Sian, part of our team at Woody's Lodge

Sian Woodland: an inspiring female veteran

Recently, I was incredibly honoured to be nominated for a Welsh Veterans Award in the Role Model in the Community category; this is amazing recognition for any veteran! It was particularly special as I grew up in the forces, both of my parents were in the Royal Air Force. I was born in a British Military Hospital in Germany and we lived on a military base there until we moved back to the UK when I was three years old. Where I grew up in a small town in Hampshire called Alton, near RAF Base Odiham.  

Sian Woodland, an inspiring female veteran at Welsh Veterans Awards in June

Joining the Armed Forces

Like many people, joining the Armed Forces wasn’t exactly what I had planned but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, other than my dream of becoming an Air Hostess, which I couldn’t do until I was 21, and I was fed up of being in school. My eldest brother had joined the Royal Navy when I was in my final year of school and he seemed to be having a great time, making lots of friends and having loads of new experiences! So, about six months after my brother joined in 2001, I also signed up to the Royal Navy, when I was 16.

The Royal Navy gave me the opportunity to travel around the world! During my time, I completed a tour of the Gulf region, which is where I was awarded my first medal. 

As well as the travelling and the chance to see the world, I ticked off a major milestone whilst I was in the Royal Navy: I bought my first house! I felt so grown up, a few years ago I had been bored at school and here I was just a short time later, a homeowner! 

However, what had been such an exciting and significant achievement quickly turned sour when I left the Royal Navy after five years of service. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming an Air Hostess now that I was 21 but with a house and a mortgage to pay, and then the breakdown in my relationship left me alone, desperate to find any job because I was struggling financially to make the mortgage payments alone and ultimately ending up having to sell my house. 

If it wasn’t for the support of my parents, I would have found myself with no job, house or any security at all. It was such a struggle, leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life to start something new, whilst struggling to maintain my financial responsibilities. I was searching for some kind of normality, but everything felt so difficult. 

Adjusting to life as a civilian

I needed a job quickly when I left the Navy, which meant that I fell into retail and my dream of becoming an Air Hostess had to be put on hold. However, I absolutely loved my career in luxury retail!I worked my way up to Retail Manager and managed high-end concessions such as Whistles and Ted Baker. The companies that I worked for were always so supportive and I loved being face-to-face with customers. 

When I was 23, I finally conquered my dream by becoming an Air Hostess for United Arab Emirates! It was amazing, once again, I was travelling to exciting places and making lots of friends from all over the world. 

Meeting Paul

Life is unpredictable and as low as everything felt when I had initially left the Navy, it spun a complete 180 degrees when Paul Woodland walked into my life! 

Sian and Paul Woodland

Who knew that a chance encounter at a charity fashion show would completely change my life? I approached Paul after recognising that he was in the military. He was serving in the Royal Marines at the time and was about to go on a tour of Afghanistan. I loved and understood everything Paul was doing in the military as I had experienced it myself. It was easier for him to use technical words that ‘civilians’ wouldn’t understand. We had an easy, fun relationship and I loved him for being so passionate at what he did. 

It was so hard to see him leave on a Sunday, when he would go back to work. We would call it ‘Sunday Anxiety’; we could never relax, and we always found ourselves counting the hours down to when he would leave again for the week. 

When Paul was in Afghanistan, I tried to keep busy, hoping to make time pass as fast as possible. We had no way of contacting each other unless he rang, he had limited WI-FI and limited access to social media and emails. So instead, we would write each other lots of letters and I would send him parcels to remind him of home. It’s a strain that many partners and Armed Forces families experience, it’s not just the distance and lack of intimacy, it’s the worry and always waiting for news. 

And then it happened, the one thing that you hope will never happen, the news that you dread when you have a loved one in the Armed Forces: Paul was killed. He was in a training accident with the Special Boat Service, just weeks before he was due to return for a second tour of Afghanistan. 

Paul 'Woody' Woodland in his Royal Marines uniform

Adjusting to life as a civilian was one of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced but adjusting to life without Paul changed me forever. Suddenly that feeling of Sunday Anxiety was with me all of the time. I was permanently waiting for his call, for a letter, to see him walk through the door. I was hoping for the day where there would be a knock on the door and there he would be, saying surprise, you didn’t think I was really gone, did you?!

Following Paul’s death, I immersed myself into raising money for military charities, I stopped working in retail and began to work for charities instead. 2017 was an incredible turning point as Woody’s Lodge was set up in Paul’s honour! Raising money, helping other veterans & their families and working for Woody’s Lodge has helped me to come to terms with the loss of Paul and realise his death wasn’t in vain.

Being nominated as a Role Model of the Year in the Welsh Veterans Awards, means so, so much to me because our experiences as veterans, or as the families of veterans is so important and it needs to be recognised. The only way to get that recognition is to keep talking about our experiences, our lives and our journey. I am lucky to have my wonderful daughter Sofia today, to be a part of the amazing team at Woody’s Lodge and to be able to continue to share and support other Veterans and their families every day. 

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