Focus on: Sergeant Instructor Cathy Dewar, Detachment Commander, Herne Bay

13 February 2018

I joined the CCF way back in 1985 and had a great time learning all the fieldcraft and adventure training. I got a real passion for canoeing, climbing and hill walking as well as orienteering, so when I had to leave I missed it all a great deal. After a couple of years I was persuaded to join the Territorial Army (now the Reserves). I joined my local TA unit, which was 6/7 Queens in Horsham as a potential Officer in the Womens Royal Army Corps (WRAC). Back then it was unusual to have a woman in an Infantry Battalion and they weren’t too sure what to do with me, so at first I did a lot of recruit training. I was commissioned in 1988 and was Recruit Training Officer for a couple of years. I was privileged to be awarded the Needlemakers Sword of Honour in 1989, the first woman to ever receive it.

When the WRAC was disbanded I re-cap-badged Queens Regiment and then PWRR quite shortly after. I eventually became the Defence Platoon Commander and was one of the first women to attend the Platoon Commanders Battle Course, an infantry promotion course. It was possibly the most physically hard course I have ever done. Could hardly walk for a week after due to sprained ankles! I was still doing a lot of hill walking, canoeing and climbing, helping out with adventure training at my old cadet unit on a regular basis. I was also heavily involved in our Battalion Orienteering team, taking the team away once a month or so to take part in competitions. I once won the Ladies Infantry Orienteering Cup (there was only 4 of us taking part!!)

It soon became clear that the infantry would not be the way forward for a woman, so I defected to 103Bn REME, based in Redhill, was given command of a Recovery Platoon, which was excellent fun, digging large vehicles out of the mud on weekends, amongst other things. After a couple of years there I was promoted to Captain and given the Company Second-in-command job. I was responsible for organizing the training programme and for personnel matters which could be challenging.

I then moved down to Portsmouth as 2IC of the Reclamation Company with 103Bn REME, where I had another good couple of years, although it wasn’t as much fun as the Recovery Company. When my husband was posted to Bristol with his job I transferred across country to 39Sigs Regt and took over as their LAD (Light Aid Detachment) Commander, where I spend another couple of years.

I eventually left in 2001, after 13 years in the TA, having done as much as I could. I’d gad a great time but the Reserves where changing and I couldn’t commit to an overseas tour which was what was expected.

I then had no plans to ever get back into uniform, got rid of all my kit and became a ‘camp follower’ with my husband in the Regular Army and a full time mum.

That all changed when my son became 13 and decided he would like to join the Army Cadets. After a few weeks of him attending it was clear that the ACF needed all the adult volunteers it could find, and I felt I had some time and some experience to give so would see what I could do.  Little did I expect that 18 months after joining I would be running a detachment! I have learnt to be more patient and more innovative, working with what we have rather than we would like!

It’s incredibly satisfying watching young people come through the door and being able to help them develop into helpful, useful members of society. It’s nice to know that we can offer them stability and a sense of purpose in what is often a difficult life. I like to get the detachment involved in the community so the locals can see that not all teenagers are terrible, but also so the cadets can see they are making a difference to the local environment. Being a member of the ACF gives a teenager lots of opportunities that may not be available to others, the chance to go on overseas trips to Canada, Italy or Latvia. To watch a cadet become a qualified First Aider, member of a shooting team, or get to do mountain leadership or paddle sports, all at a greatly reduced cost, is deeply satisfying to an instructor.

I would encourage anyone with or without military experience to join, it’s a chance to give back and help build better lives, as well as have chances to do some amazing trips yourself.