Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Having a Parent in the Armed Forces

by Will Sparkes

Given that there are so many military families in and around Portsmouth, and the number of children who go to the school with connections to the military, I’ll bet that everyone reading this will have a relation or friend with a link to the Armed Forces. However I don’t reckon a majority will know perhaps what one of us goes through in order to have the label of military child. I’ll give you the rough guide to what it entails, good and bad, to be associated with the organisation that employs over 400,000 people both in full-time and reserve employment.

1) The Pride
When you pull out your Armed Forces railcard at the station or your Dad comes to Parents' Evening or just to pick you up from school in his uniform, you just feel cool. You can feel the people looking at him and you know they admire him. Sure there are the people who say the wrong things (“Nice hat, mate!” to which my ever-witty father replied “At least it doesn’t say Umbro on it”), but the majority offer complete respect. The elderly stop him in the street and congratulate or thank him for what he does, while I beam at him stupidly like a 6 year old at Christmas.

2) The Posh ‘Do’s' 
I’m not going to pretend I don’t --- seriously, we get to do some amazing stuff. During the summer of 2012, I watched the Royal Military Muster from the Royal enclosure at Windsor, I got VIP seats on London Bridge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant. And it’s not just posh stuff either. It’s a great tradition that Naval and Army families make the voyage to Twickenham each year to watch the Army-Navy rugby game (not RAF because they are hilariously awful at the game). It’s, quite frankly, utter carnage, especially when the Squaddies discover the kegs and the Marines remember that it’s hilarious to not have any clothes on, especially between the posts of the pitch… mid-game.

3) The Other Benefits 
As mentioned before, I get money off my train tickets but that’s negligible. My Mum currently sings as part of the hugely successful Military Wives’ Choir, which I know for a fact is hugely beneficial to her, and it’s also a cracking conversation-starter. I’m in the process of setting up a Military Children’s Choir, in accordance with the Armed Forces covenant that I signed last summer, which promised to form a greater allegiance between the families and the council, but I won’t say much about that.

4) Dad’s Job – The Good Bits 
What can I say? He’s the captain of the Royal Navy’s Ice Patrol ship, HMS Protector, which is pretty flippin’ cool. It means that if you Google the ship’s name, hundreds of heroic news stories pop up, mainly about ship rescues, and also that I get e-mails entitled ‘Just another day at the office’, with the picture below attached.  Now you probably look at the picture and think ‘That’s amazing’ whereas, because I’m so conditioned to it (and also because it’s raining outside) I think, ‘You jammy sod’. I mean, he calls us up some days and, after 5 minutes, goes, “Sorry, must dash, we’ve got a pod of humpback whales off the starboard bow” or “Oops! There’s a 4km ice sheet in front of us, got to go!” Which is mean. Also, his jobs seem to match up perfectly with my Geography lessons. For instance, in Year 11, for my GCSE coursework, I had to write about piracy just after Dad had returned from Somalia, and, this year, I’m studying cold environments. Very. Very. Handy.

5) Dad’s Job – The Bad Bits 
I put this last, really just to try and give you the feeling I get when Dad goes away after he’s been on leave. It’s awful to be honest, waving goodbye to someone that you know you won’t see for perhaps 9 months, or for instance when they deploy to an active war zone, thinking you might never see him again. You think you’ll be fine and you won’t get down in the dumps, but I do. You can’t explain it but once you drive away from the dockside on the way to school it just hits you and you’re never prepared for it. It’s numbing and enveloping and the only way to stop it is by waiting. 

Although that is absolutely nothing compared to what my family experienced in November 2008. We'd been in constant contact with the ship for the entire deployment and then nothing for a week. It was terrifying and no-one knew what was happening until we woke up to the news saying that HMS Cumberland had been in a fire-fight with a suspected pirate group. It turned out fine but it was hugely frightening at the time. Dad’s been away for 286 days of the past year, and I can’t wait to get him home. It’s the best emotion to have to be sat at school, knowing that your Dad’s at home or almost there. I hope that I've given you an insight into my life, and I hope that you now know that my life’s not all bad or good.


  1. I'm from Sri Lanka and my father was in forces for more than 10 years. He had to leave home as soon as I was born. I only got to see him by 6 months. He was fighting to end the 3 decades of Civil War in sri lanka I feel the same pain

  2. A fascinating article, both balanced and frank, and well-written to boot. Thank you for this, Will, it does (and should to anyone else who reads it) open the eyes.

    1. I agree! I had no idea how much a parent being in the forces affects their children... An interesting insight.


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