THERE are so many unique experiences to being an army child; frequent moves, parental separation and educational challenges. AFF is working with the University of Winchester and the Army Welfare Service to learn more about the impact of service life on children – including hearing from the young people themselves. Jilly Carrell, AFF Education & Childcare Specialist, spoke to four army children about their experiences of boarding. Here’s what they had to say…

How do you feel about being an Army child?

Sophie (11, year six at Port Regis): I always think of myself as an army child. It’s what my childhood has been made up of – all the house moves – and it’s the reason that me and my brothers go to boarding school. My dad has been on three tours since 2016 and only been at home for four months during this time. I keep in touch with him by letters and cards mostly. We Skype him from home but because of the time differences, I can’t Skype him from school. If I’m missing him then I find my friend Matilda – her dad is also in the army, so this really helps. I can also go to my teacher – there are quite a few army children at my school, so she understands.

Ben (13, year eight at Port Regis): I feel like I’ve had a different experience growing up because of the moving. It can be hard because you have to leave all your friends and change schools, but I’ve been boarding for six years and this has helped because I know I can cope without my parents. My dad deploys a lot, but I miss him more when I’m at home as I have no-one to play rugby with. At least when I’m at school, I have my friends and my clubs. It can be hard at boarding though because my bed isn’t quite as comfy, and I don’t get to say goodnight to my parents.

Scarlett (13, year eight at St Mary’s Shaftesbury): I try not to think about being an army child. I just think of myself as part of a normal family – I don’t really know any different.

Bibi (11, year seven at St Mary’s Shaftesbury): Boarding for me when my dad was away was comfortable and the other girls looked after me – in fact I was able to forget my worries.

What is different about being an Army child at boarding school?

Sophie: People think I’m a lot tougher as a result of moving and dad being away a lot. Sometimes people refer to me as an ‘army kid’ but I don’t see it as a bad thing.

Ben: It’s hard to see the day kids going home and sometimes I mind about not seeing my mum. But on balance, I’m glad that my parents decided to send me to boarding school, as I have been awarded a sports scholarship – it makes the moves and upheaval worthwhile.

Scarlett: Going to boarding school has given me different opportunities. I have found boarding difficult in the past but weekly boarding can make things much more manageable.

What are the biggest challenges Army children face?

Sophie: The hardest thing is that people can treat us differently and think we’re tougher than we are. We are just kids and it doesn’t mean my feelings are less than others because I put on a brave face.

Ben: Saying goodbye to friends.

Scarlett: Moving around has been hard – and living in army houses which have often not been good quality. I find it hard to leave my friends behind.

Bibi: A lot of people don’t really understand what it feels like for their parent to be away – it takes some getting used to.

What have you learned from being an Army child?

Sophie: I’m used to being an army child. My dad has taught me to get on with life and to face the challenges that life throws in my direction. It can be an adventure.

Ben: I think I’m good at making friends – my friends come from all over the world. I feel proud of my dad. I know he is doing good things for our country, it makes me want to do something to make him proud in return.

Scarlett: I’ve learned that you don’t need both parents to be there all the time. It has taught me that life is about moving on and you can’t stay in the same place forever. I’d find it hard not to be looking forward to the next challenge. For a full life you need to meet new people.

Bibi: I have experienced new places and as a result I’m a little less afraid of change than some of my friends.

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