Remembrance 2020 - Celebrating our Solent Veterans, David's story
David Noyes is the Chief Operating Officer for the Southampton and County-wide care group. To help us celebrate Remembrance Day, he shares his story as an ex-armed forces veteran, letting us know what remembrance means to him.
“As well as serving Chief Operating Officer at Solent, I’m also the Director with responsibility for our region-wide High-Intensity Mental Health service for veterans”, said David. “I’ve been with the Trust around three and a half years, and working in the NHS for almost eight, but the NHS is my second career; from the age of 18 I served in the Royal Navy, a career I enjoyed for 28 years.
“As is quite often the case, my family had quite a history of military service, and my father had been a fighter/bomber pilot in the Fleet Air Arm back in the 1950s and 60s, serving in the Korean War. It was perhaps this that caught my imagination as a youngster and encouraged me to join, although poor eyesight meant that I could not follow in his footsteps into naval aviation – I got close at times!
“Like many careers, I have thousands of memories about the things I experienced, the places I went and most importantly the fantastic people I served with. Having started my career in 1985, by 1987 at the age of 20, I found myself serving in HMS BRAZEN in the Persian Gulf, where at the time the Iran/Iraq war was at its height. Our job was to escort British flagged shipping through the Straits of Hormuz and up the Gulf as far as Kuwait. Tensions were high, with each side exchanging surface to surface missiles. I vividly remember that the waters around Bahrain were mined, and we were tasked to escort some Royal Navy minesweepers to go and clear a route. This was my first real introduction to the different emotional experiences and the adrenaline rush of being called to 'Action Stations' - versus the almost monotonous tension of sailing through mined waters for several days on end. This was also the first time I saw how the different experiences affected people in different ways.
"A few years later, between 1994 and 1996 I served in HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, one of the UK’s aircraft carriers of the time. This was about as close as I got to following in my Dad’s footsteps! Sadly, my Dad had cancer and passed away very shortly after this photo was taken, but it was a thrill for me to be able to treat him to one last day at sea in an aircraft carrier before he died. My time in ILLUSTRIOUS was pretty well dominated by the international crises caused by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and in particular the Bosnia conflict. As part of the effort to enforce peace in the area, the UK deployed several thousand troops on the ground, and our job was to provide them with air cover when required.
“I got engaged in late 1994, and in the 15 months between getting engaged and getting married, I was away in the Mediterranean for 12 months. Sustaining an aircraft carrier group at sea is no mean feat, and we would replenish stocks (at sea) from our support shipping every 4-5 days. This included fuel, ammunition, engineering stores, as well as more indulgent items like fresh food. When we did this, my job was to co-ordinate movements on the flight deck to make sure it didn’t get fouled or clogged up and to stream the right stuff into the right part of the ship.
“Perhaps my most abiding memory of my service career was the people. It is no exaggeration to say that I was consistently struck by the cheerful stoicism of service people - ordinary people doing extraordinary things, often in very extreme circumstances and conditions. And there is a real parallel here for me to what I experience and see, day in day out, across the Trust. Naturally, the NHS has been very much in the public eye and affection throughout the Covid-19 crises, but I have been blessed to see the amazing dedication and commitment of all our people to delivering the best possible service every single day.
“In the early part of my career, there was no internet or mobile phones. Once we were away, we were away, and the only contact we would have with home would be by letters or parcels. If something serious happened at home, it might be possible to fix up a radiotelephone call – but this was, thankfully, infrequent. Of course, this is what we all got used to, and we knew nothing else. As time has passed and technology improved, modern-day service personnel are much better able to stay in regular touch with their loved ones at home. This is, in most cases and most of the time, a good thing, but not always.
“Much later in my career (2011/12) I was seconded to an Army Logistics Brigade and did a tour in Afghanistan. I remember saying to my wife and children that we would never fall into a routine of contact because it wasn’t always possible to make a call or send a message at a set time. I vividly remember being on the phone to my wife when an attempted suicide attack went off nearby - with a tell-tale huge and noisy explosion very audible down the phone line. I had to go (work to be done) quickly and couldn’t call back for a couple of hours, during which time I fear my poor wife must have gone through a range of emotions waiting at home.
“The experience in Afghanistan was very different indeed for me. I was accustomed to life in the Navy and knew what it felt like to live and operate in a ship. In the land environment it was different – no less teamwork, and equally excellent people, but naturally the different environment meant that the risks and threat felt very different, and I guess due to proximity a little more personal.
“People often ask me if I miss that life, and the honest answer is no. I look back and reflect with great fondness, mostly for the people. You make very good, deep and often long-lasting friendships with those close around you who go through the same adversity, and this is a great thing. That, along with the professionalism and determination to get the job done, is what was so special for me. And similarly, to the NHS, these guys are still out there, day in day out doing amazing work, whether in the public eye and consciousness or not. And so, at this time of remembrance, not only do I remember and mourn friends and colleagues lost, but also those who follow and serve today.”