This month we’re celebrating the outstanding contribution which women make to the modern British Armed Forces.
It’s hard to believe, as the barriers to involvement are removed one by one, that there was a time when women were thought to be ‘unsuitable’ for any roles in the military. Slowly but surely they were offered roles in ‘traditional’ areas such as cooking and nursing, before being allowed to prove that they could fix a car and operate an anti-aircraft gun as well as any man. Over the years, these positions became entrenched, leading to gradual and positive change. Today, all branches of the armed forces embrace diversity, and are committed to encouraging the involvement of women in core roles throughout. These are just a few of the high ranking women currently serving in the British army, navy and air force:
In September 2015, Brigadier Susan Ridge became Major General Susan Ridge, the new Director General Army Legal Services. With this move she became the highest ranking female to ever serve in the British Army, having worked with the Army legal services for 23 years.
Roughly 12 months earlier, Brigadier Sharon Nesmith, Commander, 1st (UK) Signal Brigade became, at the age of 45, the first female to command a Brigade. Having grown up with a father in the Royal Naval Reserve and a brother who joined the army, she gained an Army Scholarship at the age of 15 before attending RMA Sandhurst.
Speaking of RMA Sandhurst, for the first time in its history, New College at the academy is currently being run by a woman. The woman in question is Lieutenant Colonel Lucy Giles, and the role is the culmination of a 24 year military career.
The highest ranked woman ever in the UK armed forces is Elaine West, who was promoted to the post of Air Vice Marshal in 2013. This is known as a two star rank and puts her on the same level as a Major General in the Army or a Rear Admiral in the Navy. She originally joined the RAF straight from school, at the age of 17, in 1978. Starting as an aircraftwoman she moved through no fewer than 18 different roles on her way to landing a post which includes being in charge of building projects for the Ministry of Defence.
In September of last year, Captain Ellie Ablett became Commanding Officer to HMS Raleigh. This made her the first woman to command the largest Royal Navy training base in the South West. The fact that she was elevated to such an important role was given added symbolic power by the realisation that, when she joined the Royal Navy in 1993, she was one of the first women to join a fully integrated service rather than the now defunct Women’s Royal Naval Service.
In July 2015, Lieutenant Commander Carla Higgins, who joined the Royal Navy in 2005, became the first female Commanding Officer of the Faslane Patrol Boat Squadron. At the time of her promotion, she claimed that she may once have thought it impossible to become a squadron commander, but now saw it as being a step on her journey toward commanding a warship.
Throughout March we have featured more inspiring and talented women on our Instagram. Search #FemaleForce on the app or click here to see our profile.