Tattoos can display more than just intricate, artistic designs but can reveal heartfelt personal journeys ranging from the mourning of a fallen friend to regimental allegiances and more - as these stories of skin art in the military explore.

In a series of short video interviews, Forces Radio BFBS broadcaster Anthony Ballard, who is based in Cyprus, talks tattoos with serving and ex-serving personnel.

Memorials, an expression of personality or a celebration of passions ... tattoos often serve as permanent reminders of important people, places and times.

Nowhere is this more so than within military communities.

Anthony explores the hidden meaning behind the body art choices of our Armed Forces, including tattoos that honour friends lost in service or designs which tell of powerful messages to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Lucy Falmer, an RAF policewoman based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, spends a lot of her spare time at the beach with the turtle preservation team and she wears her skin art to reflect these aspects of her personality and character.

Here are her tattoos and the story’s behind them:

Bob Gallager is an ex-Parachute Regiment combat medic who now lives in Cyprus.

An active member of the BFC community in Episkopi, Bob has a number of pieces of art on his skin that help him remember fallen comrades, as well as a tribute to Leicester City Football Club.

He said: 

“I’ve lost 12 friends with PTSD and I wanted to remember them, not just by remembering their names, but having something permanent so that if people ask me about it, I can say that it is to remind me of the people that I’ve lost in the last 20-odd years through conflicts.”

Here are Bob’s tattoos and the stories behind them:

Based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, Gaz Smith is a RAF policeman who is a bit of a Liverpool fanatic.

After an initial tattoo in his younger days which did not quite hit the mark, he now has a large tribute to some of the football club's greats.

Gaz also has a bit of a tribal art thing going on as well.

Here are his tattoos and the stories behind them.

John and Rhian Davis are a couple who both have a passion for film and music.

John is a RAF fireman based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus where Rhian is expecting their second child.

Here are their tattoos and the stories behind them:

Tattoos have a long and historic association with the military.

Their spread across Europe is widely attributed to the early seafaring traditions of British sailors and to Captain Cook who brought back drawings of Polynesian Islanders' inked skin.

Over time, skin art developed into a Navy tradition, with even royals such as King George V sporting a tattoo of a blue and red dragon on his arm from his time in naval service on a visit to Japan.

Keep your eyes peeled for more Forces Tattoo Stories coming soon on

If you have a tattoo story with a military connection, please email [email protected] or the contact the digital team at [email protected] to let us know what your skin art means to you.

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