Life as the wife of a soldier. What can I tell you, it’s a funny old business. A world of unwritten rules, acronyms and things that shouldn’t make sense, but just do. Being honest, my life is fairly normal much of the time. Being part of a military family doesn’t make the nuts-and-bolts of my life much different to anyone else’s.
I fold laundry, walk my dog, cook a Sunday roast. But then… that laundry will involve camo kit smelling of outdoors and diesel. Walking the dog might involve skirting a low flying helicopter or a military exercise (or accidently wandering through it. It has happened). There might be an empty chair at the table when the Sunday roast is served up.
You normalise things others might find intolerable. Your husband going away with little to no notice, long separations, missed celebrations. And in the bigger picture; moving to a house you haven’t seen in an area you don’t know. Asking a neighbour to be your emergency contact despite only having known them for a couple of weeks. Like I said, funny old business.
I can’t speak for every army wife. Under the ‘wife of’ umbrella stand thousands of individuals all with different experiences. This life is not for everyone. It chews some people up and spits them out. But if you can get along with it, it’s rewarding. Interesting. Sometimes in unexpected ways.
From my personal experiences, five unexpected side effects of being an army wife…
You Don’t Get Attached to Bricks & Mortar
I’ve heard people say a house isn’t just bricks and mortar, but army life has taught me differently. That’s exactly what a house is. What makes it a home is contained within the walls, but it isn’t the walls themselves that create that heartbeat.
Ah, but what about the memories I hear people cry. This is the place I made the memories, brought my babies home to etc . The best thing about memories is that they are portable. Take them with you. You can’t go back to them anyway, only hold them dear. Fill your home with prompts and keepsakes and know you can carry those memories and make a home anywhere.
The house we lived in longest was in Germany for four years, the shortest in Scotland for less than a year. I enjoy them while I’m there, treat them as my own. It’s a bit like a hotel stay, you know that room is yours for a while. Then you leave and don’t overthink who has it next.
I make them mine, cherish the days that house is my home. Then I leave them in good clean order, hopefully full of good energy and wish all the best to the incoming family.
Knowing There is Potential Everywhere
The army sends you to some beautiful places. Surprisingly beautiful, sometimes.
I think most people outside the army life have an inkling that as an army family, we can be posted abroad. Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Belize, Kenya, Brunei… all there for the taking. People generally think this sounds exciting, and they’d be right.
But then talk about postings in the UK – Catterick Garrison, Edinburgh, Tidworth, Aldershot, Newcastle- and folk tend to be a bit less enthusiastic. There’s a misconception that life in a British Garrison town means built up, rowdy squaddies, military vehicles and barbed wire everywhere. Is there a bit of that about? Yes.
Truthfully, many of these garrison towns and cities are beautiful and historic places. They have character. A lot of forest and field is preserved because the MoD needs it. Keeps the developers and private companies at bay.
I’ve learned to give everywhere a chance. Be determined to find something positive. Be open. Do that and you’ll reap the rewards, I promise.
You Get Comfortable With End of Life Conversations
The serious one.
Being an army wife has made me really open and comfortable with talking about death. It can be a challenge. It’s a difficult conversation. Mr THL and I have been forced by the possibilities of army life to talk it out.
Let me share something with you: if you push past the uncomfortable feeling that you’re being a bit morbid, having the conversation about what happens in the event of one of you dying is actually very liberating.
We were thrown in at the deep end. Mr THL’s first deployment out of training was Afghanistan in the height of the conflict. It was a steep learning curve and we learned fast. Now we are very open and I know whatever happens, we’ll be prepared.
All said and done, I don’t worry too much these days. Just a little bit, sometimes. The British Army is well trained and well equipped. Statistically, my soldier is unlikely to come to harm. Plus, Mr THL is like an old cat. Nine lives ( maybe six or so left, these days) and always finds his way home. I suspect he’ll be there annoying me ’til the end of my days.
It’s Fun to Adopt Traditions & Celebrations
Let’s lighten the tone and talk celebrations. The title that popped to mind on this was actually, ‘It’s fun to be a Cultural Mongrel’ but does that sound awful? I’m not sure. Anyway…
In our house we celebrate anything and everything. Any excuse. Most of our traditions and celebrations have been adopted along the way from this posting or that one. The kids polish their shoes and leave them out on December 6th for St Nicholas Day. In November they might light a lantern and get some goodies for St. Martin’s Day or ‘Sint Maarten’ in November. Easter involves a German style Easter tree and a visit from the ‘Osterhase’.
Along the way we’ve also been included in Fiji day celebrations, Harvest festivals, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Burns Nights and plenty of other celebrations which didn’t belong to us but that we were touched to be included in. I didn’t expect this when I first joined my husband, but it’s one of my favourite things about this life.
Hardship Breeds Compassion
There is a darker side to life as a military spouse. The reality is, you relinquish control of your own life. Someone else gets to dictate when the soldier can be there and when they can’t. When you can talk to them and when you can’t. Soldiers are pushed hard and not always given what they need to cope. That can have a knock on effect in families, across communities.
It could harden you, if you let it. Or, you can take your own experiences and use them differently. For example, the deployments where Mr THL was whisked away beyond my reach made me think about the families of prisoners. They too have a loved one swept into a system where neither spouse nor prisoner can call the shots anymore. Those feelings of loss and helplessness are tough, whichever situation they come from.
Being the new kid on the block in foreign postings with none of the language under my belt makes me want to help anyone who is struggling with English. Don’t give me the whole, ‘they should speak English’ malarkey. Imagine how isolating and intimidating it can be. To be a capable adult unable to communicate your basic needs, or to be a bit nervous in a new place. Be kind, help when you can and remember a smile is universal.
And to the new wives and partners coming into this life… I aim to be the wife I needed to meet when I moved into my first army home. I was lucky, taken under the wings of some wonderful women. Don’t let people stand or stumble alone.
When all is said and done, army wife life is real life. You take the rough with the smooth. Everyone has the bits they love and the bits that test them. Can you guess at the bit that tests me?
Thank you Helen.
A genuinely interesting insight into your life, and others who’s other halves are in the military. As a boy, I was moved around a lot due to my father being a policeman. A bit disruptive moving from school to school, but I imagine nothing like the effect on your family.
That must have made for an interesting childhood! My husbands Grandmother was married to a policeman and she moved around with him, from her stories I don’t think her lot was an easy one. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment, appreciated!
I love your positive outlook, Helen. Any news on the next posting yet?
We got an extension here in Wiltshire, which was happy news. But means within about a year we’ll be back on the list to be posted. And it’ll all begin again!
And that positive outlook will be tested all over again! Good luck, hon!
Thanks Jo- if the positivity doesn’t come easy, there’s always gin and chocolate 😆
You keep the gin. Can we share the chocolate?
Such an interesting insight into the life of an army wife Helen. Being positive and making the best of situations is the best way to live even if sometimes it seems difficult.
Absolutely! I’m a firm believer that if you can’t control what’s going on around you, you can at least control your attitude to it all. Thanks for reading and commenting Marion, it means a lot to me.
I love your insights Helen. Definitely a positive way of seeing life!
Thank you Joyce. I figure life is going to roll on regardless, might as well be positive as not!
Thank your husband for his service on my part. I’m a Veteran’s wife and I work for Veterans. I have learned many things from my personal experience and through the service that I offer to them. Thanks for sharing your experience with others.
Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed reading.
Very interesting post Helen. The sentences you wrote on memories, not being able to re-visit them anyway, hit me in my feels that’s for sure. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts.
Thank you for your interest in this post and your kind words, always much appreciated 😊
Very insightful Helen, as others have said. I think you’re right about bricks and mortar but it depends on your personal experience and perspective I think. I moved around incessantly as a kid and young man and I guess that had a huge influence on my decision to go fully nomadic. Recently, my partner and I have been craving some stability and perhaps a “home” of sorts to cultivate. Excellent article.
There’s definitely a lot depends on personal experience and personality, but I also think if you’ve already lived a mobile lifestyle then it’s more normal to you than to someone who has been rooted in one place for years. My husband and I have started looking at post army life and we can’t call it. Sometimes we think we’d have a fixed home and I do love the idea of animals and a garden. Other days I can only see life on the road.
Might end up with a van, a little herb garden and some pots and another dog. That’s a compromise of sorts?
Yes. I love the sound of that!
A very interesting post , I’m not sure I could do it, you are made of strong stuff. Love your positivety. X
Thanks! I think it just becomes your normality. It’s a strange way to live, but rewarding…mostly!
Interesting read. I worked in North Yorkshire to prevent homelessness. One of the biggest issue was the garrison at Catterick. The army wives liked it, the children liked the schools so when Dad left the army the families wanted to stay there. Problem, they couldn’t stay in family quarters. Where to house them? Perpetual problem.
It is indeed a knotty problem! We did an 18 month posting in Catterick, I liked it there. I can see why families would choose to settle. The MoD seems to do more now than ever to get soldiers thinking about post service life before that day dawns, but it’s a tricky transition. Your role sounds like it must have been very interesting!
Very interesting post. As others have said, your positive outlook on life is admirable. I also like your supportiveness – to be the same role model for others that you benefited from in your early days. Like the person whose father was a policeman, I have a little insight into enforced itineraryness (not a word I don’t think, but you know what I mean). My father was a minister and we moved every 5 or 6 years, though he had a bit of choice over the destination and there was a much longer run-up. It did disrupt our schooling and friendships, but we coped.
Thanks Anabel. I think any forced move is going to be disruptive, I do see huge improvements in the support systems available over the past decade or so which can only be a good thing. I do try to be positive, I figure the time is going to pass me by anyway so I might as well make the better of it. I’ve only got to look at what’s happening around the world to see my lot isn’t so bad!
I also have this non-attachment approach to places where I live, usually for a few months, sometimes for a year.
The constant moves keep life interesting, I think, and they help me not to collect too much stuff. In the beginning, I still shipped a few boxes, now I just take what fits in the backpack. And if anything is missing from the new house, I can usually get it second-hand. Or I can do without it.
Where did you live in Germany?
This is one hell of an introduction to your life as an army wife. Words can’t really convey how I feel about the way you’ve written this post. Absolutely brilliant!
Ah, thank you so much. It was a bit in at the deep end! On the plus side, it made everything that came after feel relatively manageable