The Women’s Royal Army Association (WRAC) are pairing some of their older members, including one who served during the Second World War, with women who are serving or have not long left the services.
Through their ‘Buddy Buddy Scheme’ the WRAC is trying to end loneliness among elderly veterans having to isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It means you’ve got someone to talk to. The one I’m buddying with, she’s terrific."
The scheme was set up because most of the members do not own computers and many had to shield throughout the pandemic.
The role of women in the armed forces has changed dramatically over the years, but their achievements of today can be traced back to the pioneering spirit of their counterparts back in the 1940s.
Before 1949, women had served as volunteers in all the services, but when the Royal Assent was granted for the formation of the Women’s Royal Army Corps, it was the first time women could consider a proper paid military career.
In 1945 Princess Elizabeth, now Her Majesty the Queen, joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and inspired women to sign up, despite their parents' concerns.
For 81-year-old veteran Carol Tyler, joining the WRAC took her all over the world and helped her make firm friends. She said:
“When I joined in 1957 it was like a big family.
"You were never lonely and if you wanted to go out, you’d say I’m going to the pictures, anyone want to come?
“Suddenly there was six of you all going to the pictures or swimming pool of wherever you decided to go.”
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, Carol has spent much of this year at home because, like many others, she has been classed as a vulnerable person.
All outside social interactions stopped abruptly and so, to combat loneliness, she decided to take part in the Women’s Royal Army Corps Association ‘Buddy Buddy Scheme’.
Through this, she has formed a new friendship with Retired Lt Col Sally Cavick, who left the British Army in 2004. Carol said:
“It means you’ve got someone to talk to. The one I’m buddying with, she’s terrific.
“She’s younger than my own daughter and she was in the army a lot later than when I left but to me, to have someone to speak to and listen to like Sally, she’s terrific.
“We talk about all sorts of things. I look forward to speaking every week with her.”
Sally regularly calls Carol and shares stories of life in the army as a woman to try and stop the 81-year-old veteran from feeling the isolating effects of the pandemic.
Carol & Sally are among 63 other pairs set up across the association. As Sally explains, it’s not just the elderly veterans who are benefitting. She said:
“In her own way, she’s helped me because I live alone, albeit I’ve got plenty of outside activities, but I still live alone so it’s a mutual friendship.”
Carol’s career with the WRAC is one of adventure and variety. She played the tuba in places like Germany, Cyprus and Scotland and featured in the first Carry On film, ‘Carry On Sergeant’ as her camp in Guildford was stationed next to where the movie was filmed. She said:
“They asked our band to ... play for the passing out parade at the end of the film.
“We got paid £4 a week for our wages in 1958 and they gave us all a week's pay for playing which was really an added bonus.”
While Sally is used to keeping busy, as she holds down three jobs, this year it’s been more difficult. She said:
“You can do bits on the phone, my boss does a lot over the phone, but it’s not the same and we can’t wait to get back so we can visit people.”
Retired Colonel Ali Brown, Vice-President WRAC Association, was surprised by one of the main benefits of the system, which was originally planned simply to alleviate loneliness. She said:
“What we’ve managed to do is get people from totally different decades together.
“We actually have a serving member of the army who is chatting to a World War Two veteran. So there you’re crossing a divide of some 70 years.
“For them to compare their service, even down to things like comparing their uniform and the way that women were perceived by their male colleagues and what they actually did, the training they did.”
Cover image by Shutterstock / Solarisys