"I was nursing for the NHS and I joined the reserves in November 1987, I have always been an outdoor person and not interested in the nightclub scene so joining the army didn’t need much thinking about. I was combat med tech and all in all I did 29 years and 7 months which is a frustration because I would have liked to have done 30 years. Initially when I joined, it was limited for women, back in the day, I could either go into catering or become a driver/radio operator. When the opportunity arose, I joined the medical corps and went to Bosnia. My first posting was in Denmark and I drove the truck all the way through Europe for a 2 week camp. It was a mix of reserves and regular army, a real eye opener, there was no easing into the reserves.
After that we used to go to Germany every year and I was the only medic. So at our highest strength there were 120 of us at the camp. In the morning I would hold a ‘sick parade’ as the army call it and if there was anyone who needed to see a doctor, I would refer them. Obviously I had to deal with accidents and incidents but it was the best job I could have had.
I think it helped me earn the respect of the lads because they didn’t really want girls there at that time. While there were one or two who made life a bit uncomfortable because they thought I shouldn’t be there, there were others who would stand up for me and tell them to ‘wind their necks in’. I didn’t need looking out for but it was good to know they would stick up for me. In Bosnia, there was another woman but she was a very young private, there were very few women around.
On one occasion, I was out delivering messages on the motorbike and a group of soldiers invited me to join them in the pub. It was only when I got back to camp that I found out there was a search party looking for me because they were worried. I didn’t mind, it made me feel part of the family. On the whole there was a mutual respect and although there was banter it was never in front of people who didn’t know us.
One of the biggest highlights of my career was our work at an orphanage on the border of Croatia and Bosnia. We had a team of us that went to this place as part of a goodwill project to see how we could help towards improving the environment for these children. The engineers built some playground activities out of wood that the staff could maintain, the admin guy was an artist and he decided to paint murals on the walls inside each of the rooms. We did a lot of work with the staff developing a sensory room and encouraging them to spend time with the kids in a positive way.
The biggest problem for me whilst in the Balkans was that we were told not to walk on the grass because of the risk of landmines. It was interesting when we first arrived as there was snow on the ground so you couldn’t see where the grass started and finished. For me it is such a normal thing to do, in everyday life I would take my dog out in the fields or just go for a walk, so to be unable to go on the grass was hard. While in Bosnia, you couldn’t get away from everyone to get any peace.
Change of Pace
Being a fulltime reservist means being paid the same as the regulars. Even though you would say I am more civvy than squaddie when I came back from Bosnia, I found my tolerance of people and their problems was limited. I had been in the same bubble as the regulars, so even though we were in danger, I felt safe because I knew we could turn to each other. You can find people that will have your back in civvy street but it's not the same. My friends and family would tell me what they thought I needed to do to get things sorted and I just wanted to sit and do nothing for a while.
Putting down roots
I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years and it's only in the last few months that the neighbours have started talking to me. I think it's because I was always in uniform and going away for periods of time. I was asked to coach an under six junior football team so that gets me out, they are enjoying it and they are doing well. Now the kids know that I teach football, they’ll talk to me, but it is difficult to have a conversation with some of the people around me. It's hard when you know that person is more than capable of doing things but they choose to do nothing.
Being a Veteran
I know if someone asked me if I needed help I’d say “no thanks” but I reckon if you asked any veteran if they would help others, they would go out of their way to lend a hand.
Most civilians have no idea about what we do and you often get asked silly questions but I don’t answer. I’m still in touch with some of the people I served with, I have one guy who struggles with what he calls the ‘black dog’ and I can understand his mental health issues. Sometimes I think my experience of working with MENCAP has helped me to realise that it is not the civilians’ fault they cannot start to understand veterans' problems, it is that we are not more open with them and that's not easy to do."