Books

An Officer and a Gentlewoman – Heloise Goodley

Part of Sandhurst training is to keep a diary of your experiences whilst attending one of the most gruelling courses that can be found in the military around the world. This is what this book is based on – the diary entries for which the author won the accolade for that particular graduating course. The difference perhaps is that this author is a woman and this was not her first choice of career upon leaving university.

Héloise Goodley, an obvious high flyer in the City, decides that the daily march on the financial parade ground is not for her any more and embarks on a career in the army. She joins a course where everyone but her has come from either a military background or been in university training corps and has no experience of shining shoes and marching. 

But with some sort of dogged determination Héloise takes it all in her stride and goes to describe what those initial weeks are like at Sandhurst as she goes through each term, Junior, Intermediate and Senior on the commissioning course. There are some moments where Héloise wants to give it all up but she stays the course, through the mud, the wet, the sheer tiredness interspersed with breaks back into civilian life where she finds she does not suddenly have the tolerance she did before when others do not appear to follow some personal code of conduct.

As the author is still a serving officer, there is I am sure plenty not covered in this book. If you are looking for a book about the conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan and what the army do, then this is not the book to be reading. What it does do is give an insight into the course and rather what the author describe as ‘old’ style training that does not cover the warfare which the military find themselves in today.  I was very well aware that this is only one person’s opinion and it has been made more prominent because it comes from a woman. Interestingly the Ministry of Defence’s note at the beginning does say that much has changed since the author went through Sandhurst, only if published will subsequent books tell us whether it has or not.

A good insight for those not in uniform or have any connection with the military into a world that has probably been built more on myth and legend and shows how women are making their way in a predominantly male world and where it matters not what your gender is when you are knee deep in mud trying to defend your position. Light hearted and honest in parts, with the sort of humour that you expect in the military which perhaps does not transfer over so well to civilian life. An enjoyable read.

I was fascinated by this book probably because I come from a background of working with (not in) the military – Navy not Army. I would be much interested in what an officer who goes through the Navy equivalent to Sandhurst (BRNC Dartmouth) and see how they perceive their personal journey and challenges. There is always banter between the forces;

In reference to the author having to break in her books, softening the leather etc,  “The privileged few could ask their manservant to wear them in for them or alternatively, if the whole process is simply too painful, there is always the Navy, where they wear shoes.”

The author is well aware of all that had to be fitted in from the moment you woke up to before a rushed breakfast (no more leisurely ones) and she felt for the men who had to fit in a shave in this short amount of time too, “At Sandhurst the men must be clean-shaven at all times, including even when in the field on exercise, and stringent stubble and sideburn rules are applied. If facial hair is your preference the Navy is the service for you.”

There is of course the uniform and the mess dress for the women in the Army is much sought after it seems, “…short woolen jacket that fastens at the next and cuts away to reveal a Victorian style tea gown underneath, which is constructed from yards of billowing taffeta silk…like something from a childhood princess fantasy to be worn whilst  trapped in a castle…the whole outfit was beautifully tailor-made using rich fabrics. This was why we hadn’t joined the RAF.”

It reminds me of one of the first lesson, joke that I heard when I started work about the different meanings that each force has:

If you told the Navy to “secure a building,” they would turn off the lights and lock the doors.

If you told the Army to “secure a building”, they would occupy the building so no one could enter.

If you told the Marines to “secure a building”, they would assault the building, capture it, and defend it.

If you told the Air Force, to “secure a building”, they would try and buy it. 

And on that note dear reader is one of the reasons, that our Armed Forces make us proud to be British and books like this get published. Reading various other reviews, it seems I need to pick up The Junior Officer’s Reading Club for a different take. 

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2 thoughts on “An Officer and a Gentlewoman – Heloise Goodley

  1. Oh, I loved this. Wheeler, who she mentions frequently in the book, was in my year at school!

    1. Small world. I hope she perhaps writes more in the future. It would be good to have a follow up at some point.

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