Standing Orders for Army Brides

By Margaret Beath
The British Army Review, No. 43, April 1973

It behooves any man holding a commission in Her Majesty's Army to behave as an Officer and a Gentleman. This is open to varying interpretation, but in the main can be relied upon. So, when you marry your Army Officer you are usually on to a good thing. I hope the following explanations and advice will be of some help.

First of all you will notice that the language in army circles seems to consist of some weird code, mainly made up of initials. I have found that it is not necessary to know what these initials stand for to lead a normal life, apart from the following which I have gleaned over the years. KD and/or OG. Do not panic when he asks what you have done with these. They stand for Khaki Drill and Olive Green which are sort of boiler suits for warm climates. However. what he really wants is his bathing costume, sunglasses and tennis racket. So, when you are stuffing OG and KD through the trap-door into the attic, remember to remove any essential items.

The only other initials which are handy to know are GOC. These are usually uttered in such a strange manner that your natural curiosity is instantly aroused, and these initials are therefore easily recognisable and remembered thereafter. They stand for General Officer Commanding; a further translation of that title means that he is an actual General and is the ultimate boss overall. It is a good policy not to know, or forget as quickly as possible, what rank anybody holds. In the case of a GOC this is not always possible as your husband will not wish you to have any doubts about what and whom this means in case you say something silly. This is only too apparent every time you open your mouth and it is best to wait until your husband has faded from the scene before having what is bound to be a most interesting chat with his GOC.

Apart from abbreviations there are a number of Army terms which occur with monotonous regularity; and it is as well to know to what they refer if you are to be able to converse with other army wives who have been married a number of years. There is even a special breed of Army Officer's wife who makes it her full-time occupation to know Queen's Regulations by heart, as well as various other army publications. These people are quite useful at times when one has forgotten where one's husband has gone and on which date he is due to return.

Firstly there is a term called Recce. This is a pleasant drive into the surrounding countryside to ascertain which is the best Public House in the area. Recce is short for reconnaissance. This is done in working hours and does not include you. When your husband goes off with his friends on a recce he (and they) will often fall into a ditch towards the end of the morning. You will not. therefore, be surprised if a strange officer walks into your house and tells you he has wet his trousers and has come to take them off. You will appreciate that this will not be an everyday occurrence; so make the most of it.

Every year your husband, unless he is practically pensionable, will have to do what is known as a BE Test. This is some kind of physical performance after which he will expect a lot of praise and a hot bath.

You will not have been married long before he announces that he will have to leave you to go on exercise. This is nothing to do with BE Tests and may last from two days to six weeks. This means that you will have to stoke the boiler and remember to put some petrol in the car as he will not be around to do this. Anything longer than six weeks amounts to an "Unaccompanied Posting" when you will also have to mow the lawn while he acquires a suntan at the taxpayers' expense.

Mess Kit is a particularly splendid uniform worn on very special occasions and is not as its name implies an outfit to muck about in. This Mess Kit normally costs a month's pay and you will be blamed if anything happens to it except during the actual time he is zipped and hooked into it. Do not wear anything tight yourself simultaneously as he will be unable to bend down to pick anything up.

Army quarters are always one of the main topics of conversation. An Army Quarter, for the uninitiated, is the house the army rents to you to live in when you accompany your husband around the world. Sometimes these are in short supply, but if you wait long enough the day will come when you are "called Forward", and you will be told the date and time you are to "March In." This term is not intended to be taken literally, either by you or your husband. and the same rule applies when you leave your quarter. which is called "Marching Out." You will hear that army quarters are filthy at march-in and spotlessly clean at march-out, even though the march-in and march-out of the incoming and outgoing tenants is usually done at the same time. A corresponding stunt is achieved by the garden.

Apart from demanding a double bedroom to house all his fighting equipment and uniforms, most army husbands are quite amenable around the house. This is largely thanks to the amount of time they have spent camping on Dartmoor and Salisbury Plain eating some form of survival rations. Nor do they complain about the odd layer of dust, as it gives them a chance to practise drawing enemy tank outlines. It will only be noted that you are slacking when there are sufficient vehicles drawn on your furniture to equip the entire 8th Army, and when the Fleet Air Arm is assuming claustrophobic proportions on your window panes.

You need not have any misgivings if he asks if you have any nylon stockings in his size. These are sometimes worn under socks when he is due to embark on a long march. Sometimes you will have to forgo an unladdered pair. A pair of tights is not a good idea for obvious reasons.

Army wives, in particular those in foreign parts, are officially encouraged to keep a box of food in case of atomic attack. Naturally your husband will be the last to hear about this disagreeable state of affairs and you cannot bank on a quick trip to the Naafi to stock up. There are also elaborate plans for your removal from the enemy bombardment. These are always labelled "Top Secret" and are too depressing to read once it has dawned on you that your washing machine will remain in the line of fire.

If you have a telephone it will naturally be useful to ring your husband to acquaint him with any disasters that have befallen you since he left for work in the morning. You will find he is very polite, and might even be able to raise a hollow laugh. as there will be a lot of his friends sitting around his office listening to his conversation. If you are unable to get hold of him because he is held up with his secretary, you will be told he is at a Conference or in the War Room. This is another name for a basement discotheque serving cups of tea. Every man on joining the army is given a complete sewing kit for mending his uniform. This is called a "Hussiff"; it is a piece of equipment which will be carefully hidden from your eyes, as, when he marries you, he will be expecting you to take over his mending. Always remember that he is remarkably competent with his needle and any mending that you do condescend to do for him should be done as an act of very great kindness. Thus it will not be too long before he pours you a large gin before venturing to request so much as the replacement of a button.

It will not be long before you receive a card from the Colonel's wife saying she will be "At Home" for dinner and telling you the time you are expected to present yourselves. It will be in order for you to take two tranquillizers for this occasion so that you are not deterred by the steely look you will encounter from your husband every time you make a remark during dinner. It is hardly a practicable proposition to take two codeine followed by three gins before dinner.

The Officers' Mess, being comparable to a London Club, houses the single officers; and married officers visit it when they have had a row with their wives. Wives are sometimes invited inside, but you should not on any account enter your Officers' Mess except when specifically invited. However, one can often return empty bottles and snatch one's post if one parks the car well out of sight and enters through the kitchen door. This, of course, you only attempt if your husband is "deployed" elsewhere.

The Queen's Birthday Parade is another gay event in your social calendar. Ensure that your hat is not more spectacular than the parade.

Any serving officer has carte blanche to a bed in your house. This is not as bad as it sounds as it is only done when your husband is there also. These people come to join your husband on his "recces" and other essential army activities, and stay with you when there is no other bed available anywhere else. Some of these visitors feel it incumbent upon themselves to regale you with the traditions of their regiments, one of which is an aspiration to vie with the Navy in having a girl in every Port/Town. This becomes a matter of great delicacy after it has been repeated three times; and, as no hostess likes to be presented with a hearing aid on her guest's departure, it should not overtax your mental capacity to have a few likely candidates up your sleeve. Under no circumstances have any wild delusions that he may be content with You as this will have a detrimental effect on your Cordon Bleu dinner party in his honour.

Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, one cannot outline all the pitfalls and surprises that are in store for you. Some of the more useful tips have already been censored [Footnoted: "Not by me. Editor!"], and it only remains for me to wish all army brides the best of luck. which they will certainly need; and happiness, which most find, in all the years ahead. The rest of us being too dim to know when we are having a rotten time.

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