What it's like being the only Jewish girl cadet at Sandhurst

When Ruby-Rose Mansoor marched in last Saturday’s coronation parade, her mother was bursting with nachas


When my 13-year-old daughter Ruby-Rose surprised me by asking if she could join the local army cadets, I could never have envisaged that nine years later I would be standing on The Mall on coronation day watching her taking part in the pageantry.

Yet there I was, squashed cheek-by-jowl with thousands of strangers, drenched from the endless rain — foolishly, I was wearing only a thin cardigan over my flimsy Spice Girls-style Union Jack dress (pictured at the bottom of the page) — doing just that.

I was parched, in desperate need of a hot bath and an even hotter cup of tea, but feeling proud and deliriously happy. I had just watched Ruby-Rose, now 22, march magnificently along The Mall in the procession to Westminster Abbey for the crowning of the new King and Queen.

My daughter, the only Jewish girl who's an officer cadet in her year at Sandhurst, had been specially selected to be one of those taking part in the procession.

Wearing Sandhurst’s new King Charles III cap badges, and led by their sword-bearing academy sergeant-major — who had been meticulously drilling them for the last few weeks — the young soldiers, carrying their heavy rifles, marched impeccably to the abbey and, after the ceremony, back again along Whitehall, the length of The Mall and through those iconic gates into the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Gathered there with the rest of the military procession, they then gave the new sovereigns a hearty three cheers, which could be heard hundreds of yards away.

When Ruby-Rose joined the army cadets, I had assumed that, just like her many other extra-curricular activities, it would be a fad, lasting anything from a few weeks to a couple of years.

With her exuberance and energy, competitive nature, zest for life and her intelligence, she was always chopping and changing her hobbies. I signed the parental permission form and expected this latest one to soon fizzle out.

But, despite the long, twice-a-week evening sessions, every Monday and Thursday, her enthusiasm and passion never waned.

To be honest, in the first few months I rather hoped she would lose interest as it was all rather inconvenient for me. I would drop her off at 6.30pm and then make sure I was back in time for pick-up at 9.30pm. But more often than not I would be stuck waiting in my car outside as the sessions frequently overran their finish time, sometimes by half an hour.

Her commitment only grew and soon enough came the unexpected rewards and nachas for her — and me.

Marching yearly with the cadets for the local Remembrance Sunday Parade in Hornsey; twice being asked to lay a wreath at the service; reading John McCrae’s haunting In Flanders Fields to the packed congregation so beautifully that I wept; going on the two-week cadet army camp twice and winning the Best Cadet award each time.

At the age of 16, after rigorous physical and mental tests, the British Army offered her a scholarship to Sandhurst Military Academy, to start straight after she finished university, with an offer to contribute towards her tuition fees.

People expressed surprise that my sweet girl was “joining the army” and often assumed I must mean the Israeli army. When they found out I meant the British Army, they always asked the same three things: “Why was she joining the army at all?” “How come, as a Jew, she wasn’t joining the Israeli army?” and “Wasn’t I terrified?”

My answers? To question one: “Ask her, not me, for the deep, personal reply, but the army has been brilliant for her since cadets, giving her a multitude of opportunities and challenges she never would have had otherwise, incredible friendships and remarkable self-discipline.”

To question two: “She is a proud Jew and was privileged and honoured to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph a few years ago on AJEX Day, and to play a prominent role at Bevis Marks Synagogue on the centenary of the end of The Great War, reading the names of the British Jewish soldiers who gave their lives for this country.

“She loves Israel too but she’s an English girl, an English Jew, and this is the country she wants to serve.”

And to question three: “I wasn’t frightened in the slightest at first, but I will admit the world seems a hell of a lot scarier of late.”

Her year at Sandhurst has been physically torturous. Think of the toughest boot camp you can and multiply its terrors one thousandfold. There have been dangers and dramas, privations and problems but I cannot, even as a permanently worried and protective Jewish mother, complain about her pastoral care.

Even though she is the only Jew in the Sandhurst village, the date of a very important and arduous physical training test was changed as it clashed with Yom Kippur and they knew she wanted to fast.

To crown it all, the military academy’s padre arrived at her door one minute after Yom Kippur ended with a big basket full of kosher food and treats for her.

All this and then marching in the coronation procession on a world stage. What more could a Jewish mother want?

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