating supper at the normal time.
Then I remember the news on Monday 14th June: “There’s a white flag flying over Stanley! Bloody marvellous!” I looked at my Mother and said “It’s over!” It’s impossible to describe the relief when you know there will be no more killing, no more waiting for news, no more pain.
I remember hearing that Dick’s brother, Chris Nunn – also a Royal Marine – had read about his own brother’s death in the casualty lists; he had not been personally informed.
In the days, weeks, months and years to come, I realised there were different kinds of pain – shellshock (which became combat stress, which became PTSD and which has finally been recognised and is beginning to be addressed and people helped), bereavement, not having a funeral, long-term fear of talking about experiences, constant nightmares and dreams, and many other forms.
We have learnt many lessons from the Falklands and other wars and conflicts. And we now have email, the internet, instant news from around the world, reporters embedded with the troops, mobile phones, Skype. We don’t have to wait for news – we know any news will be with the people that need it within 24 hours, usually sooner. We see pictures and film, we have footage of our troops in combat, at work, we have documentaries about them and their role while the conflict is still progressing. The world has changed. The results of combat, sadly, have not.
I will leave it for David and his family and for Richard’s family to tell their stories; but I have learnt compassion, understanding, empathy and sympathy through my experiences. I have learnt not to judge, to value life, to enjoy the simple pleasures and the process of aging and growing older and hopefully wiser. I value my children, I value the life I’ve had when others have not been able to have that long life. And I can now look back and smile at some happy memories as well as never forgetting the dark days and the passing of many friends and fine, strong, young men.
We Will Remember Them x
Lt Richard J Nunn was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the bravery and skill he displayed during the operation that cost him his life.
Anne Richards is a devoted supporter of both ABF the Soldiers’ Charity and The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund and created the Facebook support groups for 3 Commando Brigade, 40, 42, 45 and 30 Commando and CHF, CLR and CTC RM.