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It wasn’t until 2018, that the restrictions on the roles female military personnel were able to carry out within the Armed Forces lifted. Three years later, as of April 2021, women accounted for 11 per cent of total strength in the UK Regular Forces.

We’re proud to call some of those women, who worked at the highest echelons and paved the way for more women in positions of leadership within the military, our colleagues. Find out more about each of them below.

Carol Betteridge OBE – Head of Clinical & Medical Services

Carol Betteridge speaking to David Cameron in Afghanistan
Capt Carol Betteridge meets Prime Minister David Cameron in Afghanistan - (Pic: Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC)

Carol Betteridge, 62, joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service in 1990 and deployed to Iraq as an operating theatre sister. She was sent to Malawi and assisted in the co-ordination of the evacuation of casualties from Lebanon.

Throughout the majority of her career she worked with the Royal Marines in the Surgical Support Teams exercising in Germany, Egypt, Oman and Norway, where she also qualified in arctic survival.

During the war in Afghanistan, Capt Betteridge was appointed Commanding Officer in support of 3 Commando Brigade and ran the field hospital in Helmand Province during British presence in Afghanistan.

After a seven-month tour she returned to the UK and the Royal Centre of Defence Medicine (RCDM) based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham as Second in Command.

In 2012 Capt Betteridge, was awarded the NATO Meritorious Service Medal and an OBE for her leadership in the 2012 Operational Honours List for her leadership in Afghanistan.

Shortly after, Capt Betteridge added to her achievements when she was appointed as Chief of Staff (COS) and assisted with Operational planning for the withdrawal from Afghanistan and military assistance to the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Capt Betteridge retired from the Royal Navy in August 2015 and joined Help for Heroes, assisting veterans with their healthcare within the NHS, including prosthetic care and acute brain injury liaising with the MOD, other charities, and government agencies. She is now Head of Clinical & Medical Services here.

Fun facts:

  • What should we know about you?
    I have size three and a half feet military socks and Combat Boots were a challenge.
  • What inspires you?
    Veterans and their families
  • What advice would you give to any women thinking about joining the Armed Forces?
    It's best thing I did, and I would join again but I understand this is not every woman’s experience.
  • Do you have a favourite memory from your time in service?
    Being awarded my OBE

Julie Thain-Smith

Julie Thain-Smith holding flag
Julie Thain-Smith - (Pic: Julie Thain-Smith)

Julie has been a part of the Charity since 2018, working as a Veterans Clinical Advisor. She supports Veterans and their families in Scotland as well as Afghan civilians across the UK who formerly worked under the command of UK Armed Forces (Project Solidarity).

After 19 years in the NHS, where she trained as both a general nurse and a midwife, she began her Naval career in 1990 when she commissioned into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS) Reserve as a Lieutenant.

In 2006 Julie was promoted for a second time to Commander and held successive appointments within Navy Command HQ, where she deployed to Kabul in December 2013 for 11 months.

As Commander Joint Medical and Chief Medical Advisor to Commander ISAF, a four-star US General, Julie led a team of more than 50 multi-national military and civilian personnel. She was also responsible for advising at Ministerial and mentoring at General Staff level for both the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in the development of their healthcare and medical logistics systems.

Julie Thain-Smith stands in uniform
Julie Thain-Smith stands in uniform - (Pic: Julie Thain-Smith)

Julie was also responsible for the co-ordination of Coalition Force medical care across the whole of Afghanistan and lead medical planner in theatre for the NATO forces drawdown and the Resolute Support Mission.

Captain Thain-Smith was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Operational Honours in June 2015.

Her last assignment before the end of her engagement was as Assistant Head of the Strategic Commissioning Team at Defence Medical Services (Whittington). In this role, Julie liaised with the NHS trusts across the UK to ensure Armed Forces personnel achieved equity of access to healthcare, commissioning healthcare and services required by Armed Forces personnel throughout their career and whilst transitioning to civilian life.

Julie has many career highlights, but as the coronation beckons, she says being assigned as an equerry to HRH The Duchess of Cornwall for a day and having been fortunate enough to have met HM The Queen Consort a number of times. 

“She has a fabulous sense of humour and is very down to earth on many occasions,” said Julie.

Fun facts:

  • What inspires you?

Endeavouring to do the right thing within my sphere of influence and to step up to the mark if you can do something about changing a situation. There are too many pitiful keyboard warriors around for my liking.

  • What advice would you give women thinking of starting a career in the military?

Do it and have lots of adventures, you’ll have the opportunity to see and experience things you never dreamed of.

Julie-Anne Fulford

Julie-Anne spends time with children in Africa
Julie-Anne Fulford spends time with children in Africa - (Pic: Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC)

Julie-Anne, 35, was the first military nurse in the history of Surrey’s Frimley Park hospital to take on the nurse in charge role, alongside her civilian colleagues.

Assigned as head of department for Critical Care on March 20, 2020, she ran the ward during the first few weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the pressures of her job, and balancing a home life with two young children, Julie-Anne coordinated wellbeing rooms for the NHS staff at the hospital to recuperate in. She asked the public for help and emailed companies to see if they wanted to get involved, which responded overwhelmingly with support and donations. Soon, the initiative which started with just her ward, had expanded to the whole hospital.

In recognition of her work as part of the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps during that challenging time, Julie-Anne was recognised with an Associate Royal Red Cross in the 2022 New Year’s Honours. 

Julie-Anne now works as a Very Seriously Injured Complex Case Manager at the Charity, providing bespoke support for veterans living with catastrophic injuries including traumatic brain injury, multiple limb loss, sight loss, paralysis, and serious mental health conditions.

Fun facts:

  • What should we know about you?

When I first became a nurse I used to faint at the sight of blood - I had to keep getting exposed to blood to get used to seeing it and stop fainting.

  • What inspires you?

My friends inspire me, I have a circle of five best friends who I have been with my whole Army career - celebrating their successes inspires me to always keep going, that we have no limits to what we can achieve as a group.

  • What advice would you give women thinking of starting a career in the military?

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I once got asked if I was in fancy dress when I was in uniform as I did not ‘look Army’; this encouraged me to always push my limits. Self-worth does not need to be proved, it is something you should recognise in yourself and believe.

  • What has been your favourite memory from your time serving?

Bumping into a relative of a soldier who died in Afghanistan and being told we did the right thing for the soldier. Sometimes, decisions made on Ops haunt you and having closure by meeting a loved one will always stay with me.

Sarah Hattle

Sarah Hattle stands in front of a submarine smiling
Sarah Hattle on tour - (Pic: Sarah Hattle)

After 21 years of service in the Royal Navy, as a Warfare Officer, Sarah joined us as a project case manager, focused on tackling loneliness and isolation amongst the veteran community. Since then, she has gone on to become Sport, Activity and Fellowship Lead for Wales and Hereford spending time with, and helping Veterans live well after service.

Upon joining the Charity, she said: “I was a warfare officer (in the Navy). Most of my former colleagues have gone into corporate-type jobs, with long daily commutes. But that’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people, not make money for a big corporation. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference.

 “Twenty-one years in the Navy have hopefully given me a really good understanding of veterans and the military culture. It’s part of who I am. I speak the language and I understand the slightly strange humour us military folk have.”

Sarah had four children during her time in service and said: “I saw a change in attitude to maternity leave – having children, staying in service and going back to sea. With my first child it wasn’t common to stay, and I was possibly judged a bit, but that changed with my later children. Now it’s common place and there are lots of mums and dads who deploy.”

When she isn’t working, Sarah runs the local mountain-biking club and is an independent member of the Snowdonia National Park Authority board. 

Fun facts: 

  • What should we know about you? 
    I was once starred in a reality TV show (I actually won it!)
  • What inspires you?
    People overcoming adversity (however big or small)
  • What advice would you give to any women thinking about joining the Armed Forces?
    Go for it - don’t underestimate yourself!
  • Do you have a favourite memory from your time in service?
    So many! My favourite deployment was to the Falkland Islands in HMS Gloucester. The memories of the work we did in Sierra Leone on the way down will stay with me forever, particularly the people I met.

You can find out more about the people behind the Charity on our Leadership Team and our Patrons and Ambassadors pages.