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.

Things Helen Loves, German housing
Our last home in Germany, we lived here twice in two different homes in the same street. Ours was the middle one.

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.

Things Helen Loves picture of military housing in Edinburgh
Married Quarters in Edinburgh. Our shortest posting, just 11 months.

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.

Things Helen Loves Image of door mat reading Home
Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

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.

Things Helen Loves, picture of brightly coloured curtains
Army curtains. These are quite tame compared to some.

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.

Things Helen Loves, graphic of hands around house

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.

Helen x

23 thoughts

  1. What a fascinating insight into the life of an army family Helen, I’ve learned so much from your post as I only know of one other person with army connections. He is the son of one of my friends and is an officer in the Reserves. He was in Logistics but since graduating and moving to London, he’s now attached to the Royal Artillery so has not been called up yet during this crisis. Is it usual for army families to own a property somewhere and let it whilst in married quarters to keep up with house prices when the time comes to leave? I wondered also whether you know in advance how long a posting will last for when applying for a new location. It seems strange to me that they are not all for equal periods of time but, of course, I don’t know how the army works. Thanks again for such an interesting post and I hope you didn’t mind all the questions. Take care, Marion x

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you Marion, and of course I don’t mind the questions. Owning a property, a lot of people do and there are help-to-buy schemes through the MoD to assist military families in getting onto the property ladder. Some don’t and just use the years in subsidised housing to save. Homelessness and struggling with housing is a huge issue for service leavers, sadly. As for the length of postings…we always have an ‘in theory’ idea but there are so many factors that can change the plan. Courses, promotions, soldiers leaving the service and creating a gap, compassionate issues. Our last posting to Germany was only for two years and I knew that from the outset, but I was desperate to go back even for a short post. I’m fast losing my heart to Wiltshire though, so lets hope this one lasts the full three years . Famous last words?

  2. That was interesting. I’m a daughter of the manse so grew up with some of the same issues, though we always loved 5 or 6 years in the same place. People made their assumptions then too. I don’t remember because I was too small, but apparently I used to like the hall light left on after I went to bed. One visitor very officiously switched it off to save the church money! He was swiftly advised that we paid our own bills.

  3. I am curious if kids does not have problem with moving schools and leaving friends?

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      No, not really! They meet some friends again in different places and the schools are used to helping military children so it all works out. I think children take their lead from the parents, so if we are positive and cheerful they are too. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. My Dad was in the MOD so every few years we moved on. The only army quarter we had was a lovely house in Singapore but we had to “march in” and out with every item checked and counted and most of the china had an arrow! We also rented half of an old army hospital in Weymouth. I went to 6 schools. Generally I made friends OK & continued to write to some when I moved. My British army school in Singapore when i was in the 6th form was the best of all.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you Lisa.

  5. Very interesting reading about something that is completely foreign to me. Moving six times in ten years must make you very adaptable–a good skill!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It definitely teaches you to take things as they come! Thank you fir taking the time to read and comment, always appreciated

  6. We moved 18 times as an Army family, beginning in 1965 in Singapore, where we married, then England, Germany, Northern Ireland, Canada and Scotland. Housing improved over the years as was the way “wives of” were treated! it was a good life seeing places we would never have visited otherwise. And we are about to move once more……

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Amazing! You must have some wonderful memories. Things do change in Army life, some for the better and some not so much. The pace of change can be glacial though! We are gearing up for the next move, just waiting for the posting order to arrive. Good luck with your impending move!

  7. This was a great read and very informative! My partner and I are looking in to SFA for ourselves. If you do not mind me asking, how was your house in Edinburgh? I believe from looking at the picture you posted it is the same houses as where we are likely to be placed!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      That’s Dreghorn, the older housing isn’t the best to be honest but if you’re posted into that area there are newer builds on the same estate and they are lovely. Also another military estate just down the road called Latch Park- very solid, modern homes 😊. Are you on facebook? There’s a page called ‘ Married Quarters R Us’ and its an absolute gem for up to date pics and info.

      1. Rachel Godfrey says:

        thanks for getting back to me😁 i’ll be sure to check that page out thank you so much! I guess it may have been a while ago for yourself but how long was the process between applying and getting a move in date☺️

      2. ThingsHelenLoves says:

        You should get an offer within in 15 working days and then a date to conincide with your posting date or arrival date, if the soldier is already in post. I believe housing on Edinburgh is not too tight so it should be straight forward. Good luck, smooth move!

  8. A fascinating, insightful article and some really great comments to carry the conversation along. You really do shed a light on an aspect of the military that few of us know about. I would expect your kids to have a positive attitude, yours comes across in your blogs as very positive so no surprises there. I had two friends who were army wives and both despair of me not being able to dispose of ‘stuff’. They keep telling me if I’d been an army wife I’d be throwing things away on a daily basis. They mostly followed their husbands in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong-Kong etc. but found life in the UK not quite so much fun when they got back.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you for such a kind comment, Mari. I think a lot of people are curious about military life. Yes, my kids are pretty laid back and happy-go-lucky, I think army life has taught them to value what’s really important and not worry so much about the rest. I’m sure military wives of past generations had some adventures- but also some hardships I’ll be lucky enough to never know!

      Oh and regarding ‘stuff’, I’m very minimalist just now but when I have my forever house I’ve every intention of making up for it! Less is never more if the ‘stuff’ holds happiness and memories!

  9. Thank you for this interesting window into military living and married quarters. I really enjoyed learning more about the housing, life, and rules.

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