Catherine Swallow, MGC 1971 Leaver

I had no idea when I left Malvern that I would join the Army.

I joined the University Officer Training Corps while I was at Bristol University and it was there that I fell in love with soldiering. In those days women were only just becoming integrated into the fighting Army and it was a great honour to be posted to 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery as the first (and only) woman. It was made very clear to me when I announced my intention to marry that there was no future for me in the Army. (Many years later it was suggested to me by a senior civil servant that I should sue for Constructive Dismissal!)

I spent the next twenty years enjoying life as an Army wife and mother. During this time I started volunteering for SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity, which supported the wives and families of service personnel who often felt alone or afraid. The Cold War was at its height and Soviet attack was regarded as a genuine threat. In due course I was encouraged to take an employed role and a move to London resulted in my becoming a Director. As an Army wife, I had appreciated the capabilities of ordinary people and so I established an ethos in SSAFA whereby volunteers supporting the veteran community could make decisions for themselves and their clients without referring to a higher authority. I described this as principles-based rather than rules-based.

When I was appointed as Deputy CEO I took on broader responsibilities including running the charity’s housing. In 2014 I was awarded MBE for my work over the previous thirty years and at the end of 2016 I bade farewell to a fulfilling working life and embraced retirement. Which I’ve been enjoying ever since…

What does success look like?

Looking forward to going to work every day. If you don’t love your job, look elsewhere.

What is your best piece of advice?

Keep a diary! It is so easy to forget the details of your life. Your older self will look back with affection, amusement and pride on your achievements, successes and failures so commit to writing something regularly.