Lockdown Podcast: Bill Oliphant, CEO of the Royal Naval Association

Bill Oliphant, CEO Royal Naval Association

Series 2, Episode 3

“The best bits of the Navy without the b******s!” That’s Bill’s take on the Royal Naval Association (RNA). 

 From boy scout to sailor, for Bill it’s been “loads of ships and lots of people.” Having Served in the Royal Navy for 37 years from the age of 18 and now CEO of the RNA, Bill spent 20 years at sea and then found himself “in Army pyjamas as much as Navy uniform.” 

Bill likes a challenge and his latest is refreshing the RNA to help members through the pandemic and beyond and to get Serving people involved from early on during their Service, ready to support them when they become Veterans. 

Here’s what everyone said…..

Boris Johnson  00:02

You must stay at home. Stay at home.

Rachel Owen  00:09

Hello, and welcome to ‘Lockdown!’. Hosted by Steve Bomford with Mike Davis-Marks. Our Armed Forces operate in challenging environments. Week-by-week, we’ll explore what we can learn from their experiences.

Mike Davis-Marks  00:24

Hi, Steve, I hear for the next interview session, you’ve got an old friend of mine, who now runs the Royal Naval Association. Bill Oliphant.

Steve Bomford  00:35

Unbelievably, an old friend of yours. I’ve done it again, haven’t, I found someone else that already exists in your address book?

Mike Davis-Marks  00:41

Well, this is a challenge. You’ve got to find someone that isn’t, so we’ll look forward to that.

Steve Bomford  00:46

I think it might need to be a different Navy.

Mike Davis-Marks  00:50

I’ve got friends in the South African Navy, the US Navy, the Australian Navy, French Navy.

Steve Bomford  00:57

Okay, I’m not sure I’m accepting this challenge. But I’ll give it a go. Shall we have a listen anyway?

Mike Davis-Marks  01:02

Let’s do it. 

Steve Bomford  01:06

Bill, can you briefly tell me a little bit about your time in the Royal Navy?

Bill Oliphant  01:11

Yes, Steve, thanks. 37 years goes in a flash. It’s quite bizarre. I was brought up in the middle of Fife as a youngster and I was in the scouts. And I guess some of the values of scouting when I was young… our Scoutmaster was a dynamic, charismatic chap, and had us out and about doing all sorts of bits and pieces. So to find myself in the military, at the age of 18, I don’t suppose was a surprise when I look back, although there was no great intention for that. And I joined as an Artificer’s apprentice, hoping to do an Air Engineering apprenticeship. But I was one of 300 boys that joined on the third of September 1982. And, there were only five apprenticeships in the Fleet Air Arm, and none of which were for Airframe and Propulsion. So I ended up doing Marine Engineering. Anyway, four years down the track, somebody clearly spotted something, and I was sent to the Admiralty interview board and they obviously thought that Oliphant hadn’t had enough training, after four years. So off he went to Dartmouth to go round the buoy again. So I think there are doctors out there that did less sort of training time than I did, to be perfectly honest, because it was something like six and a half years before I found myself in a comfortable job. And nevertheless, it was great fun, and loads of ships, loads of establishments, lots of jobs, and lots of people, which actually was probably the thing, above and beyond all of this, which I just enjoyed the most. I was a single child. So I guess when I went away to scout camps and had all my chums around about me, I loved that, you know, and to me, I remember phoning my mother during new entry and saying, ‘Mum it’s like scout camp, and you get paid for it as well.’ So yes, I found myself in this fantastic organisation, which I found hugely fulfilling, not least, because of the people, and it was very different.  You do your first 20 years, and it’s all about going to sea and building up those experiences within the Service. But then after Staff College, I got the opportunity to go into the ‘Joint’ world. And it just so happened that I went to the Joint Force Headquarters, just after Staff College, and I joined there literally two weeks before 9/11 happened. So things sort of took off and I was involved, firstly with the operation to push out the Taliban from Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. But then 2002 we were involved in the planning for the Iraq piece in 2003, and then, of course, went out there to actually execute that in early 2003. So that was a fascinating appointment, you know, to have big things to do like that and smaller things interspersed. There was a NEO – Non-combatant Evacuation Operation –  that we got involved with as well, which was hugely interesting, and just allowed me to see how that operational level of planning and of the Joint piece worked. Hugely interesting. So, my career there on in very much had a Joint flavour to it. And I found myself often in Army pyjamas as much as I did Naval uniform in the last sort of 18 years or so. But in my penultimate job, for example, I went down to Naples to the Joint Force Headquarters down there. And of course, I’m a logistician, but having had all this operational experience through the years, it was kind of brought to bear there. I thought I was actually going down to A5, which is the plans area. I found myself in J3 which is the operations area, which only usually is Warfare Branch that do that. But I was surrounded, I was looking after the Ops Support area, so I had people on my team who were looking after things like ballistic missile defence, CBRN, counter IED, and then latterly, we had cyber defence and cyber defence as well, to look after. So hugely interesting and of course, I wasn’t an expert in any of those fields. But, but then again, if you know, if the colonel is aware in charge of that section of the headquarters, needs to know how to do the injections on a News R8 computer to get a Sea Dart away, then something’s desperately wrong. So it was fine, my guys gave me the tactical piece, and I helped them with the operational piece and it all worked very nicely. And of course, it was multi-national, German, Canadian, French, and American were my section leaders, so it was hugely rewarding. And I genuinely thought I was out to grass in the, in the sort of NATO piece as a Captain but my final job, I was asked to come back and be the captain of the base here in Portsmouth, which was a great honour and a hugely important time because it was preparing the base for the arrival of the new carriers. And indeed, the Queen Elizabeth arrived during my time there. So that was hugely rewarding and a nice way to finish the career after all these years. So yes, yeah, and here we are now.

Steve Bomford  08:03

Do you know, that’s fascinating stuff because, as you know, I’m a civilian, as is Rachel, my partner and business partner and we came with the sort of assumptions that civilians have that, you know, it’s a soldier, sailor, airman, you drive tanks, boats, or planes; and that’s a military career. And, of course, when you’re in an organisation for an incredibly long period of time, you do an awful lot of different things. And I think what we’re always surprised by is the sheer diversity of roles that exist within the Armed Forces and I must admit, I learn something every time I talk to somebody, I think ‘crikey I didn’t think of that, didn’t realise that’, so we always find that endlessly fascinating. But on the subject of careers, you’ve also more recently taken on the role of CEO of the Royal Naval Association, which, again, I’m going to demonstrate my ignorance, I know that as being buildings with Royal Naval Association kind of above the door, and that is, I have to be honest, until I met you, the extent of my knowledge. So for the benefit of any listeners who are as ignorant as me, could you just tell me a bit about the Royal Naval Association – what it does and how it is a benefit to its members? Because I believe it’s a membership based organisation? But anyway, I’m sure you can explain that.

Bill Oliphant  09:23

It is, it is indeed, Steve. Yeah, so the RNA is effectively a rank blind membership organisation, primarily for Serving and former Serving Royal Navy personnel who are proud of their Naval Service. And our central tenets are unity, loyalty, patriotism and most importantly, comradeship. And what we seek to do is to maintain the Naval ethos, while enjoying sharing experiences with like-minded people and of course, supporting each other in times of need. The Association was formed in 1950. Got the Queen’s Royal Charter in ’54, and I would suggest that the mission of the Association is to deliver camaraderie to our membership through events, through communications, and through welfare support. But it’s very much part of this, what we describe as the ‘Naval family’. You know, we have the sea cadets, there’s the Serving Navy and then there are a number of charities whom I know that you’ve done podcasts with before, for example, the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity with Adrian Bell, in this sort of support piece beyond the Naval time. So yeah, we’ve been talking to new entrants recently and of course, it’s explaining to them just what the Royal Naval Association is all about. And, of course, we’re about camaraderie. But when you’re 18 to 22, you don’t need camaraderie from us, you’ve got camaraderie coming out of your ears. And of course, these guys are about to go off to do their phase two training and go to their ships and be in their mess decks, and you know, their mates are going to be around about them so they don’t need camaraderie from us. But nevertheless, we tell them about what the association has to offer and just as a sort of gesture of goodwill, we’re saying to them, here’s 300 pounds for your class to have a reunion in three years time. And again, we couldn’t do that, of course, 30 odd years ago, we all disappeared to the four winds but the kids are better connected. They’ll have their WhatsApp group or something that you and I won’t even know because we’re too fuddy-duddy. But they’ll be connected, and so they’ll be able to keep in touch. But of course, it is that exciting period of a career where people tend to bomb burst to do their initial training, and they bomb burst. So it’s the point of comradeship isn’t it, it’s ‘Oh, yeah, I had an experience, I had to share the experience with those people going through that hideous period of new entry. When these roughy-toughy Chief Petty Officers were shouting at us all the time for having our hands in our pockets or sort of a button not done up or a bit of dust in the welt of the shoe or something equally ridiculous. But to get together again, with those people that you went through an experience with, sort of introduces them to that sort of level of comradeship. But, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to talk to them about the Naval family and obviously, we’ll ask them the question, you know, ‘How long is it do you think, it is before you’re entitled to a Naval pension?’ And of course, we’ll get the right answer. It used to be 22 years, but I think it’s 20 years now. And then we’ll ask them a question, for example, ‘How long do you have to Serve to get the full resettlement package?’ And again, I’m sure we’ll get the right answer, say 5 years. But then we’ll ask them ‘How long you have to Serve in the Royal Navy before you are entitled to the support of the Naval charity sector afterwards, if things don’t go well for you, and you need a bit of support? And of course, the answer to that is 1 day. So the point is, by the time we’re speaking to these people, these youngsters in week 7 or week 8, yes, they’ve joined the Royal Navy, and they’ve signed a bit of paper to say that by then, but what they won’t realise is that the Naval charity sector is already bound into a contract with these people to take them through until ENDEX. So that’s important for youngsters to know that they’re not just in the Royal Navy, they are in a Naval family for life. So we’re the membership part of that. We’re the fun, if I can use a rude word, I like to describe it as ‘the best bits of the Navy without the b******s!’ So forgive me, but yeah, and it’s all about, well, it’s not all, it’s all about fun. But it’s all about building resilience as well, because mental health is up on the agenda. And if I’m absolutely honest with you, I said to you earlier, that the Royal Naval Association was founded in 1950. If you think about the timeline of that, the war finished in the summer of ’45. Much of the fleet, if not most of the fleet, was still in the Pacific. And of course, fully anticipating that the war would go on for an extra, for another couple of years, only the A-bomb brought that to a rather rapid conclusion. But nevertheless, because the Navy was there, and the Navy was involved with that post-war piece in that part of the world, not least, looking after the Prisoners of War, repatriating them and all the rest of it, who were out there. And then, of course, there were a couple of other operations that kicked-off just after the war, which involved the Navy too the Palestine quarantine operation, for example, you may have heard of the Corfu Channel incident and things like that. So the bottom line is, I think the Navy was a little bit later in demobbing from after the war, than maybe the other Services. So of course, back in those days, you were told to ‘pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’ and you didn’t really need to discuss these, you know, the horrors of war that you’ve experienced, with folks back home, you don’t need to burden them with that. So it was all tucked away, it was all tucked away. And of course, nobody had invented what we know describe as ‘PTSD’. But of course, it existed. In a greater or lesser form, everybody must have carried some images in their mind. But I think probably what happened was that sailors would bump into each other in the pub on a Friday night, and have a chat to each other and just share their experiences and I’m absolutely convinced that they would have found this a therapeutic discussion, to be able to share these experiences with people who understood and were able to share theirs and I think this probably happened up and down the length and breadth of the country in every pub. So some bright spark said, ‘crikey, we need an Association, so we can get together and talk about this.’ So I think bizarrely, although mental health is not described in that term, the Association was probably established on the back of mental health. I don’t deny that there’s comradeship. There’s an element of celebration and pride and all the rest of it, but it must have been there, albeit in the subconscious. So it’s fascinating. To go back to your question, you know, what is the RNA about? Why was I attracted to it? In my last job at the Naval Base, of course, I was involved quite heavily in people aspects there and got to know the folk from the Welfare Services within the Navy and what they were doing. So I had my eyes opened in many ways, and indeed, the charities supporting Serving members of the Naval community there. So, when when this came up when I was due to leave the Navy, I did my resettlement package and one of the things that they did with us to try and help us decide what we were looking for was, you know, write down 10 qualities in a job that that interest you. So you know, we wrote down whatever it was, a challenge, dynamic, pay etc and then we were told to set them up in a little grid. Put the 10 of them down the left hand side, but the 10 of them up along the top. And then score them against each other and see which one comes out on top. Well, I found that my principal driver of all of these things was I wanted a challenge which was fascinating because I do like a challenge, but it came out in black and white. And the scoring thing was fascinating. So when the Royal Naval Association came to pass and I found myself going for an interview, I don’t think I quite realised the challenge I was facing, when I took it up. And I found an Association which was a lovely Association, lovely people doing good things, but I found it desperately outdated. So that’s where I kind of set to, to try and make it more accessible and interesting for maybe a younger cohort. So that’s where we are with the current challenge at the moment, Steve.

Steve Bomford  21:24

And you forgot to throw in a pandemic, just to make everything a little bit easier for you. Which kind of brings me on to my next question or questions really, in terms of, how has the RNA and I guess, more specifically, its members, been affected by COVID-19, lockdown, take your pick… what’s happened to your membership?

Bill Oliphant  21:47

Well, of course the membership has been affected as indeed, has everybody in the country. But I was very pleased with how we reacted to the pandemic. If you can imagine, as I said earlier, we look to deliver camaraderie through through events, through community communications and welfare support. But clearly, there were no events. So we retuned our central office towards the welfare support piece and I brought in a communicator, to help us with that piece at that stage. And it was really rather nice actually, if you remember the start of lockdown when we had the Shielding of the elderly and things like that. So the branches, we said, you know, branches, we must set-up a buddy-buddy system, or if you’re not going to do that, the committee needs to have a rotor, so that they’re ringing round the more vulnerable members of the of the membership, ‘the shipmates’ as we call them. So, that was all established, that there are two types of membership in the Royal Naval Association, you’re either, in a branch and we’ve got about 270 branches up and down the length and breadth of the country, membership of about 11,000; or you can be attached directly to central office, which is known as the HQ roll. And, we looked after the 1100 or so members who are on the HQ roll. So we literally phoned round the HQ roll and checked to see that everybody had a personalised system in place, in terms of support, and of course, 99.9% did. But, there were the odd few who didn’t. And I remember, one old boy up near Hazlemere, for example, saying, you know, he was 94, his wife was 91, she was less able, so he was the one that was going out to do the foraging as it were, to get food and bring it back to the house. So of course when we said to him, ‘shouldn’t you be Shielding at your age?’ He said, ‘Well, that’s the way it is isn’t it.’ So we were able to get onto the database, find somebody else in the vicinity, in fact about two streets away, bizarrely, and connect with this old boy and his wife and they were able to take round his groceries for him during that particularly difficult early stage, if you remember. So little success stories like that was rather lovely. But then it became a communication piece, where we were pushing out advice notes and help and things like that. But of course, I don’t think any of us quite realised that it was going to last as long as it has done and affect our lives in quite such a way. So, recently, we’ve we’ve been building towards how we launch ourselves out of COVID in the future. And I’ve just interviewed and employed somebody to be our Welfare Programme Manager, and she will be setting up befriending groups and networks like that, so that people can key into those and of course, that will be done with partners like ASDIC, the Association of ex-Service Drop-In Centres, with you guys for example, if people need a little bit of help and feel as though the therapy that they can get from the Company of Makers might help. So it’s all about connecting with these like-minded charities out there, that can bring their particular niche piece to the table, it’s lovely, it’s lovely.

Steve Bomford  26:42

So, that’s quite a lot of change for an organisation that’s been around for quite a while. How’s your membership reacted to that and obviously, I think it’s quite interesting that COVID has probably accelerated some of these ideas as well that you’ve had. So first and foremost, how’s the reaction from your membership been? What’s the news there?

Bill Oliphant  27:05

So I think folk are desperately frustrated that they’re not able to meet, because frankly, that’s what it’s all about. But there is a realisation that, we do need to change our focus, to make it more attractive to the next generation coming through. So as you say, it’s a delicate time, because I’m in that no man’s land, between the Board having approved the plans for change, but they’ve yet to be approved at the National Conference, which is the way our governance works. So we’ve got a conference on the 21st of December and people might ask, ‘why on earth are you having a conference so soon before Christmas?’ Well, I can tell you why, because some of the ideas, that we would pay subscriptions early in the new year, but what we’re seeking to do is do away with subscriptions and move from a subscription-based organisation, to a donation-based organisation. And of course, what we want to do with that is to allow us to reach more of our Naval Veteran community out there, Steve, so that we have a sense that there are some hidden, lost and possibly lonely out there who we want to try and reach. And of course, by doing away with subs, it makes the whole thing a lot more attractive. And of course, it’s all, you know, you said in your introduction, that you don’t know much about the RNA. And maybe that has been a fault of our communication in the past, maybe you ought to, to know more about it because the Royal Navy is a fairly strong brand and well-known. So the Royal Naval Association too is a good brand. But we need to, to bring it out to people’s consciousness more, not just to Naval Veterans, but to wider society as well. But, but certainly, I want to be able to reach more of the Naval Veteran community than we’re achieving at present. So it’s interesting times, and it’s very exciting. Of course, it’s risky, because that’s a different financial model and the Chief Exec’s sweating on that, obviously, but yeah, I think it has to be done. And, you know, our budgets for the Association for the last few years have been deficit budgets, which means, you know, if we don’t get legacies in to square that, it means that we are slowly but surely nibbling into our reserves and we don’t really have much to show for it. Or the question, I mean, in fairness, you could say, that the Royal Naval Association has done what it was set up to achieve. You know, it’s given those Veterans from the Second World War the opportunity to meet, as we discussed earlier, and do that, but I’m very glad to say that the Board is not of that opinion that the job is done that, that actually, we’re more ambitious for the Association and want to reach more people and change the shape of the membership graph, which sadly has been in decline for a long time. So this is a real opportunity, Steve, and as you say, it’s COVID which has really made us sit back and think about, you know, what are we all here for? and how can we do better, frankly?

Steve Bomford  31:26

Yes, I think that’s a question everybody’s asking themselves. It’s a very, well, it’s challenging now, I think. Financially, the coming years are going to be far more challenging for all organisations, businesses, no matter what. There’s going to be some big issues there. Is your conference going to be online? I assume it is.

Bill Oliphant  31:45

Yes, it is. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Steve Bomford  31:47

So how many members will you expect at that then?

Bill Oliphant  31:50

So I mean, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? I mean, nine months ago, who knew how to work Zoom or Teams or any of that nonsense? And we’re all experts now. So we put back our AGM in the summer, it was supposed to be in June, of course, that was cancelled. And our Charter, I said to you earlier, we’re governed by the Royal Charter, so we weren’t really in the business of writing to Her Majesty to say we’re struggling to have an AGM this year. So we conducted it online. And we did that in August. And it was amazingly successful, surprisingly successful. So we had good attendance at that. So I’m pretty comfortable that most branches will be able to be represented at the conference, the way it works is that each branch will send a delegate to the conference. But of course, it’s an open conference. So I think there are 500 places available on Zoom Pro. So there we go. So let’s see how it goes. And I hope that the membership will understand where we are, challenges ahead of us, and be prepared to take that leap of faith, I suppose. But of course, as you would expect, organisations like the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity, are helping us, supporting us with this sort of activity. So we are extremely fortunate in that we are part of the Naval family and other elements of the Naval family are looking after us while we make this adjustment.

Steve Bomford  33:53

Well, I wish you the best of luck, you and your team the best of luck with this. I’ve got one final question. So for our listeners who want to find out more about the changes, when they’ll become official, and obviously you’ve got a new role around welfare; how do they find out a bit more about that? because I think that is very topical. I think you’re absolutely right and important. And I guess, probably the same answer here is, how do people just get in touch if they want to find out more about the Royal Naval Association?

Bill Oliphant  34:23

Yeah, absolutely. So we have a website and if you just type in ‘Royal Naval Association’,  to your search engine, and hopefully we’ll pop up at the top if the Royal Navy hasn’t popped up slightly one ahead of us, but we’ll be there on that first page, I’m sure. But yeah, that’s the obvious place to look these days. To be perfectly honest, I could give you a telephone number, but nobody will have a pen handy. 

Steve Bomford  34:59

So give us a telephone number, you never know do you because they can always replay this don’t forget. So if you don’t have it to hand, just email it all across to us because I can see – we’re doing this on Zoom – for our listeners’ benefits I can assure you Bill is now operating his phone at haste to ascertain the number for the Royal Naval Association. But if you don’t have it, don’t worry. If you do, please let us… yes, he’s got it. Brilliant. So, what’s the telephone number for those interested?

Bill Oliphant  35:26

So one of the things we did set up, Steve, back in late March, early April, was a helpline number. So that any of our members could get in touch with us and this number is still valid. The office number is Portsmouth obviously, 02392 72 37 47. And our helpline number for out of hours and emergencies is 07542 68 00 82. So, we’re contactable on either of those numbers or indeed, if you look at the website, as we say, royal-naval-association.co.uk, you’ll be able to see a ‘contact us’ and these phone numbers are on the website, of course as well.

Steve Bomford  36:22

Okay, so anybody who Served in the Royal Navy can get in touch, am I right in saying that?

Bill Oliphant  36:27

Absolutely. So the Association is open to the Naval family. So obviously, folk who have Served in, our rulebook says, ‘Her Majesty’s Naval Forces’, so that includes the Royal Navy, the Womens’ Royal Naval Service, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. If you were a civil servant who went to sea, with the Royal Navy, for example, NAAFI canteen managers and things like that, they’re all eligible to be part of the RNA. But of course, as we say, it’s about the family. So wives, brothers, sisters, family, girlfriends, exes, you know, Associate membership is available as well, for those who have an interest in the Navy and the Association. So as I say, it’s not just for those who Serve, but those who have been touched by Naval Service in some shape or form. So yeah, please come along.

Steve Bomford  37:50

So that’s great, thank you very much for that, thank you for all the information. I, once again, have learned quite a lot. And so, just a reminder to our listeners, that if they want to get in touch, you’ve provided all the details. I’m sure me and Mike will talk about it afterwards. I’d just like to say, thank you very much Bill, for your time.

Bill Oliphant  38:08

Steve, it’s an absolute pleasure and for what it’s worth, I think you guys are doing a fabulous job up there at the fort and I hope to be able to take more use of it in the new year when restrictions are lifted, we are a bit more sorted with our new welfare programme manager being in place. And I can assure you, that you guys will be one of the first people that I’ll be inviting her to make contact with when she takes her post up in January. So thank you, thank you for the opportunity for me to talk this afternoon as well. It’s very good of you. Thank you.

Steve Bomford  38:55

Thank you. That’s very kind of you and thank you again for joining us. So Mike, I think that was another fascinating interview. I had to be honest as I said, I didn’t really know much about the Royal Naval Association at all. So again, I’ve learned quite a lot. What did you think?

Mike Davis-Marks  39:14

I learned quite a lot as well. I mean, I although I’ve known Bill since we Served together about 20 years ago now in a dusty desert hut planning for operations, there was a lot in that interview that I didn’t know and you asked the most interesting questions that reveal quite a lot. So I thought it was brilliant.

Steve Bomford  39:38

A dusty hut? Weren’t you both in the Navy?

Mike Davis-Marks  39:41

While we were out in the desert planning for and executing what is now known as Gulf War Two. And, you know, my particular focus was on ensuring that we had maritime security in the region, that you know, that tankers, other ships of trade, could pass unhindered by any aggression.

Steve Bomford  40:07

Supply lines.

Mike Davis-Marks  40:08

Indeed. It’s always been one of the Navy’s main roles, keeping the sea lines of communication open. So Bill had a reasonably similar career to mine in that he spent the first 20 years at sea, as did I, and then after that, he then spent the remaining 17 years, mainly ashore, and mainly in Joint areas of operation and by ‘Joint’ that means working with the Army and the Air Force as well as the Navy. And in fact, that’s where we first met on a joint operation out in Qatar, preparing for and executing the second Gulf War. But actually, he’s had a number of interesting roles aside from that and was involved in NEO, which is stands for Non-combatant Evacuation Operations, it’s where you get civilians out of harm’s way when there’s local wars and things happen. And that’s a really vital role that the Armed Forces do, the Navy in particular, because it has the floating assets to go near places and isn’t often recorded, or, you know, made aware in the public. But he also had a fascinating job at Naples, where he was in operations because of all his background as a logistics guy and his last job, which I met him recently before he retired, was Captain of the base at HM Naval Base Portsmouth where we both now live, so a fascinating Naval career, I thought.

Steve Bomford  41:45

Yes and a very busy one. So being, you know, once again, from the sort of civilian perspective of this, you don’t think about that the planning involved in getting civilians out of harm’s way is something that actually happens when you kind of have, you know, shall we say, ‘a confrontational situation’, you just think you kind of go and do it really?

Mike Davis-Marks  42:04

Yeah, I think the thing about the Armed Forces, all three Services, is that they are remarkably flexible, in terms of what they can do. So you know, one end, which is what the taxpayer pays for, they’re prepared to die for their country at the high end of warfighting. But that capability can be, the way it’s trained, can be used in all sorts of soft ways in terms of diplomacy, or non-combatant evacuation operations or seizing drug runnings and a myriad of other things, hurricane relief; so often, a ship from either the Navy or the Royal Fleet Axillary, will be the first to go in after a hurricane has devastated a Caribbean island, for example. So that variety, and of course, now in Liverpool, they’re helping with the rapid testing of a whole city’s population.

Steve Bomford  43:03

I think they’re going to be involved in vaccinations as well aren’t they, bring their resources to that as well.

Mike Davis-Marks  43:08

I certainly think that their logistics expertise will be crucial, ensuring we try and get 67 million people vaccinated, you know, in a timely manner. So absolutely, they will be part of that, and that’s the beauty of the Armed Forces in that they can do that. It’s called ‘Military Assistance to the Civil Power’ and it’s not spoken about very much, but it happens every year when we have floods and things like that. They come out and help.

Steve Bomford  43:34

You know, the more you talk about it, because I’m thinking about the Chinook, about that dam as well, last year wasn’t it with all the flooding as well. So yes, it is quite surprising how involved the military is in civil issues.

Mike Davis-Marks  43:45

Or you have to get the RAF out of bed for that, but that’s another story. I mean, I think it was, must have been a Wednesday really anyway, but that’s another story. Moving on, though, after what was a pretty interesting, diverse and varied military career, he then took over the reins of the Royal Naval Association, which like you, I didn’t know a huge bit about, and I’m learning quite a lot now as I get more involved in it. But actually, it’s a kind of, it’s obvious, really, that there’s an Association for everyone that’s either Serving or has Served, that sort of covers everything, and he’s taken over at a period where there’s quite a lot of change required to update it and refresh it and make it relevant to them all and if I know, Bill, he’s the person that can achieve that.

Steve Bomford  44:34

Yes, not only probably bring it up to date for the 21st century, but the 21st century in the middle of a pandemic, because he’s talked a lot about welfare, wellbeing, which I think is a significant challenge for all of us at the moment, not just those that have Served, but certainly it’s an appropriate time to be changing the purpose, I think or adding that to the purpose.

Mike Davis-Marks  44:54

Yeah, he talks about, you know, the RNA being there for people at times of stress, which can be whilst their still Serving, but it also can be when they’re making the transition from Service life to Civilian Street, which can be highly stressful for people. And also, and particularly this year, is when they are retired and perhaps, you know, isolated and if the RNA is one thing, it’s comradeship. And that camaraderie is so important if people are feeling lonely and isolated. So I think it’s got a fantastic service to give and it probably needs to make itself better heard in order to do that.

Steve Bomford  45:33

Yes, and I thought, they’ve also been making a considerable effort around online as well, certainly the local Association, because we work with them through Agamemnon. So it’s quite surprising how these things have changed and evolved in the circumstances we now find ourselves. 

Mike Davis-Marks  45:47

Yeah well hearing Bill speak, he’s really got the bit between his teeth and really wants to move the RNA ahead in a different operating model, you know, actually get more of the Serving involved, right from the day they join. So I think he’s the person that can deliver this and I feel that we’ll be hearing more about the RNA during these podcasts.

Steve Bomford  46:12

Absolutely, and as he said, he likes a challenge. So I think he’s got one there to sort all that out. Lots to do. Lots to do.

Mike Davis-Marks  46:20

Yeah. So he talked about the future, he talked about moving from a subs-based membership model, which is, you know, going to a donation base, I think he’s got to get that through the National Conference, for it to be approved. But if it is, then that means that people can join the RNA without any financial commitment, right from the day they join the Services and I think that’s really important, because then you grow the membership naturally, rather than have to persuade people to join. And I think there’s a lot that Serving people can do to help those that have stopped Service, and either working outside in Civvy Street or have retired. And it’s all, he uses the term, ‘all part of the Naval family’ and the RNA can have an umbrella role here in bringing it all together. So I think that’s really quite exciting.

Steve Bomford  47:13

I think it’s really important as well because, as we’ve talked about many times before, the whole issue of social isolation that’s been compounded massively by, you know, lockdown, restrictions that we live in. And many people are finding this very challenging. But if they’re already a member of that Naval family, as you say, there are opportunities there to reach out to former colleagues or other shipmates.

Mike Davis-Marks  47:39

Yeah, so I think there’s a really big message here for your listeners, which is actually the RNA exists, and it exists to help you if you’ve Served for one day or more, because you become a Veteran after one day’s Service. So if you’re out there, and you’re listening to this, the RNA is out there for you. And I think the details, you’re going to promote or just Google ‘RNA’ on the website, and the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity’s supporting it as well. So two great organisations, charities working together. I think if you’re out there and listening to this, please get in contact, details to follow.

Steve Bomford  48:20

Absolutely, that’s one of the primary aims of this, to uncover people’s stories and find out a bit a bit more about military and Naval Service. But also to provide some information and encourage people to get support or help, even if it’s just having someone to talk to.

Mike Davis-Marks  48:38

Yeah, perfect. Absolutely. He’s got a nice turn of phrase as well, I won’t quote all of it because I’ll probably get told off, but he uses quite a lot of Naval jargon; and listeners may have picked up on the word ‘ENDEX’? He talks about, you know, cradle to grave, well ENDEX is Naval slang for the grave bit of that. But people may not have realised that when they were listening to it, but if you need any decoding of anything Bill said, or indeed any of your Naval… there’s a wonderful book called ‘Jack Speak’, available through the normal services, which breaks down a lot of this Naval idiom, and tells you what the origin behind it is and also may surprise you that it is comes from a Naval source in the first place, we talked about this before. But there’s some fantastic phrases that we use every day, like ‘by and large’, which are completely Naval-originated.

Steve Bomford  49:38

I’m glad you take the time to explain these things because sometimes I’ll just be sitting there asking question after question about it just to understand the language. So please continue being my Naval babelfish if you like ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’, you’ll know what that means.

Mike Davis-Marks  49:52

Indeed, the answer is 42. But I think, you know, you could do one episode on Naval jargon. We could talk about all the expressions that are in common parlance today that people just don’t realise originated from a Royal Navy warship many years ago, Nelson’s Navy type of stuff.

Steve Bomford  50:13

Maybe we should incorporate that, a featured bit of Jack Speak per episode. We’ll have a little think on that one.

Mike Davis-Marks  50:19

Excellent. Anyway, lovely interview. Well done you, you’re getting quite good at this, aren’t you?

Steve Bomford  50:24

Well, they do say practice makes perfect. Yeah, I have got, you know, expert help.

Mike Davis-Marks  50:29

Well, you’re not referring to me on that I suspect, but brilliant opening the lid on the Royal Naval Association. I think that you’re hoping to have some more shipmates, as they’re called, from the RNA in future episodes.

Steve Bomford  50:45

Absolutely. We are. And we’re looking for guests from all over the UK because as you know, we do all this remotely. So we’re definitely looking to expand the people who can come on onto the podcast and tell us a little bit about their experiences, and maybe some of the challenges and how they’ve got around them as well.

Mike Davis-Marks  51:01

Well, I very much look forward to hearing those, Steve, so well done.

Steve Bomford  51:04

Thank you very much. And thank you once again, Mike.

Rachel Owen  51:11

Thanks for listening.  The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, marines and their families, for life.  If you, or someone you know, could do with some support, give them a call on: 023 93 87 15 68.  Or drop them an email on:  support@rnrmc.org.uk.  If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more, please subscribe.                                                                                                                              

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The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, marines and their families, for life.

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