As part of our ON Takeover Week, we are taking a look at where Norwich School took some of our Old Norvicensians...
In the latest ON Magazine, which takes a look at ONs in the world of work, we hear from Charlotte Boak (08-10), who tells us all about her career in the Royal Navy and what it's like being the Commanding Officer of an inshore patrol craft!
What are you doing now for work?
I am an Officer in the Royal Navy and am approaching 8 years of service. My main role as a Warfare Officer and a Navigator is to drive the Ships and navigate them during Operations and voyages. I have served on many different types of vessels, from inshore patrol craft to aircraft carriers, and have visited fascinating places along the way. I am currently the Commanding Officer of my own inshore patrol craft, HMS RAIDER, and it is our job to protect Britain’s nuclear fleet based in Faslane, Scotland.
Tell us about the organisation you work for.
The Royal Navy is a prestigious organisation, steeped in history and tradition. For centuries it has protected more than our own shores, keeping the trade routes open, providing humanitarian relief to countries in need and leading the fight against narcotics and piracy. All of these remain some of our key objectives to this day.
What is your greatest professional achievement to date?
Passing out as an Officer in the Royal Navy is a great achievement to start, but my greatest accomplishment was being selected to be Captain of HMS RAIDER, being responsible for my own Ship and her crew and to ensure that we conduct our Operations to the highest standard.
What is your motivation?
My main motivation for what I do is job satisfaction and being proud to serve my country doing something I love. A career in the Royal Navy is always varied and has so many benefits and aspects I enjoy. The people you get to meet are like no other; they have fascinating tales to tell and can be relied upon to play their part, even in the most high-pressured situations.
What are your greatest challenges?
A military life is always going to be a challenging one. The Royal Navy has presence all over the world, and as a Warfare Officer, it is our job to drive those Ships to where they need to be. As you can imagine this means long periods away at sea and away from loved ones. Operations will sometimes dictate the level of contact possible, which at times can be none at all. This is when the comradery on board becomes all that more important.
More specifically, one of the greatest challenges I have faced so far is when I have been part of the team that takes a brand-new Ship from the Ship builder’s yard and gets her fighting fit and ready for her maiden voyage. As the Navigating Officer, I was responsible for the safety of the Ship at sea and getting her from A to B. I had to ensure she had all the tools and equipment required for planning and orchestrating all her voyages for the remainder of her serving life. This meant liaising with different companies, ensuring all fixtures and fittings were correct and creating a department from scratch.
Tell us what changes and challenges you have faced working in a COVID-19 world.
The Royal Navy, like all other companies and organisations, had to adapt quickly to the unprecedented challenge that COVID-19 presented the world. In the first wave back in 2020 this included providing support at test centres and assisting with the monumental logistics operation which was getting the desperately needed PPE across the country as quickly as it became available. It has continued to support COVID-19 response throughout, and its medically trained personnel are a part of the teams that are helping the NHS to increase the rapidity of vaccinations being distributed to the population around the country.
Although that is the wider picture of the response by the Royal Navy, you can see the smaller more detailed effects of COVID-19 everywhere. Government guidelines are being implemented wherever physically possible, with social distancing, allowing office-based personnel to work from home where possible, providing support for its personnel who may now have childcare issues and reducing numbers of people required to gather in one space, however it can.
How have you got to where you are today?
From the age of about 14 I knew I wanted to join the military, so I was determined to achieve that. I really enjoy the job that I do, and it is very rewarding, so I approach every challenge in my career with a good attitude and determination to succeed.
What is your most memorable work experience?
I’ve enjoyed all the deployments I’ve been on but deploying on a Standing NATO Mine Counter Measure Group Operation has to be the most memorable. It involved such a wide range of task-group activities, which were challenging but rewarding, and the weekends in Harbour allowed for the different nations to socialise. The deployment culminated at Keil Week sailing festival. I have also been fortunate enough to conduct Adventurous Training with the Royal Navy, including sky diving in Cyprus and skiing in France and Germany.
Who is your inspirational figure?
The Royal Navy has a wealth of inspirational leaders throughout its rich history that anyone could pick from, such as Admiral Nelson and Winston Churchill; however, for me my inspiration always came from someone much closer to home. I used to work with my dad when he was a head chef of a kitchen and I observed how he approached high-pressured situations, utilising his team effectively and ensuring a smooth running of his kitchen. From him I learned the value of a strong but calm manner when dealing with problematic situations and how important it was to make each member of your team feel valued. He showed me how good discipline and punctuality would always have a positive effect on your work, whether that was getting all orders out to a good standard at the right time or ensuring your warship completed a successful mission. He has always been one to laugh easily and that is one of the things that I have found invaluable in military life. No matter what is happening, always keep your sense of humour close to hand.
What couldn’t you work without?
A strong and enthusiastic team. The Sailors under my Command are essential to the success of my unit, and without their hard work we would not be able to deliver the output we currently do.
What hobbies/interests do you have outside of work?
The Armed Forces has always been keen for its personnel to develop themselves and it encourages a wide range of extra-curricular activities. I have been selected for the Royal Navy cycling team, which has always been a great passion of mine, and I have competed in triathlons as well as fully funded skiing excursions and skydiving courses. On the other, less-adrenaline-fuelled side of things, I love to cook and have always had a great interest in food and take every opportunity when I am at home to try new recipes and bake whenever I can.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I didn’t go to university prior to joining the Royal Navy, but I did have a variety of jobs, one of which was working as a chalet chef in France during a ski season.
Would you be willing to offer career advice or work experience/leadership skills to the Norwich School community?
Absolutely. I think it is so important to influence the next generation of prospective Naval Leaders.
Any hints or tips you would like to share for anyone wishing to join the Royal Navy.
Prior preparation is key. Ensure your fitness is of a good standard and that you have a good idea of what the Royal Navy does, and which branch you wish to join. The RN recruitment website provides a lot of information, so be sure to visit it prior to applying. If you know your reasons for joining, then the determination and drive to succeed with naturally follow. You might not follow the exact path that you expect but the experiences you will have will be unlike those you’d experience with any other career. As cheesy as it sounds you really do make friends for life, see the world and have some totally unique experiences.