Firstly let me state that this post is about my own experiences of being an army brat and I apologise if its quite lengthy but this is just the surface. Its difficult to know how many former and current brats there are but it must run in the hundreds of thousands. Each child’s experience is different, some are really positive, others can be quite negative. I have reached out to the army brat community for their pros and cons which I will touch upon in a later blog.
So what about my experience?
For the first 16 years of my life I was an army brat, I never knew how different it was compared to life as a civvy child. You moved around a lot, friends would up and move somewhere else. Without the social media we have now it was easy to lose touch with people. You had to be careful everywhere you went. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realised it wasn’t all that normal to check the underside of a car before you got into it.
My earliest memory is in Omagh, Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, playing in a park outside the maisonette we lived in. Now I am not actually sure if this is a true memory or something that I think I can remember because of some photos we have. Although, according to my parents, I apparently slept through a car bomb.
My first solid memories were when we were based in Preston, Lancs. We lived on base where there was plenty to do for the young kids like play parks etc. I used to go out and play with all the other army kids on these parks, sometimes without my parents. It’s amazing to me now that a 5 year old could out and about without an adult but because we all lived on a secure base and everyone knew everyone it was perfectly safe. The sense of community and family is a huge influence on most army brats making them very trusting. I had two really good friends called Laura and Sarah who I was always playing with. When I was 4 my little sister came along and we all had some great times going to Blackpool pleasure beach or boating in Stanley Park. It was in my own garden on the base that I first remember seeing the Red Arrows which kicked in an interest in aviation.
It was in the January of 1990 that we moved from Preston to a place called Paderborn in Germany. First off this was the first time I remember seeing MFO boxes which was the be all and end all in military packing. We lived in a block of flats off base and were surrounded by many army families. I was 6 when we moved here and it was all very exciting until I realised that Sarah didn’t move to Germany and Laura had moved to another area of Paderborn, nowhere near me. Not long after the move I started at William Wordsworth Primary School, which was set up by the MOD for forces children. I quickly found new friends and started to enjoy myself. Now Germany was an unusual posting as we were stationed there for 7 years which was a very long time to be in one place as an army brat. I did most of my growing up here and loved it. Germany is a beautiful country and the people we met were always friendly and helpful.
The schools were amazing both William Wordsworth and John Buchan Middle School which I attended. The teachers were inspiring and enthusiastic and I enjoyed going to school. When I tell my civvy friends this, they often find this difficult to comprehend as their schools were not as inspiring. It was John Buchan were I discovered a love of music. We had a musical showcase with the local primary schools and everyone had to be a part of it. I was selected with another 4 children in my whole year group to sing a verse of ‘Its a Small World’ in Spanish. I can still sort of remember the words all these years on.
We still had many fun days out with the family, the local Tierpark (think Hoo Farm with small theme park rides), shopping in Paderborn was always fun (you could buy waffles off street vendors that were the size of dinner plates), hanging out on base was always interesting with the odd family days they did but one of my favourite stories was that of our first trip to Mohne Dam. For those a bit rusty on their WWII knowledge, Mohne Dam was one of the dams that was breached by 617 squadron (aka The Dambusters). Well being the young children we were, my sister and I at the time had no idea. To us it was a big walk way by a lake. My dad, the prankster he is, told us to run across the dam with our arms outstretched, pretending to be planes whilst singing the Dambusters theme so loud. The looks we must have gotten from the Germans. If this was to happen today there would have been some uproar about being offensive or something but it was the early 90’s and we were only kids.
Germany was also exciting around Christmas. There was always the most amazing stalls that sprung up selling gifts and food. Not to forget SNOW. I think it snowed every Christmas we were there.
It was always interesting to see certain customs the local had too. The Germans when heading in convoy to a wedding would all blast their car horns so loud so everyone knew. If someone had just had a child then either pink or blue baby clothes were strung up outside the house with figures of storks too. On the Thursday after Shrove Tuesday, women would cut the mens ties off. I still don’t know why.
The down side of living in Germany was that I only really saw my extended family, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins about once a year, this was until my Uncle, who was also serving was posted to Germany about an hour away from where we lived.
It was also during this time that I realised just how dangerous my dads job was. Whilst in Germany he served two tours, one back in Northern Ireland and one in Bosnia. Going from having your dad with you all the time to him being gone for 6 months at a time was hard but it must have been harder on my mum who not only had to deal with her husband away but also had to look after 2 young children, I was definitely a handful.
When Dad was in Ireland I had my first and only (so far) major accident when I dislocated my elbow. I had to spend 5 days in a German hospital barely understanding a word any of the nurses, doctors and other patients were saying. That was scary but being the army brat I was I managed to become friendly with the one girl in the bed next to me.
After 7 years we upped sticks and moved again, this time back to Northern Ireland. We lived on base and this was a very interesting time. Before we had even settled in, all the children were briefed on things we could and couldn’t say to the local Irish people as this was in the height of the troubles. We couldn’t mention our religion, anything on the layout of the base and the older kids even had to have their own ID cards to get on the base. I went to an Irish school and it was then I realised how lucky I had been with my previous schools. It wasn’t an awful school but it definitely wasn’t the best I had gone to. There were certain days we were not allowed to leave the base on due to various marches and parades which could have been very restrictive if it wasn’t for the fact we had a great youth club that put on activities throughout all the school holidays and a disco every Friday night, which was the best thing ever for a young teenager.
Before I started my GCSE’s I moved to Telford and lived with my grandparents as I would have ended up going to 3 different schools during this time which would have been very unsettled and that was how my army brat life finished but there are some things that never leave you.
- Army Brats are very friendly and usually quite talkative. This is because we are used to friends being posted and moving away, or we were the ones moving around. This helped us make new friends really quickly. It always amazed me when I heard about people who have life long friends, this seemed so alien to me.
- We can settle in a new environment very quickly. This is often why the Dandelion flower is used as a symbol of the army brat as they are sturdy and can bloom anywhere.
- Army Brats like to travel, whether its a road trip or a far flung holiday we are so used to moving around that we embraced it. Some brats constantly keeping moving houses and areas even after they get out of the army as they don’t like staying in one place too long. This was not the case for me but I do love a good road trip.
- Army Brats love the feeling of community as the army feels like one big family so they often have a large group of friends to try and recreate this feeling. Being on civvy street where you don’t get this feeling and it is quite a shock.
- Some, not all, brats have a very neutral accent. This is because you amalgamate all the different accents you hear when moving around. I was often called posh in some places because of it. I also find that I am quite good at picking up accents of other people, to the point where some of my friends who are northerners think I’m taking the piss.
- It was quite common to meet members of the royal family. In my time I met Princess Alexandra several times, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, The Duke of Edinburgh and in some way the Queen mother too (Mum was pregnant with me at the time)
- All the brats I have met over the years are quite patriotic and supporters of the Royal family. This doesn’t apply to all but speaking for myself, I’ve always loved them.
- Army Brats are extremely protective of their friends and family. If anyone was to upset them, then they better be careful.
- Brats are also independent in many different ways and are not afraid to be themselves.
So these are my experiences and I hope they shine some light on why I am the way I am. I’m an Army Brat and Proud.