Home sweet home. Where ever I lay my hat… that’s my home (did anyone sing that one?). Home is where the army sends us.
The last one, that’s the hat that really fits for me.
For obvious reasons, we are all about home just now. Mostly, I write about travel and days out, but since we are currently tucked up safely at home, why not have a change of direction and blog about home. Let’s face it, there has probably never been a more relevant time.
Towards the end of last year, I made my sixth move in ten years. I’m married to a soldier and we live in military housing, a.k.a Married Quarters. So, I know a bit about the moving process and I’ve lived a nice little assortment of homes. I’ve also heard some funny questions and assumptions along the way about the life we lead…some funny ha-ha, some funny peculiar. The most common ones being…
Alright for you, you get your house for free!
Someone did actually say this to me. It would be nice, but it isn’t so. Rent is paid, deducted from the soldier’s wage automatically. The cost varies depending on property size, condition, location and possibly rank. Even a single soldier pays for their accommodation. No such thing as as a free lunch. Or home.
You Don’t get to Pick Where You Live…
As in, country or garrison. You get input, but you do have to relinquish most of the control over your own life. When the time comes to move, the soldier lists three preferences for the places they would like to go and one they wouldn’t. The final decision is made in Glasgow according to some algorithm that is known to no one. A little while later, could be days or could be months, an order will come along and tell you what’s next.
Or Your House.
Hmm. Yes and no. When I first accompanied my husband, you didn’t get any choice at all. You were given an address and hoped for the best. It was quite exciting, really. Now, once you have a Posting Order taking you to a new place, you can view available properties and submit up to three preferences. Then you get an address, which may or may not reflect your preferences. Luck of the draw, but you can try to sway it your way.
Paying for Removals- I don’t know how you afford it?
If we had to pay, I don’t know how we’d afford it either. Moving on a posting order, you are really very well cared for. In this, I can’t fault the army. The moving package covers fully funded removals, hotels whilst in transit, food & mileage allowance and a payment to meet the out-of-pocket costs of moving. It’s an amazing system and I am grateful for it. Nerve wracking watching that truck pull away with your whole life on it, though.
Can you Decorate? Make it Home?
Basic rule of thumb, you can do what you like as long as you put it back to magnolia walls and make good any damage when you leave. The rules have relaxed recently, as long as you get permission and any changes can be classed as an improvement, it’s all good. Paint, paper, lay new flooring. There are whole on-line communities devoted to making a quarter a home. It’s the ultimate compliment if someone posts a picture and gets comments along the lines of, ” You’d never think that was a quarter!”.
You Get Your House Furnished by the Army?
Yes. No. If you like. You can have a fully furnished house. It costs you a little extra and it’s added onto the rent. If not, no worries. In the UK, every quarter comes with magnolia walls throughout, a cooker, curtains and carpets. The cooker might vary in age and reliability. The curtains and carpets might be older than you and best described as ‘interesting’ but you’ll always get them.
In certain overseas postings, you get a fully kitted out home and have your things put into storage in the UK, but that’s another post altogether.
They Didn’t Even Have Quarters Back Then…
A strange one, but I’ve heard it a few times. The idea that MQ is a new concept and the modern military family should just be grateful they exist. I’m not sure what point is being made in saying this. Because the fact is, families have accompanied their soldier in one form or another since the 1700’s and a lot of UK military housing was built in the 1800’s. If you are interested in the history of wives and children following their soldiers, pick up a copy of Following the Drum by Annabel Venning.
They Do the White Glove Test When You Leave.
Not these days. There is a standard of cleanliness to hit if want to leave without being charged , known as ‘March Out Standard’. Some places are stricter than others. The house basically needs to be ready for the incoming family to unpack and start living there. Or, clean enough that you’d lick any surface. The standards have relaxed over the years, and rightly so; they used to be pretty unrealistic. A proper march out clean will still take a good few days. Satisfying, though.
Life in Quarters is Living in a Fishbowl.
My experience? It’s a good life. It can take a little while to settle into a new community so those early weeks can feel strange. Military families are generally used to neighbours coming and going and are a pretty friendly bunch. Especially when the soldiers go away en masse, a real support network is forged between those left behind. It’s not all rosy, there can be conflict and gossip and a lack of boundaries between work and home. But on the whole, it’s just day to day life with a bunch of neighbours who live the same life you do. Warts and all!
It’s not a normal life, moving about into a house you didn’t pick or view. Or to move so often. Our longest posting has been four years, the shortest just eleven months. There are good times and what-am-I-doing times. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.
Edit to add: Since I originally published this post, there have been tweaks to the military housing system. Everything written here is still correct generally, but if you’ve stumbled upon this post because you are about to or are considering moving into MQ’s, I’d also recommend checking with your relevant families federation or unit welfare. If you are in or joining the army family, AFF is a great source of up to date info.