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Graduate stories - joining the Military Wives Choir

17 December 2015

As a member of the famous Military Wives Choir, Shirley Sanders Ward – who graduated from Abertay back in 2003 – has performed in some of the country’s most iconic buildings, including the Royal Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral and on stage at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End.

This month the choir released their latest single – a Christmas cover of 500 Miles by The Proclaimers – to raise money for Walking with the Wounded.

Here Shirley tells us about her time at Abertay, life as a military wife, how she finally has the job she’s always dreamed of, and why singing with the Military Wives Choir means so much to her.

A caring career – in more ways than one

“During my time at Abertay I studied Social Science and, after some hard work and determination bringing up three children at the same time, I gained a BA in Social Science with Honours.

“I chose Abertay because it had strong links with Angus College where I had been studying social care – a subject I chose because all of my children have had either life-changing medical or learning needs and the help I received from professionals was invaluable in supporting me through these challenging times. I was passionate about helping other children and finding a way, however small, to have a positive impact on their lives.

“The transition from the second year of my course at Angus College into third year at Abertay was quite daunting, but was made much more smoothly due to these links. One member of staff in particular would often stay behind after lectures to discuss any questions we had relating not only to the topic she lectured in but any questions relating to our time at university.

“As a small group who had arrived from college she gave us a huge amount of time and support, even meeting with us in the Student Centre and chatting on a personal level, explaining that she was also a housewife who had progressed through education later in life and was now sitting in front of us as our university lecturer. These early meetings absolutely shaped my time at university as she gave me the confidence to believe in myself, my abilities and what I could achieve in the future.

Life as a military wife

“However, I had already decided to delay my career goals in order to follow my husband and support his career advancement. Very soon after graduating, he was given a new posting and – for the first time – I was required to leave my family and friends in Scotland and move to North Devon. Soon after that I became pregnant with our fourth child, who was born prematurely. It was extremely challenging caring for a sick child hundreds of miles away from any friends and family.

“However, as a military wife you have to make many sacrifices, often spending large periods of time alone, moving often to new places and frequently having to make new friends along with putting your husband’s career above and beyond your own. While this looks bleak I would not change it for the world. I am immensely proud of my husband and the job he undertakes on a daily basis. I have lived in some amazing places and met some wonderful and inspirational people – something that would never have happened if I had not met and married a man in the forces.

Joining the Military Wives Choir

“Of all the opportunities this lifestyle has given me joining the Military Wives Choir has been the most adventurous and rewarding. After responding to an advert in the local newspaper, I turned up alone to meet a group of women who by my standards were already famous. They had six months previously had a Christmas number one single with ‘Wherever You Are’ and had appeared in a television series with Gareth Malone. I had only been living in Devon for a few months and felt that this would be a good way of making new friends. I was welcomed with open arms, friendly smiles and plenty of tea and cake. This support network is open to all wives irrespective of service, rank or even ability to sing – the emphasis being support and a shared understanding.

“Over the three and a half years I have been singing with the choir I have joined these fabulous women on a fantastic journey. We have found ourselves performing in some of the most iconic buildings in the country. One such journey took us to the West End of London to perform on stage with the cast of ‘From here to Eternity’ which was based on the events of Pearl Harbour.

“We have also been fortunate to sing at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall. This performance was to become one of the most emotional events that I have attended and I felt very proud and honoured to take even a small part in remembering those past and present that have been lost or injured in the service of their country. Another special moment was singing ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ during a carol service in St Pauls Cathedral for the charity ‘Seeing is Believing’.

Walking with the Wounded

“While the high profile performances are an honour and a privilege which I will always hold dear to my heart, the main priorities for the choir are supporting local charities – which helps us to forge positive links and support in our local communities – and with charities that support our veterans.

“The charity we are supporting this Christmas is ‘Walking with the Wounded’ which helps re-train and re-skill veterans who face physical, mental or social injuries in order for them to forge a stable and secure career for themselves and their families once they leave the military.

“Fifty women from three choirs – Chivenor, Taunton and Lympstone – came together and recorded a Christmas version of the Proclaimers hit ‘500 miles’ to raise funds for this charity and the Military Wives Foundation. We would love for it to become the Christmas number one, so please do get behind this amazing cause and help us create a legacy for these men and their families.”

After many more moves around the country, Shirley and her family are now settled in Devon where she works in a special education needs role, developing and enhancing the learning of children who, for one reason or another, find education a challenging and difficult environment to be in.

We are delighted she has finally found her dream job and wish her and the other military wives the best of luck in their endeavours to become Christmas number one.

To support the Military Wives Choir and Walking with the Wounded, you can download the single from their website.

To find out more about our Social Science degree, please visit our course pages.

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