Constable £16.99

An Officer and a Gentlewoman: The Making of a Female British Army Officer, By Héloïse Goodley

From grindstone to war zone – the City high-flyer who joined the Army Air Corps

In the mid-noughties, Héloïse Goodley was in her mid-twenties, toiling away at a high-flying City job with all of the associated perks – top salary, big bonuses and 18-hour working days.

"I bought sharp suits, wore power heels, sat finance exams, and spent two hours of my day at the clemency of London Transport on the Underground, commuting to a desk in the shiny glass and chrome of Canary Wharf." It was, she writes, "utterly soul destroying".

Four years into a successful career, after an encouraging conversation with a military man at a dinner party – and with a serious desire to extract herself from the world of the Financial Times, corporate dinners and caffeine – Goodley decided on a major occupational change. Within months, she'd won a place on the officer training course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and started a new life as an Officer Cadet: "the lowest of the low," as she tells her father. "A worm."

Goodley's book gives an in-the-trenches view of what it's like to transition from a civilian's life to that of a soldier. From the rigours of the physical training and the endless, mindless, disciplining tasks of a super-structured day (four-minute breakfasts, bedding ironed to perfection, litter-collection and loo-cleaning duties, radios continually tuned to Radio 4), Goodley captures the frustrations, agony and boredom, as well as the adrenaline-fuelled highs and the joy of camaraderie.

She describes map reading exercises and war games; training for military engagement during nuclear, biological and chemical warfare by playing rugby in four layers of clothing, rubber gloves and gas masks; and uncovering unexploded bombs from the Second World War while trench-digging in Norfolk armed with spades, picks and Redbull. ("Because in reality the exercise was actually less about our ability to dig a hole in the ground and more a painful experiment in sleep deprivation.")

She survives on contraband chocolate from her granny and by sneaking catnaps under her hat during Sunday chapel. She celebrates the slice of "faux-freedom" every Sunday afternoon when cadets are sent out to run their cars for half an hour to keep the batteries alive: there's a great scene of the Academy grounds full of cadets' cars cruising around at 20 mph, with Goodley driving along singing to her Girls Aloud CD.

There are many telling moments and insights. On her first weekend break, temporarily back in civilian life, she's still questioning her decision, loath to return to the hell of Academy discipline; weeks later, on another break, she's in a bar with friends and realises she's developed a new-found appreciation for Sandhurst and for the Army's merits – including a moral framework that the City lacked. And she doesn't gloss over the "re-engineering" aspects of her experience: researching an essay on leadership, she studies mind-control techniques used by cult leaders, some elements of which – sleep deprivation and fatigue, dress codes, verbal abuse, confusion, and time-sense deprivation – "rang with sinister familiarity".

Less convincing are her assertions that neither she nor her family made the connection between her enlisting and the life-threatening dangers of combat, and that "there is no sexism in the military". But as a published version of the author's prize-winning diary kept during her time at the Academy, the book nonetheless offers an engaging, fly-on-the-wall view of a person developing a new outlook on life.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living