by Adam Marchant-Wincott
It’s easy to underestimate how impactful the loss of identity can be on a service leaver or veteran leaving the Armed Forces. It’s a complex area, trying to unpick identity, or make any sense of it. The effects on an individual might not be felt for years or might be felt before an individual has even walked out of the gates or walked off a ship for the last time. But, when you hand in your ID card, either physically or metaphorically (hands up, those who kept it), if you think about it, there is a sense that you’re giving a little bit of yourself and your identity away. That ID card was with you through thick and thin and its loss ‘in Service’ was always going to be costly (£200 in my case. I paid the fine then found it in another pocket….idiot!). I was wedded to that bit of plastic because the institution told me I had to be.
It’s not only your ID card though, is it? Who remembers going to the QM for the last time to de-kit? A mate of mine said that he was “raging when I had to hand in my Mk7 helmet. Something that I had come to love dearly. My bergen was another. 18 years of humping it around the world….you should be allowed to keep the lot”. I think he’s got a point.
Please don’t judge me, but I remember and still regret handing over a green army holdall which had been issued to me within the first couple of days of training and stayed with me ‘faithfully’ for nearly 20 years. It was a veteran of four operational tours, been stuffed in the boot of my car on 15 moves, 7 different quarters, various courses etc. It was worn but undamaged and showed no signs of failing; the zip was still stiff. It had my name on it. It was mine.
Handing that grip over to a member of the QMs staff, knowing that it was destined for the bin, seemed odd to me then and even more so now. Did that bag represent an aspect of my identity? Was my friend’s Mk7 helmet part of his? Like my ID card, that bag had been with me from the start. Could its disposal be a metaphor for how one’s military career might come to an end? Is it right that I should remain so sentimental about a robust green canvas bag? And if that bag was a part of me, and is now gone, should I be seeking to substitute it, and if so, how?
Assuming I can’t have my old bag back, will replacing it with a similar one banish all my sentimentality, or frustration at the QMs, or help me to simply remember my old bag fondly and move on? If that bag was part of my identity, how do I find a substitute, or indeed do I need to find a substitute? If I do, what form does it take? So many questions and they all need an answer.
If it were as easy as popping to a surplus store and buying a new one and all my woes would be cured then I’d be off, credit card in hand, no doubt, but it isn’t, and all were talking about here is a bag.
Is it any wonder then that it can be so difficult to understand one’s own identity, in Service, and subsequently in civilian life, and how identity is impacted in that transition?
I’d be interested to know other people’s thoughts on how they’ve coped with redefining identity and any top tips they’d be prepared to share. I don’t think there aren’t any quick fixes but if somebody knows where that bloody bag is you’ll make me a happy man!