A Celebration of Women in the Army Cadet Force

By Lt Col Diss

A Celebration of Women in the Army Cadet Force

8 March 2021

  • Cumbria ACF

A Celebration of Women in the Army Cadet Force

Today is International Women's Day. A day to celebrate the contribution of females within our organisation and our communities. Women were not always members of the Army Cadet Force and I am personally so glad that was corrected. In 1978 female adult volunteers were invited into the Army Cadets as part of a trial. The following year female cadets were permitted to start attending. I joined Cumbria ACF in September 1993. I had just turned 13 years old and arrived at Barrow Detachment with no idea what was behind the big Drill Hall door. I just knew I wanted to be an Army Cadet. I had run around that Drill Hall as a 2 year old when my father was based there as a TA Officer. I never stopped to consider that it might not be an option for me to follow in his military direction.

By the time I started at cadets there had been a good intake of female instructors and there were older female cadets who set a great example to me. They were clever, kind, ambitious and supportive and I simply followed along with that expectation. I remember playing the game ‘Bull dogs’ in the back yard at Detachment and demonstrating physical strength and courage against those older female cadets to a point where they respected and accepted me. I was a novelty to them, I was not from the same school and I didn’t sound like them but they did accept me. I didn’t see them as any different. We were Army Cadets. From my perspective the training and the progress was accessible to all of us and together we celebrated our team and its achievements. If you committed yourself to success you could achieve and progress. Our instructors enabled that inclusive and successful environment.

As a Detachment, Company and County it was much the same. As I got to meet and work with new cadets and instructors from across the County and the North West Region the dynamic was already rolling. The girls sports teams would win their events and be celebrated. The final parades at Summer Camp would be scattered with awards presented to male and female cadets. If you were good you would be acknowledged. That was against a framework of the APC syllabus and Cadet activities we had the chance to participate in.

I never considered myself at any disadvantage throughout my years as a cadet. But that was from my perspective. I achieved the rank of Cadet RSM in 1998. The first female cadet to achieve this rank in Cumbria and I am pleased to say not the last. Several have followed since into that prestigious role. I took every opportunity offered through this fantastic organisation. I travelled to Crete for my Gold DofE Expedition, I played at Earls Court as part of the mass Corps of Drums performance in 1999. I achieved my Master Cadet qualification and loved every weekend and camp I had the chance to attend. Again, I see this achievement as enabled through the opportunities my instructors provided me with.

I think of my instructors with gratitude for all the time and commitment they gave to enable me and my peers to allow us to learn and experience so much. I also had a consistent strength from the other female cadets around me. We were a tight group of friends who spent many hours together striving to improve out skills and knowledge. We could not have done that without the female instructors we had who put their energy and time into giving us those opportunities. I also had male cadets as peers, competitive allies and friends and mostly male instructors who trained me and provided me with the experience to build myself belief and confidence. They all expected me to achieve and still do to this day. The ACF really does give you lifelong friendships.

I had a wonderful role model of a senior female officer when I was a cadet. She was organised and intelligent. She was a great leader and once she had laid out her plan everyone just got on with the training and enjoyed the experience. I suppose it did surprise me at that time to realise how few female officers there were compared to the number of male officers. Having those female role models ahead of me gave me no doubt that I could follow in their footsteps.

That thought process has never changed. Having come through from being a cadet to being an Adult Volunteer I still enjoy the progression and opportunity to plan and participate in Army Cadet Force activities. I have never really considered myself to be a role model in a celebratory way but if I am that person to cadets or adult volunteers then I am glad to be that and hope that they strive for their success without doubting their own capability to achieve it. I do however look for the strengths and skills in people. Diversity brings strength to any team and I look for those people who want to develop and progress so they can move forward and bring with them the next generation of volunteers and cadets. I appreciate the different ways individuals approach their job role. I think that is the key. The job should be carried out by the right person, of whatever gender and if limitation or restriction are placed on individuals from progressing through the organisation or thriving within it then we have missed out of their potential to improve and help our organisation to flourish.

I am very proud to be the Deputy Commandant of Cumbria ACF. A county I have promoted on a National level for many years. I have fantastic colleagues, both male and female who have influenced my life in many ways during my 20 years as an Adult Volunteer and still my achievements would not have been possible or as worthwhile without their input and support. Look around you at our female CFAVs and celebrate the huge skill and knowledge we have within our county sharing military experience, professional qualifications, care and intelligence. Honest people who work incredibly hard towards our shared goal of supporting our Army Cadets to succeed. They are role models to all of our cadets. This progress towards inclusion of all people within our organisation will have positive effects for generations to come. I may be the first female into this role within the County but I hope behind me there is a line of CFAVs and cadets with their goals set confidently ahead of them.