A group of wives of sailors and Royal Marines are celebrating the completion of a course preparing them for their partners deploying overseas.
The self-titled Band of Wives staged a presentation evening at the Royal Naval Personal Family Service (NPFS) community centre in Plympton, Plymouth.
The women have learned how to cope as individuals and a mutually supportive network by completing a course run by NPFS enabling them to become resilient emotionally and practically while their partners serve overseas, for example in Afghanistan or at sea.
Part of their Building Resilience Course was to share their situations and experiences of coping with family and domestic life effectively like single parents. Creating an artistic montage was a way of illustrating their family background to the other wives and girlfriends. These montages were presented to a gathering including Plymouth Lord Mayor Vivien Pengelly and Captain Gary Pettitt, of Devonport Naval Base.
Captain Pettitt said: “The NPFS organisation is doing a fantastic job supporting the partners of deployed personnel. My job at Devonport is to support the frontline, in other words the new Royal Marine Tamar amphibious centre, the ships and submarines and the sailors and other Royal Marines who all deploy at sea and on land for long periods from the naval base.
“As part of this, NPFS and the Band Of Wives taking on the resilience courses are all making sure there is a strong network back home while service partners are away, confident they can serve their country with their families well looked after and able to look after themselves. This all adds to the capability of the deployed fighting forces.’’
Councillor Pengelly praised the naval families support network, she said the family support network was essential to the well-being of Service personnel and their partners.
Wives Jo Gibson and Hayley McCaffrey presented their life montages. Hayley, is married to Chief Petty Officer Ben McCaffrey who recently returned from 11 months away – the longest deployment by a Royal Naval submarine in HMS Trenchant. They have two children Amy, aged 5, and Harry, 2.
Hayley said the course has provided her with an invaluable support network and new friends among service wives, especially moving 300 miles away from her family: “You soon learn that the other wives and girlfriends all have different backgrounds and issues they need to cope with on their own. But we all appreciate what the others are going through in terms of feelings of isolation and sometimes not being able to cope with the multitude of daily and out of the blue tasks. So when one of us asks the others for help we all jump in and offer help because we empathise and realise we might need similar help.’’
Her montage shows her family pictures, postcards from where Trenchant was when Ben was away and mum and dad and brother and sister.
Jo’s husband Matt is a leading seaman on board the warship HMS Montrose. He said: “It really helps us know that when we are away that not only is there the naval support organisation, but that when they need it, there’s the Band of Wives who are instantly on hand to help each other with crises and smaller day-to-day help. It means we can have peace of mind being away and concentrating on the job.’’
The couple have two children Emily, 2 and William 18 months. Jo said: “I moved to Plymouth two days before Matt deployed and had no friends here. So you are in danger of becoming lonely, isolated and suffering as a result with coping with the family and household on your own. The course and us Band of Wives have been a lifesaver while Matt was away on the ship. We come out of our self-contained bubble and become kind of mutual counselling service. People outside the armed forces environment don’t have the same understanding. It’s a really good course.’’
Adele Towsey, Naval Personal & Family Service community development worker, said: “Some of the chosen personal memorabilia collated e.g. postcards, bluey’s (messages sent from ships), photographs, poems and songs with maps and other symbols of growth and strengths in their development of resilience. Most found it emotive and cathartic at the same time. I hope that this display goes some way to identify the strengths, commitment and courage that define them as service wives.’’
Adele added: “Service personnel’s efforts and successes are recognised in all manner of ways, and rightly so for their courage and determination to get the job done. However, there is no formal recognition for the service wife or long term partner, for the sacrifices they make in order to support their serving spouse.
“In a Military family we all serve” a quote taken from a group member from Band of Wives, an understanding that in order for the family to cope with the challenges of service life there is a requirement to work around the Military.’’
These sacrifices include career and higher education. Women make many emotional sacrifices in giving up their youth, grabbing at building their marital relationship when they can and keeping their emotions on hold. The military is often considered a third person controlling their lives throughout the career without choice. Their sacrifice in placing their relationship on hold to support a serving person is above and beyond the expectations of other married couples in the civilian world where life is more balanced and shared.
Adele explained: “For a military family in order to remain intact there needs to be a greater understanding of the individual needs, drawing on their strengths and resilience to create a foundation built on trust, ability to cope alone and maintain a long distance relationship. And this course helps develop this.’’
Band of Wives provides a 24-week programme delivered in blocks of six under the Building Resilience umbrella. Each block has a theme and link together to give a greater understanding of personal levels of resilience and form coping strategies. An explanation of the cycle of deployment and alternative approaches to surviving deployments through building a supportive network individually, within the service community and wider community in order to reduce the impact on the family.