Four female soldiers will today attend an awards ceremony celebrating extraordinary achievements by women from across the UK and beyond.
The soldiers are part of a select group of 450 women invited to the Women of the Year awards at the Royal Lancaster London.
Each woman has been carefully handpicked in recognition of their achievements and contributions to society and the wider world.
The four soldiers have been selected following their contribution to the King’s Coronation earlier this year.
Major Fran Sykes was the parade commander for King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the Coronation and led the mounted unit on parade.
She was also the commanding officer for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration and for the state funeral of the Queen.
Before joining the Army, Fran, 36 from Harrogate, was an assistant bar manager and worked as a receptionist.
“I wanted a job that gave me the opportunity to have a full career, without having to study at university. The Army offered me the chance to work my way up from the bottom, learn on the job and try loads of new things."
“My current role is deputy chief of staff for a regional headquarters. I am responsible for a wide range of functions including HR, security, logistics, medical, communications, finance, media and legal."
“It’s not unusual to get an email or call where I don’t know the solution. But problem solving is the fun part!”
Fran has deployed on operations in the Falkland Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq. She says,
“Throughout my career I have been lucky to train in Germany, Cyprus, Canada and the USA."
“My memories are always of the people I meet, from all walks of life, and worked alongside, including from the partner nations."
“In the Army, I’ve tried many new sports and obtained several qualifications, such as sub aqua instructor, riding instructor and rugby coach."
“Joining as a non-graduate, the Army has funded and supported me to complete both BA (Hons) and MSc degrees.”
The Army doesn’t care about your gender, it just cares that you are competent and do a good job, it is an incredibly diverse workplace which champions women." Captain Amy Cooper,
Royal Horse Artillery
Looking back to her role during the King’s Coronation, Fran says,
“Whilst taking part in the Coronation itself was a great privilege, it was the overnight rehearsal which was most memorable. Practising under the cover of darkness whilst the city slept around us was very atmospheric and a touch eerie.”
On being a woman in the Army, she says,
“The Army has never made me feel like I can’t do something because I’m a woman. All roles are now open for women and there is the opportunity to try anything you like."
“Don’t be worried, the support is there, others have proven it is possible and you never know where it might lead.”
Of the Women of the Year awards, Fran says,
“I was shocked to receive an invitation, it’s a huge honour, and I am looking forward to meeting so many inspirational women.”
Captain Amy Cooper, also King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, was the second in command during the parade in London on 6 May. She rode behind the commanding officer and her unit’s trumpeter.
“My most memorable moments were the noise from the crowds on the Mall during the procession and my horse not behaving!”
Amy was made a Member of the Victorian Order (MVO) for her role commanding the gun carriage during the Queen’s funeral procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in September 2022.
After graduating from university, she worked full-time with horses after placements with a law firm and a hedge fund.
Amy, 32, from Motcombe in Dorset, says,
“I joined the Army to be challenged, to be outside more, to work with like-minded individuals, to get out of London, to learn new skills, to travel, and to do something life affirming."
“The Army has made me realise I don’t need lots of money to be happy. It’s all about people and job satisfaction.”
Amy has deployed to Estonia, Latvia and Poland on Operation Cabrit. She says,
“The landscape was spectacular in Estonia. We did live firing on the beach and the Estonians brought their families to watch. The exercise accommodation was very cosy. We had bell tents with fires inside."
“The Army has given me so many opportunities over the last eight years, from show jumping in Italy to meeting the Monarch, and I have worked with some incredible people.
“The Army doesn’t care about your gender, it just cares that you are competent and do a good job, it is an incredibly diverse workplace which champions women."
“It will be a great privilege to meet lots of high achieving women at the Women of the Year awards and celebrate their work.”
Warrant Officer (Class 1) Gemma Begley, Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) 14 Regiment Royal Artillery, was responsible for the smooth running of all regimental rehearsals in the lead-up to the King's Coronation gun salute at Stonehenge.
She supported her regiment’s commanding officer at the 21-gun salute.
After training as an AS90 (self-propelled gun) operator at the start of her career with the Royal Artillery, Gemma converted to an L118 (towed howitzer) operator. In doing so, she became one of the first females to work on an artillery close support gun line.
She was also the Battery Sergeant Major during gun salutes at Stonehenge for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, the death of the Queen and the proclamation of the King.
Gemma, 37 from Mansfield, says,
“I am the most senior soldier within 14 Regiment RA and work alongside my commanding officer to ensure the voices of the other ranks in the regiment are heard."
“I am also in charge of the discipline of all service personnel within the regiment.
Gemma is married to John, a serving WO2 in the Royal Artillery. They have a son, Lucas, aged 6.
“My biggest challenge was when I became a mum and having to find a work life balance. But with lots of support from my husband and friends and family, I can now enjoy both.
“The Army has changed my life as I have had a fantastic career, met my husband, and become a mum. I have travelled the world and met the most amazing people that will be friends for life."
Gemma has a message for women thinking about a career in the Army,
“After 21 years of service, I would say join the Army. The laddish culture is outdated, and we are more of a modern Army.”
Corporal Katharine Davies, Royal Corps of Army Music, led a 70-piece military orchestra at the King’s Coronation concert in Windsor.
Musicians from the Orchestra of the Household Division and the Countess of Wessex's String Orchestra took their cue from her.
She was the first woman to lead this prestigious, combined orchestra, which has had a starring role in other significant national events including D-Day 75 and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.
Katharine, 47, from Bristol, is an accomplished violinist who performed with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and English National Opera before joining the Army in 2016.
“What has most surprised me about the Army is the difference with the civilian world, not just the financial and job security aspect but the difference in working relationships."
“In the Army we work together as a team as a priority and look out for each other more.”
Since joining, Katharine says she has “greater respect and recognition for the service and sacrifice of the men and women in the Army. I feel privileged to be able to do a job I love.”
The British Army is recruiting right now to fill 10,000 jobs across the UK with more than 200 roles to choose from covering everything from frontline combat and cyber security to helicopter pilots, chefs and support roles.
If you’re aged 16 to 50 and if you want to find out more about a career in the Army, click here.