Family and the Forces

by Jan 4, 2016Personal reflections0 comments

It may seem strange to lump my family and my time in the Forces together. In fact I come from a very military background. My grandfather and my father both rose to the rank of General and served as Colonels of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). My two elder brothers were also serving officers at the time I was growing up. Not surprising therefore, that the Regiment was occasionally jokingly referred to as the Deedes Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (fortunately the acronym prevented the nickname becoming too popular).

Unlike the rest of my family, I did not fully embrace the Services and the conflicts this precipitated between me and myself, my family and the army were painful and a significant influence on my life involving some major screw-ups that knocked my confidence into a cocked hat for many, many years.

Even worse, it has taken me many years to accept my failures for what they really were – lessons that should have been learned at the time and used for my own personal development. Alfred’s question to Bruce Wayne in the 2005 film Batman Begins always touches a raw nerve: ‘Why do we fall, Sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.’

Some youthful lessons

Lesson 1 - Stand up for yourself

In 1973 I applied for and was accepted by Exeter University to read Environmental Engineering, a leading edge course that would have put me at the forefront of the environmental movement today. Instead I submitted to the family dictat that ‘We don’t go to University – we join the Army.’ I berate myself to this day for not standing up for myself.

Lesson 2 - Deal with the money

Money and the family attitudes to money also played a key role; not earning and living off grants was not the done thing, and my parents were unwilling to support me in what was not a ‘proper job’. I could have been more adventurous and got myself some work to supplement a university grant. Money was an important issue at this point, and it could have been handled differently by my family and by me.

Lesson 3 - Pick yourself up from a fall

My five years in the army were exhausting, often hugely fun, sometimes boring; I served two tours in Northern Ireland during the troubles and spent much of the rest of the time in Germany with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR). Towards the end of my service back in the UK I harmed someone (psychologically rather than physically), was called to account, judged, found wanting, sanctioned and deeply humiliated in the press and media.

In spite of this my performance, especially in Ireland, earned me excellent references. I went on to University then the City, a career that never really took off because I utterly failed to pick myself up from may fall; that took until in the mid 2000’s I began to met wise and compassionate people such as George Kinder, Susan Galvan, Vivien Sabel and Brené Brown.

Lesson 4 - Fight for your integrity

So, I accepted responsibility for things I had done – and to a significant degree for the omissions of those higher up the chain of command, those who should have offered guidance, training and support and who failed to do so, and even in one case threw my concerns back at me. Its acceptable, even necessary to take responsibility for ones own actions; thats how we preserve and enhance our personal integrity. The degree to which I had gone too far here was brought home to me only recently when I met a retired senior officer familiar with my story who told me that he and other senior officers at the time were deeply ashamed and saddened by the way I was treated

Lesson 5 - Cynicism is destructive

The background to all this was a home environment in which cynicism, judgement, criticism, bigotry and ignorance of a world beyond the military predominated over compassion, kindness, empathy and love. I don’t blame my family for this; its just the way it was in many military families. You can hardly blame them; these were people who had fought through the war, were competent and decisive and saw life as being hard won. Anyone who didn’t ‘pull their weight’ or ‘fit in’ or even try to understand what these people had gone through were automatic targets for intolerance. I’ve tried to live the other side of the coin in recent years, with compassion and empathy and love, and its a much better route, one that nourishes and feeds, rather than destroys.