Stories

Tattoo Tales: The Hidden Meaning Behind Military Tattoos

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

Tattoos have long played a part in the lives of people in military service and these stories here tell of the very personal stories about why they have them - even if they got themselves inked just for a bet.

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 tell emotive stories about a particular military tour, family connections in military life or simply just a love of favourite subject.

Steve Whiten is an ex-Royal Military Policeman who ended up with his first tattoo as a result of a drunken bet.

He told Anthony how his original tattoo had an unusual family connection with a bloke called Sailor Bill - he discovered the same tattooist had inked his grandfather decades earlier.

Other pieces have a more personal link to his daughters. This proud father has some permanent reminders of his daughters.

Steve said:  “The first one means quite a lot to me because it was done in Northern Ireland, my first posting.

“It was actually a drunken bet but I went through with it. It was done by, as it turns out, a tattooist called Sailor Bill who had tattooed my grandad back in the late Fifties and early Sixties – when they were neighbours living in Essex.”

Alex Frasier, an award-winning tattoo artist based at Fiona’s Tattoo Studio in Cyprus, told Anthony how his father is Cypriot Traditional tattoo artist and his mother is a realism specialist.

So tattooing is a real family affair. At their studio busy at the studio between Episkopi and RAF Akrotiri they have built up a large military customer base.

From cover ups to tribute pieces, he is kept really busy and here is his tattoo story.

Amanda Hadnett works at the Medical Centre at Episkopi Garrison in Cyprus.

Some of her body artwork follows her love for some of her favourite films.

A keen Kite Surfer most of her tattoos reflect her absolute love of the ocean and its surroundings.

With a lot of ink with real meaning, here is Amanda’s tattoo stories.

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 forces.net.

If you have a tattoo story with a military connection, please email anthony.ballard@bfbs.com or the contact the digital team at DigitalHub@ssvc.com to let us know what your skin art means to you.

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