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.