We Shall Tell Their Story

Growing up she wanted to be three things: a nurse - a soldier - a nun. Here Sandra Patterson, from Wolverhampton, explains how achieving two out of three can’t be bad.

We Shall Tell Their Story CIC encourages the research the military history of Caribbean people who have served with the British Army. Through her work Sandra shows how the smallest piece of information can unveil a story that anyone can uncover with persistence and direction.


She explains how her personal family history has driven her to encourage others to research theirs so military archives can accurately reflect the service of all communities.

“I was around ten years old when I learned about black history. I used to watch Remembrance parades on TV with the family and I thought why are there no black or brown faces?

It was a few years later when I was training to be a nurse that I first saw the military nurses who were in the same sessions as us. I liked the way they presented themselves, how they all sat together, they were confident and I just thought I want to see if I can achieve that.

Here’s where the two of the three come together – I could be a nurse and a soldier.

When I signed up it was about proving to myself, and my two daughters, that if you put our mind to something you can achieve anything. I joined the Army Reserves so I could carry on looking after them train to be a nurse and train to be a soldier.

It was hard work but my family and my community helped me out a lot.

People did see a change in the way I conducted myself during my nursing training after I had done my basic military training. With the Army the only person you are in competition with is yourself. My self esteem, my confidence, my focus, my drive all dramatically increased which was then transferred into my uni work.

I joined my local unit which was the Royal Artillery or ‘Gunners’ as we call them and it was great to do something different. I realised I was using my training as a mental health nurse when we had breaks in our military training. So it made sense to combine the two and so I became a Combat Medic where I use my medical skills in the artillery unit.

In 2014, during the commemorations of 100 years of World War One, I went to France with my unit and that’s when everything from those days in my childhood watching Remembrance came back to me.

It was very poignant. Soldiers from my unit were able to lay a cross at their family graveside and I thought ‘Wow! That’s powerful’.
I came home and found a relative, Private Syrus Patterson, had served in the 6th Battalion British West Indies Regiment during World War One. When I later found his grave I was able to lay my own cross just like the others had done.

We Shall Tell Their Story was started so I could capture as many stories as I can, while I can. We need to have the stories documented and they should wear their medals on Remembrance parades.

For the last six years Marky’s Barbers in Wolverhampton have filled the window with images of Jamaican soldiers who have served. It gets people talking, coming in off the street wanting to know more. It is an exhibition I am really proud of because it connects our communities. The display is a talking point and people tell their stories.

I go into schools and talk to communities using the experiences of veterans to reinforce my belief that the stories and soldiers are: To be seen, to be heard, to be validated.

I want people to enjoy history, to connect with it; to think ‘I want to go and research’. History should be about connecting, not distancing.

We all have a place in history and I don’t want the future to have young people saying, like I did, where are the black and brown faces. We can make a difference and make sure that going forward our stories are included.

The British Army has given me so many opportunities and I am very grateful for the confidence and the skills it has given me.”If you would like to consider a part-time career in the Army Reserves similar to Lance Corporal Sandra Patterson then please follow the links here to see how she became a combat medic and explore the other opportunities for you in the British Army.

As the largest provider of apprenticeships there is an opportunity to be paid £21,000 as you learn a skill.

Army Engagement: https://jobs.army.mod.uk/engage/