Source: Flickr by Trina

What is a Scaley Brat?

Anyone whose parent(s)were in the Royal Airforce will know what the term ‘Scaley Brat’ (Scale-E Brat) refers to. Basically, it is a term used to refer to the offspring of RAF personnel. Whilst it may sound like a derogatory term, it was actually used as a form of identity: it united us under a common banner. Well, this is certainly the sense I got whilst growing up.

Being a Scaley Brat came with many challenges, as well as some benefits: below, I’ve outlined some of the most prominent ones.

The Challenges

During the 1970s and 1980s, forces personnel and their offspring were moving every 18 months to 3 years (depending on the length of the posting). This uprooting made it difficult to settle, and difficult to make meaningful friendships. Just when you felt settled, it was time to move again.

Although many of the schools I attended were RAF schools, where we were all in the same position, there were occasions when I was at a non-military school. It was here where I felt like I was an outsider.

Looking back, I can now empathise with how the children of travelers feel. I can understand how they could feel like they are different, like they don’t belong, and like they are alienated by those who had firm roots in their community. As children, we don’t always understand why some people have different lives from us: especially if this is never explained to us.

Carrying around this burden of detachment led to me feeling lost.

I struggled with understanding who I was – and where I fit into society. I battled with this for years, and only now, in my later years, do I finally feel like I belong somewhere.

However, growing up as a ‘Scaley Brat’ wasn’t all bad: it did have its benefits too.

The Benefits

Whilst moving around wasn’t pleasant in a disorientating kind of way, it did also have some benefits too.

I remember when I was in primary school, comparing holidays with my classmates. Many of them had not been any further than a coastal resort in the UK. Yet I had holidayed in France.

My classmates were in awe of my foreign holidays, and the experiences they had afforded me.

This was at a time when few people went on foreign holidays, and when most people learned about foreign countries from a book, not from personal experience. Yet, I was lucky enough to experience another country and its culture.

I then went on to live in Germany for two years and saw much more of Europe during that time. Whilst the friends I had left behind in blighty were struggling with the challenges of secondary school education and a UK society that was changing rapidly, I was lucky to learn two foreign languages simultaneously, and at an age much younger than children did back in the UK. I got to immerse myself in German culture, as well as learn the language. German culture was holding onto some of its traditions when the UK was rapidly losing theirs. The difference was really quite stark to see.

Life in an RAF camp in Germany felt like its own little bubble and was a far cry from life back in the UK. We were our own little Britain away from Britain, and whilst I had originally not been enthralled at leaving my friends behind, the two years ended up not being long enough. It was all too soon, time to say goodbye (again).

Post-being a Scaley Brat

After another couple of moves, I was no longer a ‘Scaley Brat’. All grown up, I started my life independent of my parents.

Yet, this really wasn’t the end of my nomadic existence; I was to move two more times. Except, I now didn’t have the excuse of having to move due to being the child of a forces personnel. Instead, I had what I call ‘itchy feet’ and I found it hard to remain settled for too long. Life events brought about a change in my life, and I dealt with this by moving and starting again. I thought that this would resolve the issues, but I was wrong.

I now see that I was running away and that I thought my problems would not follow me. I thought that if I put distance between myself and the places where I had these bad experiences, this would resolve the issues: I was wrong.

You really cannot run away from issues: they will follow you around – like a bad smell.

It took me 2 divorces, 3 marriages, and 3 children, to realise that whilst part of me craves stability, another part of me cannot shake off my ‘Scaley Brat’ identity.

Yet I had been doing the exact opposite, because I had been brought up to say goodbye to friends, to leave one place, and to settle temporarily in the places where I had lived. I hadn’t known how to feel part of a community, and I hadn’t known how to put down roots.

Putting Down Roots

I have lived in Coventry, in the same house, for nearly 18 years now. I finally feel like I belong, and have built up some real friendships. It is great!

However, I do wonder if things may have been different, had life circumstances been different. There is a sense that I haven’t had a real choice over whether to stay put, or whether to move again. The financial crisis in 2007/8 meant that I was unable to sell my home (due to negative equity). Since then, chronic illness and my lack of income now prove to be barriers to moving.

The Future and Fighting the Itch

None of us knows what the future holds. We don’t know whether our financial fortunes will get better, or when that may be. Not knowing is scary, but you can see it as a blessing too.

Whenever I feel uncertain, I feel more likely to stay rooted and resist the itch. Yet should my circumstances change in the future – then I cannot guarantee that I won’t be tempted to move yet again. Because I feel like the itch is part of me.

It is like the ‘Scaley Brat’ identity will always be a part of who I am. A nomad who cannot get too comfortable, who seeks different experiences, to meet new people, and to have new beginnings.

Maybe I can find variety in my life without having to move – I guess only time will tell.

Published by Karen Burns

A 50-year-old mother of 3. Graduated from Warwick University in 2021 (with a degree in Social Studies). I have chronic illness, which affects my mobility. However, I love writing and I am a prolific writer of poetry as well.

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