When Heloise Goodley quit her City job and decided to attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, she had no prior military experience. On her arrival she was a complete army novice: she couldn’t fire a rifle; she couldn’t march; she couldn’t shine her boots; she couldn’t even iron her uniform.
An Officer and a Gentlewoman charts Goodley’s absorbing journey through Sandhurst and and on to Afghanistan, and gives an insight into the life and customs at this remarkable institution.
With wit and sensitivity, Goodley details her experiences as a cadet and the painful transition from civilian to soldier. Moreover, she rejects lazy preconceptions and sheds new light on what it is like to be a woman in the British Army.
An Officer and a Gentlewoman is the first female perspective on Sandhurst and the making of a female British Army Officer.
One of the things on my Things Before 30 list is to read a non-fiction book every month. I’m forever seeing non-fiction books that I think sound interesting but really rubbish at getting round to reading them instead of my usual diet of as much fiction as I can get my hands on. I thought this book sounded really interesting, I come from a family with a lot of ties to the army and an old uni friend went through Sandhurst and is currently serving as an officer in the British Army so I thought I could really enjoy reading it. If nothing else it would give me a bit of an insight into the experience my friend would have had at Sandhurst as he attended at a similar time.
The book does begin with two caveats, one from the Ministry of Defence explaining that since Goodley attended Sandhurst in 2007 a lot of alterations to the process have been made so the experience she had is no longer the same as that of current recruits, and one from the author explaining that it has been necessary to apply some fictional licence in the telling of the story. Whilst I completely understand the need for both of these, I did find that as I was reading I did end up wondering for example which of the characters were entirely fictional.
The book is definitely a very interesting read. The first chapter follows Goodley as she flies out to Afghanistan for the first time, the book then jumps back to when she was working in the City in the banking industry and then follows her making the decision to join the army and then from the third chapter on her year at Sandhurst. I found the descriptions of the Sandhurst experience really interesting. Whilst there were things in there that I’d heard a little about before such as the rigorous room inspections, there was so much I didn’t know – so many times throughout the book I was surprised by the details and extreme nature of some of the rules, regulations and procedures.
The book is also an entertaining read. There were a number of times where I found myself chuckling away at something that Goodley described, as I’m writing this there’s one scene that springs to mind that has had me laughing all over again. At times it is also quite a touching account, there are moments of personal achievement and also of reflection that help to ground the book in its reality.
I’m really glad that I read this book, I don’t know if the author plans to write a follow up at some point about her experiences post Sandhurst but if she does then I’ll definitely be reading it.
An Officer and a Gentlewoman is published in hardback by Constable in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.