At 1100hrs on the 11th of November 1976, while much of the nation was observing two minutes silence for those who had died in the two Great Wars and other conflicts, I was ushered into Room 127 at AMD4, Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square, London W18 6AA for my interview for a commission in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. It was a sparsely furnished room but immaculately tidy. There were three smartly dressed ladies in grey military uniform sitting behind the forward positioned desk and a fourth lady similarly dressed at a desk at the rear. So this was it! The moment I had waited for since making my application to join the QARANC during the early balmy Autumn days that year. The process from application to interview had not taken as long as I thought it would. To prepare and equip myself for this interview I had sent off to the QARANC museum for a paperback book, “Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps” by Juliet Piggott which I read from cover to cover several times prior to my interview.
In order to look my best for what was a very important interview and occasion I had treated myself to a new outfit. I wore a mid blue/grey fitted coat dress with black accessories (including gloves) purchased from John Lewis in Oxford Street, highlighted with a red poppy as it was Remembrance Day. I had also bought a new black leather brief case (which I still have) to hold the documents which I had been asked to take with me. These included Birth Certificate, School/Education Certificates, Student Nurse Training School Certificates, Midwifery Certificates, and additionally my Joint Board of Clinical Nursing Studies, Operating Theatre Certificate which I had been awarded at The Westminster Hospital in London, SW1 where I was presently employed as an Operating Theatre Sister.
The scene was set; I was asked to sit down and relinquish the contents of my briefcase. Nervously I obeyed. My memories of the ensuing hour or so are hazy and although I seemed to have occupied Room 127 for hours, in reality it was only about sixty minutes or so. Throughout the interview I could see the Officer at the back of the room scrutinising my certificates and taking many notes while I did my best to answer the questions put to me, in a professional and confident manner. Interview over I found myself back in the cool damp November air in Berkeley Square, and with my head buzzing with the mornings activities. I decided to walk back to Ashley Gardens, SW1 where I lived, stopping off for a light lunch and a pot of tea at Fortnum and Masons.
Nine days later I received my letter of acceptance for a Short Service Commission for four years, accompanied with my personal number and date for joining, the 31st January 1977. I had seventy- one days to prepare for my next move which would be interrupted by a Christmas holiday already booked, allowing me to spend time at home for a traditional festive break with my parents and family which they had always loved arranging for me and my two sisters.
The night of the 30th January was a restless one. I had never suffered from insomnia even as a child, but that night was an exception and I slept for short periods if at all. My large metal trunk filled to bursting with personal belongings – my radio cassette, books and clothing etc. – had been sent on ahead to the QARANC Training Centre in Aldershot. I was left in my bedsit in Ashley Gardens with a set of three suitcases and a holdall, also filled to bursting (a Christmas gift from my parents) ready for my journey the following day. My brother-in-law Andrew, a member of The Honourable Artillery Company in The City of London, was to accompany me to Aldershot. It was a cold January morning with bright blue clear skies when he arrived for the short journey to the military town of Aldershot. On arrival in the main reception area for the Student Officers Basic Course No. 301 and laden with suitcases surrounded by other women making the same career change I met Alison Lock (now Alison Spires). We had been pupil midwives together at Queen Charlottes Maternity Hospital in London. Unknown to either of us we had applied to join the QAs at the same time. It was a happy re-union and we have remained friends ever since.
Those three weeks in basic training passed by very quickly, our feet barely touching the ground! At the end of the course as Lieutenant M E Barclay QARANC I was posted to the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich followed by the move to the newly purpose-built Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital later that summer. Confirmation of my promotion to the rank of Captain was from the 13th August 1977.
My second year, 1978, was spent at Princess Alexandra’s Hospital at RAF Wroughton followed by two years at the British Military Hospital in Hannover. During my time in BAOR I had been successful with my application for a Regular Commission. As a result I was posted to attend Junior Staff College at Warminster in March 1981 for three months, preceded by three other preparatory courses. Towards the end of 1981 I had returned to QEMH at Woolwich. One morning in Mid-December I was called to Matron’s office, she handed me a piece of paper headed Loose Minute. This proved to be my formal notification of attachment to 2 Field Hospital from the 1st April 1982 to 31st March 1983. I thanked her and returned to my duties, little realising how this brief encounter was to change my life in so many ways.
The summer of ’82 evolved not as expected! I attended the pre-standby exercise, Exercise Top Cat, located just outside Aldershot from the 1st-7th March 1982 and if all had gone to plan 2 Field Hospital would have re-convened later in the year for the Autumn exercises in BAOR in Northern Germany. However, as there was a dramatic turn of events on the 2nd April the situation changed, and as the saying goes the rest is history. For me though, as it did for many others, life became very busy and unpredictable. Once the fighting in the South Atlantic1 had started the casualties were being returned to UK as soon as possible, many to Woolwich; the workload in the operating theatres was therefore intensified. Those of us who were on standby to go had to be ready to depart at a moments notice, but at the same time continue to work as normal until our departure was confirmed. Sadly during this time my family suffered an unexpected and sudden death of a close beloved family member, and so there was a family funeral to attend in late May.
On a happier note Brigadier V Rooke, Matron-In-Chief and Director of Army Nursing Services had invited myself and Captain Katie Edwards-Evans (E Squared as we all affectionately called her) to The Tercentenary of the Foundation of The Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-1982 for The Founders Day Parade on the 10th June 1982. A hastily arranged shopping trip to London was organised to buy new outfits for the occasion, especially so as HM The Queen would be the Reviewing Officer. It was a warm sunny June day, and it turned out to be a very happy, memorable and enjoyable occasion and a welcome break from the events of the previous couple of months.
Inevitably the moment came when my deployment to The Falkland Islands was confirmed. I left for Aldershot on the 16th June 1982 to prepare for the long sea journey to the South Atlantic on the troopship The TEV (Turbine Electric Vessel) Rangatira2 on the 19th June 1982. Fourteen QAs and over a thousand troops on board departed from British Transport Docks at Southampton, as the sound of the Band of The Royal Engineers playing “A Life On The Ocean Waves” faded into the distance. There was a large crowd of family, friends and well wishers including representatives of local and national press to wave goodbye and cheer us on our way. As Rangatira slipped her moorings at 1400hrs, we left British Soil for the epic eight thousand mile voyage South to The Falkland Islands.
- The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas) was a 10-week undeclared war between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982 over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and its territorial dependency, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The result of the war was a British victory. The conflict began on 2 April, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, followed by the invasion of South Georgia the next day. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with an Argentine surrender on 14 June, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.
- Rangatira was taken up from trade on 12 May 1982 and taken to Plymouth for modifications. When the ship sailed on 14 June 1982 it had onboard 940 troops, medical staff, RAF personnel and a veterinary surgeon, plus a Naval Party of 45 (Naval Party 2070) and a Merchant Navy crew of 81. The passengers and freight included a complete hospital – that is the staff, the equipment and even the buildings (https://www.bluestarline.org/rangatira_navy_today.htm).