A soldier taking part in Exercise LEGION ATTACK in July 2020 while on Operation CABRIT 45167306 SFW Picture Crown Copyright
A soldier taking part in Exercise LEGION ATTACK in July 2020 while on Operation CABRIT (Picture: Crown Copyright).
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Feeling homesick? Tips from personnel, veterans and spouses

Homesickness in adults and children can be incredibly tough to cope with.

A soldier taking part in Exercise LEGION ATTACK in July 2020 while on Operation CABRIT 45167306 SFW Picture Crown Copyright
A soldier taking part in Exercise LEGION ATTACK in July 2020 while on Operation CABRIT (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Homesickness can be a universal and sometimes very painful and debilitating emotion.

It does not matter whether you are old or young, missing loved ones when you are far away can affect anyone at any time. 

Spare a thought then for serving personnel and their families who have to spend months at a time away from each other. 

How do they cope with separation? What tips and advice could they give others in the same situation? 

Feeling homesick is, in a lesser way, like grief. However, what you are grieving is being without those whom you love and being away from a familiar comforting place like home. 

Those feeling homesick can suffer from insomnia, problems with their appetite and have trouble concentrating. 

How many times have you felt the pangs of homesickness, picked up your phone and been able to speak to someone within seconds to make you feel better? You might even be reading this on your mobile phone. 

That luxury is not always available when you have a career in the armed forces. 

For example, recruits are expected to keep their mobile phones in their locker during the day because they are considered a distraction during basic training.

We asked serving personnel, veterans and military spouses what advice they would give to members of the armed forces community suffering from homesickness. 

Bible Padre Defence Imagery Picture Crown Copyright
A Padre holds a Bible while delivering a sermon (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Reverend Eddie Wills, Church of England Chaplain and Chaplaincy Team Leader for HMS Sultan has some wise advice for anyone facing a long deployment. 

"I think we all experience homesickness to some degree when we find ourselves far from home, either on deployment or when we are drafted to the other end of the country. 

"My best advice is not to begin by thinking 'Oh, I’m going to be away for nine months, it feels like a sentence'. When you think of it like that, it's equivalent to a pregnancy or a whole school year.

"Far better to break the time down into bite size chunks and not to look beyond the next port visit. 

"Try passing the time by researching the things you can do at that port and the places you can visit. If you're drafted a long way from home but still in the UK, break the time up by planning a treat for yourself roughly every six weeks or so - a trip to London to see a show, attend an away match, or in the summer go to a music festival.

BFBS Live Events gig in Estonia

"That takes care of the weeks, but to take care of the days, I recommend box sets. Not binge watching them as so often seems the way these days but watching an episode per night. This works well if it's something that's especially gripping. I like to watch an episode of something at the end of the day and if it's particularly exciting, my private thoughts during the following day turn to what's going to happen in the following episode, giving me something to look forward to later. 

"Of course, it doesn’t have to be a box set, it could just as easily be a good book, and most ships should have a library onboard, frequently administered by the Bish."

Living quarters for junior ratings onboard HMS Ark Royal in 2010 (Picture: Crown Copyright).
Living quarters for junior ratings onboard HMS Ark Royal in 2010 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Rev'd Wills finds great solace in Psalm 139 of the Bible. The following verses are a couple of his favourite to read when he is feeling homesick: 

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 

"I find it reassuring that wherever we go, God is with us and however dark and lonely the world seems at times, I find it a great comfort that we are never truly alone, however far we are from home." 

Soldier writes a Bluey in 2002 British Army Training Support Unit Belize BATSUB Jungle Training Crown Copyright
A soldier writes a Bluey in 2002 at the British Army Training Support Unit in Belize (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Advice from spouses 

Rediscover the art of writing a letter 

Did you know that good old fashioned Blueys still exist? 

No, we are not talking about the much-loved Australian cartoon dog or fishing bait - both called Bluey in case you are wondering? 

Blueys, or Forces Free Air Letters, are a free way of sending letters to personnel deployed in certain BFPO (British Forces Post Office) locations. 

They were incredibly popular before the internet gave people more ways to contact loved ones. 

If you cannot find any in your local Post Office, they can usually order them for you. 

Military spouse Sez shared her own experience of how writing Blueys helped her and her now veteran partner cope with feelings of homesickness during deployments. She said: 

"First deployment I sent one a day. It really helps both parties. 

"You get to talk about all the daily small stuff that no one else will care about and they get to feel like they're a part of everything and not just getting the highlights. 

"These also make great keepsakes for later in life and the deployed partner loves getting frequent mail."

A soldier reads his book during a rest period before a dawn attack on an enemy position (Picture: Crown Copyright).
A soldier reads his book during a rest period before a dawn attack on an enemy position (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Get to you know your HIVE  

We are not talking about where bees live or superstar Beyonce's fiercely loyal fan base. A HIVE is an important resource for finding your feet in an unfamiliar environment. It is your go-to hub for all the local information you need on base. 

Take advantage of anything your local HIVE has to offer. Deployment packs filled with useful information like how to keep in touch during a deployment, details of support available and help for children are a great resource. 

Deployment dinners can be great for adult interaction and socialising. It can be really helpful to talk to people who understand what you are going through. 

Do not isolate yourself. Join any groups, whether for kids or adults, that you can. 

Perhaps try reading the same book at the same time. This will give you something else to talk about.

Your partner might be away but they do not have to stop important bonding experiences with their children like reading together. Parents and kids can read to each other via video calls and phone conversations wherever they are in the world.

This can also help children with separation anxiety.

Countdowns are great for everyone, but always make sure you add a week or two on and keep it a secret from the kids. Having their deployed parent come back early is a nice surprise, but the possible late return will make everyone sad.  

For anyone with a sweet tooth, how about having a countdown sweet jar for the whole family? Just like an advent calendar, you each have a sweet every day until your loved one returns.

A child uses a tablet to speak to a loved one via Zoom (Picture: Adobe Stock / sewcream).

Advice from a deployed partner 

Start collecting shoeboxes 

Your family and friends within the UK or at BFPO addresses can send two kilograms of treats for free.

Ask them to collect shoeboxes to send you comforts from home. Perhaps your favourite coffee, your favourite magazine or pictures lovingly drawn by your kids. 

However, BFPO requests that the following items are not sent: 

  • Aerosols: prohibited by the BFPO mail network, eg hairspray, deodorant 
  • Perishable goods: foods like fruit and meat 
  • Fragile Items: glass 
  • Magazines containing images that might offend the cultural values of host nations, even if they are widely available in the UK, eg ‘top shelf’ magazines. 

It is important to make sure that everything they send is something you can leave behind or eat. You do not want extra packing on the way back. 

When you get there, find the spot with the best signal and set up a routine for a daily or weekly video chat. It should be possible in most locations, except when communications are down. 

Try to keep in contact with each other as much as possible. Something as simple as a voice note to and from kids and partners can make a big difference. 

Good night messages and daily updates are great. 

Do not feel you need to only discuss the big stuff. On a day when it is too much, do not force it and just be honest. It should be a fun thing. 

If you can, bring your own pillow. There is nothing more comfortable than your own pillow, right? 

Sleeping 2017 Army Photographic Competition Winner Soldiers Resting Exercise Templers Triumph Longmoor Training Area Defence Imagery
Soldiers rest during Exercise Templers Triumph on the Longmoor Training Area in 2017 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Pack a few pictures of your family to put up on your cupboard doors and or walls. Seeing their faces will hopefully cheer you up. 

Homesickness sets in when you are bored so keep the boredom at bay by bringing puzzles and books that can be left behind for the next person. These distractions can really help keep you busy during downtime. 

If you can, get yourself and your partner an encrypted email address in case communications go down. That way you may still be able to chat with each other if allowed. It is important to note that this will need to be done before you are deployed as you will not be able to do this after comms have gone down.