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Career Development in the British Army.

Hi there.

My name is Chris Wilkinson and I have decided to share my experiences as a soldier in the British army. I will add smart parts of my story in serial form.

A couple of years ago I flew home from an overseas deployment in order to further my career and gain promotion. The career development path in the infantry is hard. My story is about just one level, that from private to Lance Corporal, the Potential Junior Non-Commissioned Officer's Cadre, or PJs. This is my story.

 

PJs

The whole week really was just a case of marking time for me. The PJs course was just around the corner and my mind was fixed on that. The unknowns and the horror stories filled my mind and I just hoped that I was up to it. There were always horror stories surrounding important courses and I was kind of hoping that they would come to nothing like they usually did. A very good friend of mine, Mick Greentree and I often talked about the rumours that circulated and we always came to the conclusion that some people just highlighted the problems they had had and dwelled on the parts that they had struggled on. Every major career step I had taken in the T.A. Greentree had taken with me and we had never struggled to the extent that we had been told we would. Again, Greentree would be on a course with me. He too had been selected to do the PJs cadre along with around ten other guys from Tosca.

Of course the best thing about going home would be the R&R. Naturally I wanted to complete the course but more than that, I wanted to see Emma. As it stood I was to get about a week at home with her before going away again and I had some big plans. I had always told her that I wasn’t prepared to marry her because I didn’t believe in the institution. It was something we never agreed on. In her mind marriage was the cementing of a relationship and necessary in the making of a real family; in mine it was a waste of money, spent in order to say something that could be said every day for free.

The more I looked at it the more I came around to her way of thinking. I loved her that much that I was prepared to look at it from her point of view and eventually I wanted it perhaps as much as she did. I didn’t let her know it straight away in fact I didn’t mention it at all and dodged the subject as much as I could. Since being in Cyprus however and after spending so much time away from her I decided it was time to let her know.  I didn’t do it directly however as I couldn’t tell her I had warmed to the idea of marriage without actually asking her to marry me. Instead I played a little game where, from Cyprus, I signed up for some wedding brochures in her name and had them sent to her house. It was cruel I guess but it was funny too. She would write to me and tell me that she was getting these odd deliveries. Of course I acted the innocent bystander and floated the idea that perhaps she had accidentally provided her details to a mailing list somewhere at some time and it was them that were posting her brochures.

It was all part of my plan. I wanted her to be unconsciously thinking about and planning our wedding. I knew she would read the brochures. She wanted to get married so why wouldn’t she. My next step was to buy the ring and I found that it took much more thought and planning than I expected.

I had wanted to arrive at her doorstep unexpected with the ring in my hand but the messing around with my flight home dates had dashed that idea. I didn’t know from one day to the next which day I would arrive. I had tried to get Emma to reschedule her time off by telling her I had a package being delivered that she would need to sign for so I could be sure she’d be at home when I got there. I managed but then almost immediately my arrival date changed again and that idea became unworkable. I considered phoning Emma’s place of work and explaining my plan to them but in the end I just decided to tell her the new dates the army had given to me and work from there.

At Ledra Palace only two people gave me a meaningful send off. Spencer wished me luck and shook my hand. He’d been totally supportive in my efforts to get selected for the PJs course. His best wishes were genuine and it meant a great deal to me. Edwards also took the time to wish me luck and give me support. Both reassured me that I would be fine and again I was grateful. Plenty of other people wished me good luck on the course but those two guys made a real effort to make sure I knew they meant it.

The trip home started ominously. My name wasn’t on the transport list going from Ledra to the airport. The officer in charge reeled off the names and mine was missing. I informed him and asked who was responsible for printing it off and making sure it was correct and he said that he was. That didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. I wanted to be at home so badly. All I could think about was Emma and the possibility that the army had messed up started to flood over me. The officer told me that I might still be ok. He said that I should jump on the transport anyway, with all my kit and then drive to the airport and see if I was on their list, just on the off chance that it was only his paperwork that my name was missing from. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He wanted me to turn up and just hope that I was flying home. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t accept that as a course of action so after putting my kit on the bus I went back over to him. I explained that I might not be on his list because my dates had been shifted around several times whilst someone is some office tried to organise my life. I asked if there was any way he could find out what was going on without my having to just wing it and hope for the best. He took my number and said that he would go and make some calls. In the meantime I was to get on the bus and just head off in to the unknown. I felt gutted on the bus. I had what I thought was a crushing realisation that they had messed up and that I was going to be stuck here until they sorted themselves out. I fully expected to be stood outside the airport watching the flight take off and having to explain to the woman I loved that it would be longer still until I saw her.

I sat still and tried to be pragmatic. There really wasn’t anything I could do. Of course I’d be severely annoyed if they had messed up but I’d just have to deal with it. No amount of shouting or complaining would change it and no matter how upset Emma would be, it was totally out of my hands. All I could do was enjoy the ride and hope for the best.

As it turned out the problem was over in a matter of minutes. Before the bus even drove off I got a call from the officer. He told me that I was actually on the list and that he had printed off a version that had since been updated. He apologised and said that everything was in order and that I should just carry on like the rest of the passengers. I was relieved more than anything else. I could have been angry for the unnecessary stress, I could have complained about yet more bad organisation but instead I decided to look on the bright side. The drama was short lived and it was now over.

At RAF Akrotiri, Britain’s airbase on the South of Cyprus, we all sat and waited to board the plane. It turned out to be the same plane that a few friends of mine had flown in on a few weeks previously. It had been diverted on the way because of a fuel leak and had made an emergency landing in Greece. We were filled with that dark humour that soldiers have when we found out. We all laughed and joked about how lucky we were to have such a good jet and we mused over whether we would crash in a ball of flames at some point during the flight. Of course with such a reliable aeroplane there was a delay but at that point all I could think about was being home so looking back, the delay although long at the time, was really nothing.

Once I’d landed at Brize Norton and the usual wait for the baggage was over I went down to pick up my hire car. It was raining just slightly but I didn’t mind. I was glad to back in the British weather after living in some really oppressive heat for such a long time. I got a brand new Volkswagen Polo and was soon on my way, flying down the road towards Norwich. I couldn’t get there quick enough. I was excited to see Emma. It was a strange feeling. I’d never been actually excited to be driving home from anywhere.

I stopped off at Birchanger Green services as I always did whenever I was driving through that part of the country. I had a Starbucks coffee and a Waitrose pasty. It was really all I had eaten apart from the airline food and although I should have eaten something more substantial, I was happy to refuel my body just enough to allow myself to get back on the road.

As I reached the Norwich city limits I again felt a rise of excitement within myself. Refuelling the Polo seemed to take an age; I just wanted to be home. I drove out of the petrol station and within a couple of minutes I was standing at her door. When she answered a wave of emotion swept over me. I hugged her and squeezed her tight. I’d been waiting for this moment for so long.

The first week that I was back at home seemed to go by in a blur. In the back of my mind I knew that the PJs course was coming up and I prepared all my kit accordingly. Whenever I came back after a course, all I wanted to do was dwell in Emma’s arms all day but the importance of admin had been drilled in to me by the army. There was always kit to sort out and work to be done. This time however, I let it all wait until the morning. I jumped in the bath and after that, I sat down with the woman I loved and just let being home sink in.

It was very odd. Less than twenty four hours before I had been in the full on heat of Cyprus surrounded by the politics of my section and the battle group in general. Right up until the last few hours at Ledra Palace I’d been working. Even though I was leaving at 1000hrs on the Sunday morning, I had still had to work the night shift. I finished at 0800hrs and did a final bit of admin before going out to the bus, ready to escape. Mitchell, who was on the same R&R flight as me, had that final night pulled rank and refused to work using the fact that he was going on R&R as an excuse.  It was noticed by the rest of the section and was even commented on by members of other sections. By then however, his jack attitude was well known to people and they weren’t really surprised. My hands were tied, I had to work. What he did was up to him.

Sitting at home I knew that the proposal still had to be dealt with. I couldn’t wait to make Emma my fiancé but I didn’t have a ring. I knew she’d want to be with me as much as she could whilst I was back so I had to think of an excuse to get away and buy one. I woke in the morning and claimed I had to do a quick run to the bank in the city centre. I promised that I’d only be about an hour and said that it was just a boring trip and that she need not bother coming. She was ok with that and away I went.

I got to the jewellers and asked them to show me all the engagement rings that fit my budget. They produced a small selection and I at once spotted the one I was going to buy. It was made from platinum and gold and had a nice stone in the middle that caught the light of the shop. The other rings looked lesser in comparison and although the one I had chosen was by far the most expensive of the set, I told the shop keeper that I’d take it. After yet another Starbucks I set off home again.

I now had the ring in its box, sitting in my pocket. All I wanted to do was produce it and see her put it on but I knew I had to do it somewhere special. Going down on one knee in the living room just wasn’t going to cut it. I planned to do it at a fancy restaurant but Emma said that if we were going to go out for dinner, it would have to be at the end of the week and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out that long. Luckily, fortune smiled upon us and a solution fell in my lap.

We had decided to visit my sister in the early evening but when we phoned her, she said that she wouldn’t be there as early as we had at first thought. We were already in the car nearby and so decided to stay out and drive around for a bit until it was time to go around. Emma asked where we should go and that was when the idea struck me. We would go to the coast and visit Cromer. I knew immediately that I was going to propose on Cromer pier. I had my doubts as to whether it would be romantic enough, it wasn’t Paris after all but I consoled myself with the thought that Cromer is a beautiful Norfolk seaside town known as the gem of the Norfolk coast. Emma to me was a beautiful Norfolk girl and I loved that part of her even though I was always keen to tease her about it. On reflection, although I thought quite hard for some time about where to ask the question, somewhere better than Cromer, for me, would have been very hard to find.

The weather was of course terrible and any idea of stunning romantic scene was far away but in my perhaps foolish mind, all that the weather was throwing at me only added to the moment and made it more unique. We got to the end of the pier and I thought my nerves were going to give out. I steadied myself with the thought that my nerves would be the same no matter where I did it and went for it.

As the waves climbed the pebbled beach in high tide and the squall whipped around the wooden deck I stopped and fumbled in my coat pocket. Emma was just ahead and had her back to me. I took out the box and called to her. I wanted to give her a beautiful speech about how much I loved her and how I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with her but my tongue was tied and I just said “Emma, will you marry me?”

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Comments

Welcome on board CSJWilko Smile

Someone wanted to use little bit of manipulation but others did it to him. So, timing was gone and he needed to go for it naturaly then... and he did it right. Right? Wink

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