By Lawrence Amoah

Time as a Soldier in the British Army & Transition to Civvy Street

I enlisted in the British Army in October, 2007 as a recruit at Lichfield Army Training Camp in Staffordshire, England. On the faithful day of 22nd October, 2007, there were a total of 42 young recruits who had made the difficult and life changing decision to enlist, serve their country, affirm our allegiance to the Monarch and obey the orders of officers in Command.

The 42 recruits had come from various ethnic and racial backgrounds comprising British and Commonwealth Soldiers (i.e. Fijians, Ghanaians, Kenyans and Ugandans). At the time due to the Wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a shortage in British Army Personnel which needed to be boosted. The Commonwealth recruits were there to fill the gap as we (Commonwealth Soldiers) predominantly originate from ‘not-so-affluent’ backgrounds, developing countries with less and scarcity of resources and at the time needed some sort of job security as we have migrated to the UK. Every Commonwealth Soldier had their own unique motives for enlisting to serve in the British Army. However, all our reasons were generally underpinned by some common similarities as described above.

I will say there was a mutual benefit or symbiotic relationship gained by both the British Army and Commonwealth Soldiers at that time i.e. the British Army needed to boost the number of personnel and Commonwealth Soldiers also needed some form of job security and secured livelihood (i.e. generally termed as ‘Greener Pastures’).

Day 1 – As a Recruit waiting to be picked up at Lichfield Train Station
Feature Image Credit: Lawrence Amoah

We were picked up in multiple vans and driven to the Training Camp in a convoy. Upon arrival at the Camp, we were immediately ordered to line up in alphabetical order according to our Surnames. We were then greeted and briefed by our Troop Sergeant and Troop Commander (names withheld). During the briefing, we were informed of the rigorous training and training exercises we will be undergoing for the next 6-months as Sapper recruits.

Immediately, following the briefing, the Troop Commander asked all the recruits a simple question and I quote, ‘’ Do you all realise and know that following your training, you could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight in the war and could die’’? I believed that was the first attempt in trying to break us mentally and to conscientize us to immediately start thinking as recruit soldiers and not civilians.

Those who were unwilling to go through the gruelling training for the next 6-months were given the option/ choice to ‘chicken out’ (I’m happy to report that no one in our troop ‘chickened out’ at the posing of that question!)

We were then immediately marched into our dormitory where we would live for the next 6-months and subsequently split into Sections, Teams and Dormitory mates. My troop was Hackett Troop.

Preparation for Selection and Medical Assessment

After completing my University education in Ghana, I had the opportunity to undertake my National Service in the Western Region of Ghana. During my National Service in Ghana, I had made enquiries to enlist in the Ghana Army as an Officer but was bitterly met with a sad and cold reality. I was advised to ‘grease the palm’ (i.e. bribe) the person who was in-charge of the recruitment process at the time. This saga occurred in the first quarter 2007. Luckily for me, during that time I had a 2-year Student Holiday Visa which I had only expended approximately 1year.

So faced with the harsh reality of paying bribe to serve my own country, and also possibility of completing my National Service with no meaningful prospect of gaining employment immediately after my service, I pleaded with my Dad and Mum to try and raise some funds – not to pay for the bribe to enlist in the Ghana Army, but to pay for my flight to travel to the United Kingdom in the pursuit of greener pastures.

Time as security Guard and Army Selection Day
Feature Image Credit: Lawrence Amoah

Upon arrival in the UK, I was met at Gatwick Airport by my aunty whom I stayed with for approximately 6-months until I started my basic army training. Many thanks to my aunty for accommodating me during that time amidst all the challenges and difficulties we had. It’s all part of the real life experiences abroad and has shaped me into the person I have become today – Aburokyire Abrabo! (Can be literally and simply translated as life stories/ experiences abroad).

At the time, it was generally the order of the day for university or tertiary graduates from Ghana who had student holiday visas or even visitor visas to enlist as Commonwealth Soldiers because most of us had no real prospects of getting descent jobs back home due to lack of work opportunities. Off the top of my head, I can confidently estimate that close to thousand (1000) university graduates from Ghana joined the British Army in 2007 including 4 who ended up in my troop in basic training. This could be deemed as a major brain-drain of Ghana’s future leaders (its youth!).

The scarce jobs in Ghana were offered to the highest bidder and those who had connections (i.e. knew someone at the top of the food chain). This always leave a bitter taste in my mouth. To be discussed another day! Indeed, ‘’the way it is, some things will never change’’ by Tupac Shakur.

Yours Truly,
Dr. Lawrence Amoah, MSc, CMIOSH, FIIRSM

Article Republished with Permission from Dr. Lawrence Amoah

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