Each month we'll bring you new blog posts written by academics, experts, practitioners, and our very own membership and committee. Blog posts will explore different topics each month, challenging you with new and exciting research areas, encourage engagement with a range of personal research experiences, and present new perspectives on established military topics and issues.

Defence in Depth blog post by Hannah West: Nightingale's Legacy: Women on the COVID 'Frontline'.

We are pleased that the DRN's Chair, Hannah West, has had her blog published in the Kings Defence in Depth blog.

Coronavirus is not only a disease but a human security threat. We are used to seeing the, predominantly male, Armed Forces deploy in response to a conventional security threat. But, the NHS frontline is disproportionately manned by women. Nurses symbolise the frontline of the medical profession in their hands-on capacity caring for patients and whilst not all nurses responding to the pandemic are women, it remains the case that in the public consciousness, the stereotype of a nurse is a woman. The accepted presence of women nurses on the coronavirus frontline, ignores the unprecedented feminised response to this security threat. This post asks how women’s labour on the coronavirus frontline will be captured in the historical record.

Read the full blog post.

The DRN has been lucky enough to talk to Dianne Allen about her recently published book, Forewarned. Diane tells all about her experiences of serving as a women in the British armed forces.

Diane Allen OBE

Check out Diane's website for more information on her book and how you can submit your stories and experiences to Diane for Project 2021, Tales of the Women Who Served.

What motivated you to write your book, Forewarned?

Initially, it was a cathartic process – I felt so raw when my military service ended abruptly that I needed to write down what happened. Then I put the draft away and focused on finding civilian work. But gradually I met others who had suffered similar experiences and were also trapped in the woeful service justice system. Through this network, I was given the opportunity, in 2019, to speak to the defence select committee. And I realised my story was quite unique – from having been one of the first women at Sandhurst, then being part of immense societal and military change, to setting up new military units and being awarded an OBE. But sadly, I found my ending was not unique. That too many of us had found that a whole military career can be taken away in an instant and had been ostracised and punished for speaking up. I felt that as a senior officer, who now had the lived experience of the ‘dark underbelly’ of the military, I could publish my story to put a human face on the problems. And encourage others to speak up too.

How have you found the experience of publishing a book?

My main experience is that it takes longer than I thought!

I naively thought all I had to do was write and then hey presto I would hand ‘my baby’ to a publisher. I started writing in 2017 - it took about six months to write the initial manuscript. Then a year of part-time research – I paid researchers to check the facts and talk to others with similar stories. Then I approached a professional to polish it up – I had really struggled to explain the military language and make it accessible to a wider readership. As it is a memoire, there were consents, a legal review, and a process to decide which names to change in the story. The final stage was to find a publisher. It was quite easy to write a synopsis of the story but matching with the right publishing team took some time. It is a fantastic experience to publish a book, but it is not easy – and not cheap.
Did you have to get clearance for the Ministry of Defence to publish your book?

I first told the MoD I was publishing in early 2020 but heard nothing back. Given my final years in the military were marred by some poor behaviours by senior officers, I decided to send a registered letter and phoned up as well – but there was no interest. I decided that I would pay for my own lawyer to clear the book for publishing. Once I announced the book in the media, the MoD then showed interest. I have had different types of military approach since then - most recently from a broader defence media team.  Apparently, no-one needs to resign to publish a book anymore, but there is a desire (now) to know what is included. I have assured them the book is not about issues of national security; more about how defence treats its own people, especially minorities (which includes women, in the armed forces). The MoD shouts out on its recruitment websites that ‘people are defence’s greatest asset’, yet too many in military leadership roles are shirking their responsibilities to create safe environments. My view is therefore the MoD had their chance to review what happened – twice. But I am happy to keep engaging with government media, to ensure they are confident there are no security issues.

Your book has been picked up in the national media, what has this been like?

A new experience, so exciting – I am introverted by nature, but I felt so strongly that the MoD was not living up to its stated values, that I had to engage. I knew the media were essential to tell a story and my publishers, Cranthorpe Millner, have been a great help in navigating the media path. Plus, Deborah Haynes at Sky News was invaluable in advising me on the process. It is intimidating, as each journalist and media channel has a unique perspective and I learned that I would not get to see the final cut of any article before it went to print. So, an upward learning curve, but an important one.

I have met some great media people so far. They know their jobs and through them, they have given me instant access to a wonderful and wider network, all working to improve the armed forces environment.
What is Project 2021 and how can people get involved?

I talk about this on the website too – the project aims to capture as many tales as possible of the experiences of women who have served. Women and men have already been contacting me to share their stories – over a 100 tales, with charities also speaking to their people, to ask if they would like to participate. The project covers recent military history – from the open misogyny, legislative constraints, and sexual inequalities of the 70s and early 80s, through rapid change in the 90s, to the covert and unpleasant “toxic pockets” of today. It will not all be negative – it aims to be a balanced look at the better opportunities for women serving now, as well as the pitfalls. And it isn’t all about toxic men or the Army – there have been tales from the RAF, the RN, from civil servants and also from those pointing out that women in power positions can be equally toxic. Sometimes it is good men who have been the voices of equitable treatment.

I would love if the Defence Research Network would get involved. Either as researchers into the facts, to tell their own tales, or to help me analyse the common themes. Due to the nature of the stories, everyone will retain control of their own data; I am setting up a formal consent process before any story will be included, even if anonymised, or before I share with researchers. I am excited to announce that I have already partnered with a senior academic and am forming a research team to look at some key areas that could improve; for example better designed surveys, better education & mentoring systems for those currently serving. I suspect your members could help.
I am also working with a MP and with a professional journalist to bring these stories into the public domain. As a report and then as a book if we can find a publisher. That is Project 2021.

You have been quoted as saying that the British Army needs its ‘#MeToo moment’, how optimistic are you that this will happen?

I am cautiously optimistic because of the network I am part of now. I can’t do it alone. But by working with MPs, academics, journalists, lawyers and several excellent charities to expose the true scale of the problem, I think we can nudge the MoD to take a proper look at what is still going wrong. In autumn, I will be part of a formal government review. I do believe that most people working in the armed forces are good, it is just that an awful system and some leaders more interested in their career than their responsibilities are allowing toxic pockets to thrive. Strong leadership can push the bullies and misogynists back, but only cultural and systemic changes can permanently control it. The alternative is that the parallel justice and support systems that are developing via the charity sector will continue. The MoD should be appalled it has delegated the duty of care for their people to the charity sector. Of course, our parliamentary review may also mean that the government is now tired of waiting for the MoD to do the right thing – it might mandate change.

Can you tell is about the London Scottish Institute and your role in this?

It is my current project and I am loving it. I missed working in defence, but uniformed service was no longer an option. I was interested in how UK defence could benefit from building a stronger relationship with academia, businesses, and wider government. So, I approached London Scottish House, in Westminster who are now a great social enterprise in the heart of London. We shared a worry that UK sovereign resilience was low and there was little connection between defence and wider society. We realised there are parallels in allowing Scotland and England to drift apart (which I think would be a shame) and letting wider UK communities drift as well.  

I was delighted when we agreed to work together. LSI was co-founded by myself, as CEO, with financial support and trustee input from London Scottish. We designed and set up a think and do tank, with a focus on re-building UK resilience. LSI is exploring what gives a country back its mojo – its information advantage. Not easy as it is as much about culture, habits & systems as well as tangible acts. I am already working with Sweden and other countries who are doing well in this area. It would be great to work with the Defence Research Network as we develop. We need more researchers and we need funding. We have started well but will need more partners to grow.