My Answer to “Child Soldiers” in the British Military

Why Under 18s Should Continue To Serve In Britain’s Military



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Still only 17 years young. Qualified as a parachutist (yes, those ears were really handy for turning into wind)… the proudest day of my life so far. And now a war in Oman to go to. Early 1972.


Well meaning Human Rights groups are trying to change the British military structure that has gone on successfully for decades. Here is what they don’t understand.

I was born in Lochee, a very deprived area of the city of Dundee, Scotland in the mid 1950s. I was brought up in a Victorian tenement building sharing an outside lavvy with three other families. My father drank heavily and constantly threw my mother around the tenement like a rag doll. When I was around 7 or 8, I would step in to help my mother and get battered myself. At the age of fourteen, having spent more time looking after my mother than going to school, I chose to run away.

After chasing a dream of becoming a professional footballer but not making the grade, I joined the military. I entered the RAF Regiment just after my 17th birthday, did my basic parachute jumps and was sent off to a small simmering secret war in Dhofar Province, Oman. I was given special dispensation to go as a minor as my unit was undermanned.

I was over the moon.

The next 3 years was all about listening and learning. Trying hard to get the basics right first time, and learning heaps about myself and my mates around me. From time to time, it allowed me to take a moment and look at myself in the mirror, and reflect. It took me around the world…the desert plains of Oman, the jungles of Malaysia, the rugged landscapes of mainland Hong Kong…a world away from Lochee, Dundee.

At the age of 20 I passed the grueling course for selection into 22nd Special Air Service Regiment,  and after that I never looked back!

Joining as a youngster was good for me and it probably saved my life. It certainly kept me out of jail, off the streets and off drugs. It didn’t eliminate my voice, creativity or character, as those of you who know me or have read my blog know.

The military gave me a set of front teeth, as I’d had mine smashed out in an  accident at the age of 16. It showed me how to carry out my personal administration. Health and hygiene…do laundry, stay tidy and keep my bed space, shower and toilet immaculate. It showed me the importance of being a team player. How to listen to and show respect to others, in particular your elders, and how to never prejudge others. It gave me a family environment, something that I never had before, but would cherish for the rest of my life.

Today, many of us are in our 60s and 70s, and we’re still very much in touch with one another. For some who are sadly no longer with us, they’ll receive a visit from time to time. Where I can catch them up on what’s been going on…and now they never interrupt.

The 23 year military career that I was lucky enough to have, didn’t really end the day that I took off my uniform for the very last time. It continues through comradeship, through knowledge and through pride. It set me up for life. I still have the same awareness, the same routines…even though I’m now a wee bit (OK, a good bit) slower.

Joining the military as an under 18 year-old (“child soldier”) is the best thing that happened to me… and thousands of lads and lassies before, during and after me, I’m sure.

I really hope that for thousands of others in the future… it never changes.


Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit

Categories British Defence, British Politics, British Security, Politics General, UncategorizedTags, , , 6 Comments

6 thoughts on “My Answer to “Child Soldiers” in the British Military”

  1. Bob,
    I just wish that the PC people could have had our experience. 2 up 2 down slum. I joined as a regular at 17 1/2. Best thing I ever did. As for child soldiers, after passing out with a good trade, all of us under 19 were NOT allowed to go to Korea.

  2. Too many people with influence are so out of touch with reality. They have, or choose to have, no idea of what it takes to keep a country safe and if they get their way we’ll be in a worse state than we already are. Sorry, rant over.

  3. Bob. I was raised in Charleston and Lochhee til we moved when I was 10. I also joined the Raf Regt at 17. Back in 1995. Things were better then than it was for you no doubt growing up; but still a hard life. Again the military taught me the same lessons in life which I try to instill on my son’s today.

  4. Bob, I totally agree. Although not an army recruit at 16 myself, during my childhood as an army brat and in addition to my parents, it was the men of my Dads regiment who influenced me growing up. I spent a lot of time with my dad in camp and his colleagues taught me patience, gratitude, consideration, humbleness, initiative, self control and so it goes on. This in turn helped me when it came my turn to serve.
    These people, like are judging the regiments of our armed forces in the same light as the thugs and terrorists who kidnap and force kids around the world to carry out their evil deeds.
    Shame on child-soldiers, the last time I checked we volunteer for service in this country.
    They need to come out from their offices once in a while. Apologies for the rant, but I do feel that I need to stand up for those men who taught me so much.
    Thank you raising and highlighting this topic

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