Chris Graham was a regular for over 20 years and has been a reservist since 2019, so separation is something he’s used to. But his latest deployment to Kenya was his first spell away from his new partner, Charlotte, since they met three years ago. Chris took part in our latest feature Long-distance love on page 13 of autumn’s Army&You – here’s his full story…
“We got married in August so being away for six months before this was a challenge, as was continuing to care for my two daughters, Harriet and Lizzie, in the UK. They have, for the most part, continued to come to our new home for 50 per cent of the time when not with their biological mother. There have been a few simple strategies that have worked for us…
“We write hand-written letters to each other at least once a week. Unfortunately we were let down by the system as Charlotte didn’t receive any letters from March to May and then got five at once! But her letters have been getting to Kenya within around two weeks.
“Clearly the contents were out of date by the time we read them. But there is something nice about receiving something handwritten. Families should remember this when communicating with their soldier – and deployed soldiers should also consider taking the time to write home. In a world full of electronic, instant communication, getting a letter is a real treat!
“Using technology is reliant on having a decent Wi-Fi connection. Africa can be quite hit and miss, but for the most part it worked and we spoke almost daily on video chat. Obviously, where operational reasons dictate, there were times when Charlotte didn’t get a call or message from me. At first I think she struggled with this, but once she realised why, she was okay.
“I received a couple of thoughtful gifts in parcels from home, like small wooden hearts with personalised messages on each one. I pick one each day to read and it makes me feel closer to home. Equally, I have sent home similar gifts and occasionally had flowers delivered to Charlotte’s place of work as a surprise, which really has earned me Brownie points!
“I did have to push for my home unit to reach out to Charlotte. We live together and she is my registered next of kin and emergency contact. But no-one called her and the welfare pack had to be chased by me so she could access the services on offer should she need support – there’s room for improvement.”
And Charlotte says…
“It was very lonely and isolating at times, especially when you’re new to the area. There was no one to chat to when you’re having a tough day. No events or groups to get to know people in the area or families going through a similar experience as reservists tend to deploy individually.
“I feel proud of what Chris is doing and it has built a stronger bond between us. It has made us better at communicating with each other and more in tune to how the other is feeling. Nothing really prepares you for the change or the void left behind when your partner is away for weeks or months at a time.”
Related article: Separated by service