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Leading from the Start

Retired Colonel Audrey Smith, now approaching 80, has always been a trailblazer, especially for women in the military. Here is her story.

Audrey always actively pursued the life she wanted, which often meant rejecting the social norms at the time. She went to Nottingham University in the 1950s, when few women went onto higher education, studying economics, a subject considered more typical for men. While at University, she joined the Officer Training Corps (OTC), which led to her joining the Regular Army in 1962.

In the early 1960s, Audrey attended the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) Training Centre, when the syllabus included what were considered ‘female pastimes’ such as sewing and flower arranging. However, Audrey wanted to “get stuck into the action” and the WRAC also offered the promise of adventure, travel and independence.

Women had very limited roles in the Armed Forces for most of Audrey’s military career. For example, in the Royal Navy a submarine could not dive while a woman was aboard as it was considered unlucky, and women could not serve on ships until 1990.

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