Moving Experiences: responses to relocation among British military wives


This book chapter discusses the ‘double whammy’ of losses that ‘military wives’ often sustain when they accompany servicemen to overseas postings. It argues that, among other things, trailing wives are removed from: relatives, friends and former support systems; careers and/or other valued roles that contribute to their sense of self; comforting familiar environments, including former homes; sometimes, even their own children, who, because of repeated military relocation, are sent away to boarding school. The chapter suggests that recovery from these emotionally unsettling experiences, which can amount to culture shock, may be hindered by an on-going failure within the military to recognise servicemen’s wives as independent, autonomous individuals.


This chapter considers the effect of the military as a 'total institution' upon the emotions experienced by trailing servicemen's wives, particularly in overseas postings. It argues that, having already sustained a number of painful losses due to military relocation, these women encounter additional undermining losses because of their paradoxical positioning as neither members of the military, not completely apart from it. This positioning requires wives to negotiate a contradictory tension between identifying with, or resisting, their incorporation by the military institution. At both extremes wives risk alienation; identification may alienate them from aspects of their former personalities whereas resistance may alienate them from the military community. The chapter argues that in order to recover their emotional equilibrium, wives need time to mourn their losses and to rebuild their fragmented identities. However, these natural processes of adaptation may be impeded by the military's failure to recognise wives' independence.

Full Reference

Jervis, S., 2007. Moving Experiences: Responses to relocation among British military wives. In: A. Coles and A. M. Fechter. Eds. Gender and Family Among Transnational Professionals, pp. 103-123. New York: Routledge.