The Lead­ing Lieu­tenant


Af­ter serv­ing as both a Reg­u­lar Of­fi­cer and then a Re­servist in the Army, Lieu­tenant Colonel Gill Wilkin­son from the Scot­tish Borders be­came Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of 154 (Scot­tish) Reg­i­ment Royal Lo­gis­tic Corps – mak­ing his­tory as the first re­servist to re­turn to lead the reg­i­ment in 24 years.

When I joined the Army in 1994, women were in a mi­nor­ity then too.

It’s tra­di­tion­ally a very male­dom­i­nated or­gan­i­sa­tion. Yes, you get com­ments im­ply­ing that it is an un­usual pro­fes­sion, but usually it’s from peo­ple out­side my own work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The first week I was in com­mand, I at­tended a meet­ing about re­cruit­ing and how we needed to ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence. There were 39 peo­ple in the room, and I was the only woman. They were talk­ing about ap­peal­ing to a wider el­e­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, and ac­knowl­edged that ‘We’re all over 40’, but I said ‘It’s not just that you are all over 40, can you not even see that you are all men?’

An­other time I gave a talk about the Army’s role and struc­ture to ex-ser­vice­men.

It was not a talk about me, yet the first ques­tion af­ter my pre­sen­ta­tion was ‘So do the men do what you tell them to do?’ It’s so far from be­ing an is­sue in the Army to­day. I can’t think of a time when some­one has ig­nored the au­thor­ity that comes with the job sim­ply be­cause I’m a woman.

A lot of women have left the Army when they have chil­dren be­cause they are not pre­pared to go away to war and leave their chil­dren.

But a lot of men don’t want to leave their chil­dren ei­ther and the Army works hard to sup­port fam­i­lies’’ needs. I left the reg­u­lar Army to have my first child, Katy (now 15) and re­turned to the re­serves in 2003 when I had my son, Andrew (now 13). I felt I needed to get back to some­thing I loved. Then, about five years ago, I thought I might leave the Army so I trained in teach­ing. But when I was told I might have the chance that I could have the Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer’s job at this Reg­i­ment, I de­cided to put the teach­ing on the back­burner. In

terms of women serv­ing on the front­line there’s still work to be done.

It’s a very phys­i­cal pro­fes­sion and, in gen­eral, women are phys­i­cally less big than men so there’s an is­sue there. We want to make sure that women who go into that role are well looked af­ter. There’s a lot of work still to go into this to make sure we have the right equip­ment and the safest way of look­ing af­ter women in those roles. There are is­sues that im­pact on women work­ing so closely with men on the front line, some­times be­cause men be­have dif­fer­ently when women are there, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause women aren’t fit to do the job. The stud­ies that are go­ing to go on in the next few years to see how best to open up all roles to women in the Army can only be a good thing. The key mes­sage would be: we have so much to of­fer, it would be a shame to miss out on all the tal­ent that women have.

‘The first week I was in com­mand I at­tended a meet­ing and I was the only woman in the room.’

Trousers, Prin­ci­ples by Ben de Lisi, £45, polo neck, Red Her­ring, £12, neck­lace, £15, all at Deben­hams. Hair and make-up: Kayleigh Brock.

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