Our first attempt at parade was an awkward shuffle. Hardly surprising when our boots were two or even three sizes too big for us.
The smallest the British Army had was a size seven, we were told, but not one of us had feet that big, so until some could be specially made, we were advised to wear multiple pairs of socks and make do.
The year was 1983 and we were the first women to be admitted to Sandhurst, the elite Royal Military Academy where all officers in the British Army receive their initial training.
For more than 30 years I would make the British Army my life, and by the end of that time, I was a lieutenant colonel in the Intelligence Corps, with a proud service record and an OBE for having overseen the whole-scale restructuring of the Army’s military intelligence
If it seems shocking that no one had given a moment’s thought to the basic fact that women have smaller feet than men, back then it was very much par for the course.
The uniform, designed for men, was the wrong shape and too big. Hair had to be short or long enough to put up, and yet wearing a bun would make the helmet perch forward and cover your eyes. Later, I was disciplined for cutting my hair too short.
On matters of etiquette, confusion reigned. We were told not to wear make-up in uniform, but in the evenings, after long hours training, we were admonished for not wearing make-up as we didn’t look ‘feminine’ enough.
Even our accommodation wasn’t ready, and we had to be driven in every day from rooms eight miles away in Camberley.
Perhaps I should have taken all this as a sign of the troubles ahead. But I was just 18 — the second youngest of our group of 38 — and fresh out of an all-girls school in Cheltenham. As I signed up, I wasn’t looking to make a big statement.
With hindsight, I can see that equality was on the march and we were at the cutting edge of it, but as a sporty teenager who liked a lot of the activities more commonly associated with boys — and looked to warrior Princess Leia as a role model — I was just wildly excited to be there.
The uniform, designed for men, was the wrong shape and too big. Hair had to be short or long enough to put up, and yet wearing a bun would make the helmet perch forward and cover your eyes
And I don’t want to come across as bitter in any way. The Army offered me some of the best moments of my life, as well as some of the worst. At its best, it is an addictively exciting life. A family. And I belonged.
Of course, I was naïve. For more than 30 years I would make the British Army my life, and by the end of that time, I was a lieutenant colonel in the Intelligence Corps, with a proud service record and an OBE for having overseen the whole-scale restructuring of the Army’s military intelligence.
And yet I also encountered persistent misogyny and sexism and saw, over and over, talented women held back because of it.
And I don’t just mean in the Eighties, when society was structured in a very different way and you might have expected a few dubious jokes and a certain amount of condescension towards women. No, I mean today. Now.
That is why I decided to write a book about my experience — in the hope that by speaking up, change will come for those women who, like me, give their all to an institution that, even in the 21st century, does not value them.
I’ve spoken to many military women while writing it, and their view is that the Army today, far from doing away with the glass ceiling, is re-glazing it. The bias is simply more subtle because it has moved undercover.
While many men in the military are both good people and professional at work, toxic pockets of poor behaviour still cause difficulties. The influence of the Old Boys’ Network — of Eton, of Masonic handshakes — still persists, and in my view explains why the Army is struggling to recruit and retain women in 2020.
Back in 1983, it was made fairly clear to us that many in the Army did not really want us. Among the senior officers at Sandhurst there was a hardcore group of what I call ‘Red-Lighters’, who wanted to stop the progress of women altogether.
We were denied attendance at firepower demonstrations, for example, as ‘it would be all about tanks and armour and women would probably be bored’. We were told never to talk about ‘women’s problems’ and often heard men tell derogatory jokes.
At times we were hidden from the view of the Commandant or given menial tasks the men weren’t expected to do, like cleaning the classrooms after the men were allowed to leave.
During parade rehearsals, some of them changed our marching tunes to The Stripper theme. For relaxation, I joined the karate club and played hockey. The memo when we finally got permission to play for the men’s hockey team (making us the first women to play sport for Sandhurst), was ‘when you turn up, wear a short skirt’.
It was my first taste of being treated as second class simply because of my gender, and the first time it dawned on me that to change the rules you need to become a rule-maker.
At 18, I didn’t feel angry about sexism; I think I was simply confused about why some men would not accept me for what I was.
One of the other women recorded in her diary that the men at Sandhurst had been instructed (by a full-on Red-Lighter) not to talk to the women, on the basis that if we were not made welcome, it might be possible to reverse the decision to have women admitted.
Worst of all were the military lessons, delivered by male officers using a slide deck and a projector. One in ten of those slides featured a photo of a naked woman, which was apparently the most effective way to keep sleep-deprived male students awake. We were told the Army was ‘a man’s world, so we might as well get used to seeing these images’, and it was only when we started to leave pictures of naked men around that the offending slides were removed.
Despite it all, on April 6, 1984, 30 of us graduated to a fanfare of newspaper headlines. Eight of our 38 had dropped out. It was a testament to our determination that there weren’t more. But the challenges we faced did not let up. During my career in the Army, as a regular and in the reserves, and for 20 years with the Intelligence Corps, I encountered them time and time again. So did every military woman I know.
On postings abroad, I learned to leave functions at the ‘right time’ to avoid drunken propositions, particularly from senior officers. I had flowers left on my bed, was sent love-notes and was often followed back to my room.
Once, I was trapped in the corridor by a senior officer and, unable to talk my way out of his advances, used my karate skills to knock him down. In the morning he had a black eye, but neither of us said a word. Complaining was not the Army way.
Another time, while working as a ski instructor for an infantry unit, I was the only serving woman in camp. There was nowhere to go in the evenings, so I was invited to join the men in the bar, but each night I declined and it became increasingly tense, with comments like ‘frigid’ being made.
Today, it’s assumed that misogyny and bigotry are things of the past, but all women in the Army know that’s not true. It surfaces after alcohol, on military online forums (where cries for the rape, murder and compulsory subordination of women are surprisingly common) or in misogynist ‘safe spaces’, like some of the infantry units.
When I was serving, I often heard bigoted voices in open-plan offices, while I was sitting out of sight.
Only recently, at a meeting in the corridors of the military, one man said to another who was having a bit of a meltdown: ‘Dry your eyes, Princess.’ All the women in the room rolled their eyes at this tired old association between women and histrionics.
Yes, that seems a minor matter, but when the bigotry happens day in and day out, it is a pebble in the shoe — it hobbles you.
Forgetting to let you speak in a meeting, not being invited for drinks with the men . . . these and a thousand other slights will handicap a career, even kill it.
In 2017, I read a stream of stories from Army women, mostly officers, which appeared in a closed online forum. Some of those women have achieved outstanding things, yet were subjected to the same casual bias that said, loud and clear: ‘You are nothing.’
Here’s one of the comments (all are reproduced with consent), from a woman who is a captain: ‘When I arrived at the unit, I was told it was my job to take the minutes at meetings, since the men had more important things to do. I spoke to the CO and he told me not to make a fuss.’
Here’s another from a woman who is a private: ‘Where I was posted, women were classified by the corporals as sluts or frigid — the “bike or dyke” classification, and there was little difference between the two.’
And from a female Royal Engineers officer: ‘There was a sign up as I entered the bar. It said “Officers Only”, so I went in and the conversations stopped.
‘The president of the mess committee came over and guided me out. He apologised: “I know you are serving, but this room is just for real officers, I’m sure you understand”.’
The former head of the British Army, General Sir Peter Wall, above, said recently: ‘I want every woman in the country to know the service is open to them. Women need to see they have equal opportunities throughout the organisation.’ We must aim our battles at misogyny, not at men
Such behaviour is plainly intolerable. Enemy attacks are an acceptable risk; a knife between the shoulder blades from a colleague is not.
I look at what women are achieving now — at the Army’s 2018 all-women Ice Maidens team, who walked solo across Antarctica; at the first ever female general; women in combat roles and commanding units; women training anti-poaching squads in Africa — and it reminds me how far we have come. Just imagine what we could do if we had a level playing field.
The waste of talent is frustrating. Like me, many women are quite comfortable in what used to be traditionally male roles — defender of the people, leader, intelligencer, explorer. It’s shocking they are so rarely given the opportunity to prove it.
I was an intelligence officer during the Iraq war of 2003 and later heavily involved at a command level in what was known as Army 2020, the strategic review that mandated a broad restructuring of the Army. But then my career hit a block — and watching male colleagues pip me to the post time and again was infuriating.
But there is hope: plenty of good men aren’t threatened by competition. The former head of the British Army, General Sir Peter Wall, said recently: ‘I want every woman in the country to know the service is open to them. Women need to see they have equal opportunities throughout the organisation.’
We must aim our battles at misogyny, not at men.
How will we know when we have won this fight? When women no longer have to prove themselves anew each time we are posted. When the Army is willing to open its promotion system to external scrutiny, and women are promoted at the same pace as men.
My Army career officially came to an end in February this year, but in truth it was over by the end of 2017.
That’s when I realised that, after more than a year of applying for promotion, I wasn’t going to get it. It was a moment of real grief.
It was then that I decided I had to speak up — and so I submitted a complaint against what I felt was unfair treatment, which is still wending its way slowly through Army procedures.
Since announcing the publication of my book, I have been inundated with emails from current and former servicewomen, detailing allegations from the Seventies to the present day, including rape and sexual assault.
When contacted about this article, an Army spokesperson said: ‘The Army takes all allegations of mistreatment very seriously and we encourage any allegation of unacceptable behaviour to be raised to the attention of the Chain of Command to be investigated accordingly.
‘The Army has changed significantly in the past 40 years, and today woman are able to serve with pride worldwide, in all roles and ranks.
‘We want the best people to serve with us, regardless of sex, ethnicity or gender.’
For women, I believe there is a wind of change blowing. It’s what we thought in the 1980s back at Sandhurst, but today I’m convinced this change is meaningful.
At last women are ready to speak up. I have spoken up more in the past 12 months than in the whole of the previous 12 years. It’s a tough thing to do, but believe me, it feels good.
Adapted by Alison Roberts from Forewarned: A Woman At War . . . With The Military System by Diane Allen, published by Cranthorpe Millner on Tuesday at £12.99.
© Diane Allen 2020. To order a copy, visit cranthorpemillner.com/shop
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Empty plot of land overlooking Poole Harbour on sale for £3.5m
A wealthy buyer has purchased a 30ft strip of grass with a view of the exclusive resort of Sandbanks for an astonishing £3.5million.
The empty plot of land with overgrown grass and uneven concrete runs down to the edge of Poole Harbour in Dorset.
It has one of the finest views of the Millionaire’s Row – where mansion homes sell for up to £10million. It also has a slipway for launching boats straight onto the water.
The new owner who paid the full asking price for the plot will have to obtain planning permission before they can build their own luxury pad. It is thought the build cost would be in excess of £1million.
The empty plot of land with overgrown grass and uneven concrete, pictured, sits behind two houses and has one of the finest views of the Millionaire’s Row in Sandbanks, Dorset
An aerial view of the empty plot of land, highlighted, which sold for £3.5m after the new owner paid the full asking price for the area which has a slipway for launching boats into the water
The mind-boggling figures are par for the course for the Sandbanks area, which is the fourth most expensive place in the world to buy property – behind London, Manhattan and Tokyo.
And although this half-an-acre plot is about a mile from the exclusive peninsula, seafront properties around the harbour remain in huge demand.
It is thought the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit and coronavirus is leading to people looking to buy holiday homes here than abroad.
London-based buyers are also now said to be casting their net further from the capital as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown they can work from home.
Tom Doyle, of Sandbanks estate agents Lloyds Property Group, which sold the plot, said: ‘To anybody outside the area it might seem madness to pay £3.5m for a vacant plot of land.
‘But people pay a premium for water frontage property and houses on that road sell for between £6-£7m. It does attract high net-worth individuals.
‘It is a very vibrant market at the moment. Why is that? A lot of people are thinking seriously about not having a second home abroad and focussing on securing something exciting in the UK.
‘Working and living away from London is also a factor. The mindset seems to be to go into the city one day a week and then work from home for the rest of it.’
An aerial view of Sandbanks with the plot of land towards the top left, in the distance. It comes as London-based buyers are now said to be casting their net further from the capital
He added: ‘The new owner is going to build a house there himself to live in.. He will not be putting it back up for sale when it is complete. He already lives locally but he wants a house on the water which is what this will be.’
The plot is on Dorset Lake Avenue and faces south west.
On its website, Lloyds Property Group states that it is ‘prime waterfront location’ on the ‘gateway to Sandbanks’.
Prices in the area have soared, with prospective buyers even able to get more for their money in the exclusive London neighbourhood of Mayfair.
Sandbanks’ popularity is attributed to its seclusion, and every home in the community is within just a few minutes’ walk of the beach, with most of them enjoying stunning views over the harbour or out to the English Channel.
An aerial view of Poole Harbour and the plot of land, pictured far right. The area is the fourth most expensive place in the world to buy property – behind London, Manhattan and Tokyo
Houses were first built on Sandbanks in the late 19th century, but it was not until the 1960s when a property boom saw the peninsula – measuring less than half a square mile – become more and more built-up, turning into a Millionaires’ Row filled with luxury beachfront mansions.
The property market on the peninsula has shot through the roof in recent years, with many houses being demolished and replaced with cutting-edge new properties to meet demand.
In July 2009 a 14,990 sq ft (1,393-square-metre) empty plot of land on the peninsula was put up for sale for £13.5million – the equivalent of nearly £10,000 per square metre.
In May 2014, a bungalow bought for just £1,000 almost a century ago (around £40,000 in today’s money) and now a luxury holiday home was reported to be now worth £5million – a 500,000 percent increase in value.
Earlier in 2014 a tatty 1950s three-bedroom Sandbanks bungalow which would be worth just £200,000 in most other parts of the country went on sale for an eye-watering £2.25million.
In 2013, 15 homes were sold for a combined total of £80million as Sandbanks’ reputation has continued to grow.
Millionaire’s Row: An exclusive stretch of real estate home to Harry Redknapp and Russian millionaire Maxim Demin that was once named the most expensive in the world
The Sandbanks peninsula in Dorset has become a millionaire’s playground in recent years, and continues to keep even the likes of Miami and Monte Carlo off the top of a list of ultimate waterfront destinations.
An 850ft stretch of road in one the UK’s most exclusive enclaves contains just 13 harbourside mansions that total a staggering £93million in value.
The narrow plots measuring between 40ft and 60ft wide on Panorama Road previously made it the most expensive piece of coastline in the world in terms of price per square foot.
Maxim Demin, the Russian millionaire owner of Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, lives in the luxurious area.
Former Tottenham manager and 2019 I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp also lives around the corner.
The 13 properties in Sandbanks which together are worth some £93m
The mansions on the peninsula in Poole Harbour, Dorset, offer unrivalled views over the world’s second biggest natural harbour.
There is almost total privacy at the front of the properties while back gardens run down to the water’s edge.
Such is the ‘super-prime level’ of the Sandbanks market, two ultra-modern properties with indoor swimming pools were once snapped up in quick succession for a combined £15.6m.
One, a sprawling state-of-the-art mansion, sold for more than £8m, while the other sold for £7.5m before the sales brochure had come out.
Adrian Dunford, of Sandbanks estate agents Tailor Made, said in 2018: ‘We now believe this part of Sandbanks is the most expensive stretch of coastline on the planet in terms of price-per-square foot.
‘The multi-million pound mansions in Miami and Monte Carlo will be on much bigger plots of land than you get on Sandbanks.
‘The thing about Sandbanks is that it is a peninsula and so we are hemmed in. You can’t increase the number of properties and so supply and demand dictate the prices.
‘That row of properties is located in the most enviable part of Sandbanks. The houses have direct water access and also overlook the busiest part of the harbour.
‘The south westerly aspect allows for sensational views to Old Harry Rocks, Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island and the Purbeck Hills.
‘Sometimes with the bigger, headline-priced properties you need two summers to sell them.
‘So to have two at the very top end of the market go as quickly as they have says an awful lot about the state of the local market.
‘The properties were bought by London-based buyers and that maybe a reflection of what is happening with the Brexit.’
The changing face of Sandbanks: How windswept wasteland cut off from the rest of the country became one of the world’s most sought-after addresses
Before the rich and famous moved in: Parkstone-on-Sea as it was then known, went from a deserted landscape to Britain’s answer to Monte Carlo
Just 100 years ago, before it became one of the world’s most exclusive and expensive addresses, the Sandbanks peninsula in Dorset was little more than a windswept wasteland, cut off from the rest of the country and unrecognisable from the glossy coastal resort that exists today.
And while the mega-rich now compete to build bigger and better harbour-front homes, snapping up plots whenever they become available, in 1880 the tiny enclave in Poole was only home to a solitary hotel on the southern tip of the peninsula, where guests could get away from the rest of civilisation.
Sandbanks, or Parkstone-on-Sea as it was known, has gone from a deserted landscape to Britain’s answer to Monte Carlo.
A proper roadway linking the peninsula to the mainland was only laid after the First World War at a time when many former servicemen returned from battle only to find themselves out of work.
The highway made Sandbanks more accessible and it naturally started to become popular among holidaymakers and daytrippers.
Larger houses started to be built on the previously unspoiled land, with a wealthy banker and father-of-eight, Dr Edward Andreae, becoming Sandbanks’ first property magnate by building eight homes on the peninsula – one for each of his children.
Descendents of the family still own one of the properties built by Dr Andreae, who was of German descent.
Another wealthy type who built and owned a principal residence was Lord Leonard Lyle MP, the chairman of sugar giant Tate and Lyle.
The sand dunes in the middle of the peninsula once stood at up to 100ft high but they were gradually flattened as bigger, permanent houses were built in the years between the two world wars.
However, the area’s progress was halted by the Second World War when it became a fortified military base and it took until the 1960s for development on the peninsula to really take off.
The remaining empty plots along the waterside were snapped up by buyers, and some of the older properties were demolished and built on.
Although Sandbanks was a very prosperous place, it remained relatively affordable to locals with flats selling for less than £100,000 in the 1980s.
But some canny marketing in the 1990s by local estate agents put Sandbanks on the world map and transformed it overnight from a picturesque coastal suburb to Poole to something of a millionaire’s row.
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Liz Truss urges US to lift trade tariffs on single malt spirits
Ms Truss welcomed an announcement by US trade representative Robert Lighthizer (pictured together in June) that Washington would not go ahead with a threatened extension of the tariff regime that would have affected gin and blended whisky
Liz Truss has urged the US to lift punitive tariffs on top-class British whisky after it eased duties on a swathe of products imposted in a trade war with the EU.
The international Trade Secretary welcomed an announcement by US trade representative Robert Lighthizer that Washington would not go ahead with a threatened extension of the tariff regime that would have affected gin and blended whisky.
And in a ‘modest’ easing of the tariffs, Mr Lighthizer said products such as shortbread would now be exempted as the two sides continue to seek a resolution to a dispute centred on planemaker Airbus.
But duties on top-quality single malt whiskies – which are made from a single batch of malted barley – remain in place at 25 per cent.
Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, blasted UK ministers for being slow to act.
Ms Truss – who met Mr Lighthizer last week in Washington – said she would now be urging the Americans to go further to end the economic damage the levies were causing to both sides.
‘I am pleased that the US has not applied these additional tariffs, and welcome the decision to lift tariffs on shortbread,’ she said in a statement.
‘However, the announcement does not address tariffs that already exist on goods like single malt Scotch whisky.
But duties on top-quality single malt whiskies – which are made from a single batch of malted barley – remain in place
In a ‘modest’ easing of the tariffs, Mr Lighthizer said products such as shortbread would now be exempted as the two sides continue to seek a resolution to a dispute centred on planemaker Airbus
‘These tariffs damage industry and livelihoods on both sides of the Atlantic and are in nobody’s interests. I am therefore stepping up talks with the US to remove them as soon as possible.’
Mr Lighthizer, however, warned that the EU still had not done enough for the US to consider any further easing of the tariffs, which cover 7.5 billion dollars (£5.75 billion) worth of European and UK products.
‘The EU and member states have not taken the actions necessary to come into compliance with (World Trade Organisation) decisions,’ he said.
‘The United States, however, is committed to obtaining a long-term resolution to this dispute.
‘Accordingly, the United States will begin a new process with the EU in an effort to reach an agreement that will remedy the conduct that harmed the US aviation industry and workers and will ensure a level playing field for US companies.’
Ms Betts said the latest development was ‘deeply disappointing’, adding: ‘The tariff is inflicting huge damage on the Scotch Whisky sector, with exports to the US down 30 per cent since the tariff came into effect and the industry grappling with losses now totalling around £300 million.
‘These losses relate only to tariffs – the impact of Covid-19 has been serious and has compounded what is now a very serious situation for Scotch Whisky, with some brands forced out of the market and jobs in the industry and our supply chain now at risk.
‘The UK government must accelerate negotiations to bring an end to tariffs between the UK and US before preparations for November’s Presidential election bring talks to a halt.
‘It has taken the UK government a full six months after the UK left the EU to start to tackle tariffs directly with the US government, which seems to us inexplicably slow.’
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People share funny comments they’ve overheard from neighbours
People have revealed the very funny conversations they’ve overheard from their neighbour’s gardens.
Taking to Mumsnet, an anonymous person, believed to be from the UK, shared the relatively ‘mundane’ exchanges she has overheard from next door – including ‘bad-tempered work calls,’ and a sister who was adamant her youngest sibling was building a shelter ‘all wrong.’
She then went on to ask people for any amusing revelations they have heard since spending more time in their gardens amid the lockdown and UK heatwave.
Taking to the comments section, one person penned: ‘We heard a young boy yell “I don’t want to die like this!” in an anguished voice. Turns out it was the neighbour’s son playing Fortnite with his bedroom window open…’
An anonymous woman, from the UK, has taken to Mumsnet to ask forum users to share the funny conversations they’ve overheard in their gardens. Pictured, stock image
A second recalled: ‘Heard neighbour dad telling his 20 year old DC that it wasn’t a good idea to invite random guys back for the night.
‘DC responded with “it wasn’t a random guy, we met on Tinder.”‘ I had to go inside at that point.’
And many of the comments proved that kids really do say the funniest things – with youngsters being the talking point of several of the responses.
One person told how fifteen years on, she still laughs when she remembers hearing her neighbour say: ‘Timothy don’t put the hosepipe down your sister’s nappy.’
Taking to the comments section, one person overheard a parent warning her child not to put the kitten in the oven (pictured)
Another told how her teenage neighbour was having a row with her mother when her mum erupted with: “I breastfed you and your brother for the same amount of time. There was no favouritism.”‘
Elsewhere, one person revealed how she had to endure her neighbour’s violin lessons in the garden amid the summer holidays.
She recalled the parent saying: ‘That was lovely darling; would you like to play it in tune now?’ following an excruciatingly out of tune violin scale – and yes violin practice took place in the garden every day that summer.
‘DH ended up tuning said violin in despair but it didn’t really improve matters much.’
Meanwhile, a further was amused by next door’s revelation when he was sawing something outside.
She explained: ‘Guy next door was sawing something and suddenly exclaimed ‘That’s why it’s called sawdust! Because it’s the dust from when you saw!’ He’s a teacher …
Other random overheard exchanges includes: ‘no you can’t put the pigs on the trampoline, it’s too hot’ and ‘No! Don’t put the kitten in the oven!’
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