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A young woman at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

In my own small way, I was involved in a ‘first’ for women. I and some 40 other young women lived and trained in the hallowed portals of Old College at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as the first female course to start and finish at this most prestigious of the hitherto all male institutions. We were even the subject of a Jonathan Dimbleby documentary for the First Tuesday series of films for Yorkshire Television.

It was September 1984 and we were something of a novelty. Having said that, we were still just as terrified of the Academy Sergeant Major as the men and were drilled, ‘beasted’, yelled at and generally kept busy in all weathers until it felt like we had earned our pips. We were treated with courtesy as well as curiosity and learned mutual respect which stood me in good stead when I received my first posting, one woman in a regiment of 700 men.

I do feel somewhat embarrassed looking back at what we experienced compared with how the women are trained now in mixed platoons being treated and paid completely equally. When it came to the march past at our Sovereign’s Parade with the Queen taking the Salute the two platoons of women were sent smartly to the back of the Square whilst the men all marched past in spite of having successfully taken part in all the rehearsals. The argument being that our 27 inch pace was not compatible with the men’s 30 inch pace. Suffice to say, the Sovereign was not convinced or impressed and it did not happen again.

I think the lessons that I learned during my short military career and which I have tried to apply to every aspect of my life were more ones of leadership than equality but have now come to understand that one promotes the other.

Alison Biegel

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