Whilst some of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment arrived in Cyprus last summer in an unusual fashion following a 3,900km epic charity relay from Woolwich across Europe involving running, cycling, swimming and rowing, the families moved in a more traditional manner. Here, we reflect on how it all went…

Gemma White with her family

Gemma White with her family

Gemma White and her young family thought the tour would be a life of two halves. “We expected that our soldier would be busy and that during downtime we would enjoy much awaited family time,” she says. “Our most immediate concern was that we would lose one income and that spouse employment would be limited. In addition, it was imperative for our girls to have a smooth transition at school.”

Settling in

It’s been so far, so good as the Whites have settled in really well. “We’re having a blast,” adds Gemma. “The only things we have found challenging are the slow and confusing postal service and the lack of wraparound childcare. Whilst it can be challenge without wider family support, that’s also true of most UK postings.” For many families a key aspect of moving is settling children into school. AFF learnt that pre-arrival, families were able to find a wealth of information and children with additional needs had an extra opportunity to meet via videocall. Joel Stokke, SENDCO at Dhekelia Primary School says: “Supporting children during these challenging periods is extremely important if we are to enable them to become successful learners and flourish in our unique environment.”

Behind the scenes

A total of 843 personnel moved – 162 families, of which 65 were from their own homes. It took 44 ISO containers just for regimental, public and single soldiers’ personal goods; with no less than 12 flights and more than 1,000 COVID tests! Unforeseen circumstances meant that the initial six planned flights became 12 just a few weeks out. This had a knock-on impact on the move-in/out schedules, but the welfare and housing teams worked together to try to allocate SFA based on family dynamics and co-locate friends to help prevent isolation.

Valued experience

There were lessons learnt too. Some families, for example, spent lots of money in advance on logo school uniform, which is not compulsory and there’s often a good second hand selection at the thrift store. It was also discovered that outgoing units were leaving a lot of perfectly good belongings at the recycling centre before final move-outs, and whilst the welfare team did try to create a type of loan store, for washing machines etc, it could be more formalised in the future. Having evaluated the move, Maj Thomas Green, OC of the unit move, is compiling a briefing pack for the future. He adds: “I will certainly be advising future units coming out to Cyprus to send their UWO out at least two months in advance to ensure a smooth transition. Without having Jason Thomas, the UWO already in place, and his thorough knowledge of everything Dhekelia, the Battalion would have struggled with getting the families settled so quickly.”

If you’re in Cyprus or heading to the island and need support, email overseassupport@aff.org.uk

Main photo: In honour of a former colleague, Exercise OLYMPUS VIKING raised money for charities such as Combat Stress, Royal Anglian Benevolent Fund, One Dream One Wish and Little Heroes.

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