From heirlooms to recipes, we all inherit family traditions. And yet, for some, the duty passed down through the generations is to enter the army. The National Army Museum, situated in London’s affluent Chelsea region, holds tale-upon-tale of examples of family military service. But what is the motivation for maintaining such family ties - is it pressure, duty, fear or something else entirely?

What is the motivation for maintaining such family ties - is it pressure, duty, fear or something else entirely?

One of the tales on display at the museum and discussed on the National Army Museum website is the history of the Macnair family. Beginning with Lieutenant-General William Neville Cameron, who served in the First Maratha War (1775-82), the Macnair tradition of service continues to the present day with Captain Freddie Macnair, a member of the fourth Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Carrying a tradition that spans four centuries, Freddie’s father, Lieutenant Colonel William Macnair, who served as a Queen’s Own Highlander from 1971 to 1992, denies when talking to the museum that there is any pressure on younger family members to maintain this lineage: “I think... if you come from an Army family, it’s something that you automatically consider. Whether you then decide to do it or not is entirely up to you... nobody in my family ever gave me any pressure to do so.”

On the subject of family tradition, although not part of one himself, 24-year-old platoon commander at the Royal Scots Borderers, Mike Payne, spoke to PETRIe: “I know a lot of people whose families have a long line of military tradition - [but they are] generally posher, and it seems more common amongst the older guys.”

“It is less prevalent nowadays,” Mike continues. “Most of my friends who joined the army at the same time as me [during 2013] are the first in their families to do so and I myself, have no real links. But it does still exist, and it’s not exclusive to the higher ranks. One of my soldier’s dad is also in my battalion and at one point we had four brothers in the same company of 100.”

In my opinion, a more common theme amongst those joining the army is that it provides a form of escapism from something in their civilian life.

These family ties can also be detected by the family members of those serving, even if they personally don’t have any military background of their own. Eva Jones, whose partner served in the army for eight years, tells PETRIe: “Dan’s Granddad was in the army but that didn’t really influence him joining. To be honest, it’s usually the higher ranks, often from the middle classes, that have military traditions running through their families, such as officers emerging from Sandhurst.”

The desire for adventure, meaning and indeed, escapism emerges and remains as an increasingly universal pull, regardless of tradition.

Continuing to reflect, Eva adds: “In my opinion, a more common theme amongst those joining the army is [that it provides] a form of escapism from something in their civilian life.” So what is the motivation? From visiting the museum, reading the many family tales, and also speaking to those with personal experience, it would seem that while a military family background may affect a small and seemingly middle-class minority, the desire for adventure, meaning and indeed, escapism emerges and remains as an increasingly universal pull, regardless of tradition.

Words: Elizabeth Neep

Image Source: National Army Museum