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Celebrating the integral role of women in the Armed Forces

Celebrating the integral role of women in the Armed Forces


15 Mar, 2021

On International Women’s Day 2021 SSAFA took the opportunity to celebrate women as change-makers …

On 8 March, SSAFA, the UK’s oldest tri-Service military charity, made the most of this special day of the year to recognise the involvement of women in the Armed Forces and the charity for more than 136 years, in the hope of inspiring more women within the military community.

The charity spoke to trail-blazing British Army Officer, Colonel Lucy Giles, and inspirational 11-year-old schoolgirl, Imogen Papworth-Heidel (pictured below), about the role of women in the Armed Forces and their experiences of breaking barriers in their own unique ways.

Last year, Imogen decided to do one keepy-uppie for each key worker in the UK, which equated to a staggering 7.1 million keepy-uppies. Inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore, she set up a fundraising page to raise money for a selection of charities that support key workers, including SSAFA.

Speaking to Colonel Lucy Giles, Imogen said: ‘Key workers are doing an incredible job fighting COVID and I just wanted to say thank you.

‘When I reached 7.1 million keepy-uppies, I actually can’t explain the feeling. I was like, “Oh my god, seven months, I did it!” It was something I never planned to do a couple of years ago and I did it for charity; it was such an amazing feeling.

‘I’ve been playing football since I was near enough 6. I started off in the playground with the boys and began as goalkeeper – I’ve got no clue why – and I progressed from there.’

Colonel Lucy Giles comments: ‘It’s making me a bit emotional because I just think that’s such a beautiful thing to be doing and at your young age as well. I think it’s extremely selfless and that’s one of the things that we hold dear to us in the Armed Forces because that selfless commitment, that sense of duty … I think you’re a super inspiration.’

Colonel Lucy Giles (pictured below) is the first female College Commander at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and is currently President of the Army Office Selection Board – the first woman to take on this role.

When asked by Imogen what she would say to young girls and women inspired to join the Forces, Colonel Lucy replied: ‘I would say don’t look at what you think the Forces are about and convince yourself why you wouldn’t be good enough. I would say go out there and go for it, and don’t let anybody ever tell you any different.

‘Don’t accept no, or I can’t do that, or it’s a bit too difficult. Have a go, because you will never know unless you try. I nearly didn’t join because I didn’t think I was good enough. I mean, how rubbish is that? Look at what I have achieved since then.’ 

Colonel Lucy Giles has served in the British Army for more than 25 years, including on operations in Sierra Leone, Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan. She was awarded Defence Woman of the Year and Inspirational Awards in 2016.

When speaking about her role model, Colonel Lucy says: ‘My mum and dad allowed me to be me, and allowed me to enjoy life. Not everyone has that opportunity so I’m very grateful for that. But when you think of someone really hard-working, who is pretty selfless, who cracks on with things even though things can be difficult, I would say that Her Majesty The Queen is one of the most inspirational people.’

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has been supporting Service men and women, veterans and their families for more than 136 years. For over a century, women have been officially serving in the British military. SSAFA has witnessed the evolution of the roles available for women within the military, providing vital assistance to serving women, veterans and their families.

Says SSAFA supporter, Colonel Dame Kelly Holmes, ‘Since I was 14, I had two big dreams: I wanted to be in the Army and also to win an Olympic gold medal. Many people tried to lower my level of ambition – some on the basis of me being a woman – but I was proud to prove them wrong and achieve both of my dreams. I know I am a strong female, a soldier and an Olympian. These points of my identity coexist and enhance one another. Nothing was ever going to hold me back and I encourage any young girl with a goal to make it happen. It is an honour to have served my country alongside so many inspirational women.’

Click on the link below to see what happened when SSAFA spoke to Colonel Lucy Giles and fundraiser Imogen Papworth-Heidel to celebrate International Women’s Day.



If you would like to find out more or help SSAFA to support our military personnel, veterans and their families, please click here to visit the SSAFA website.

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