‘Always have a plan B’ advises former bomb disposal officer during 42 lecture
9 Dec 2019
Lucy Lewis gave an absorbing and amusing 42 lecture to Perse students on her Army background and how it has shaped her life.
In 1990, Lucy became the first female bomb disposal officer in the country, an achievement which saw her named as one of the ‘Women of the Nineties’ by a magazine, although she admitted her daughter was “more impressed with the free sachet of face cream!”
She further made history last year when taking on her current post as Marshal at the University of Cambridge, becoming the first woman to hold the role, which sees her lead the institution’s constabulary.
Lucy explained that while the post is rooted in tradition – she carries a silver mace and wears a gown of office and top hat at ceremonial functions – the constabulary also provides a public order function. She said: “We maintain freedom of speech, so we defend student demonstrations and make sure everyone gets their say.”
However, Lucy focused on her Army career, recalling how she joined the Royal Engineers three decades ago at the age of 24 after becoming frustrated at being overlooked for promotions in her previous job as a security officer at Stansted Airport due to a lack of military or police experience.
It was Lucy’s background that saw her earmarked for bomb disposal duty, although she recounted an unfortunate incident where she tried to defuse a “crusty cowpat” after mistaking it for an anti-tank mine during a night-time training exercise.
She transferred to the Royal Military Police and later became a joint services expedition leader, heading up expeditions to Italy, Iceland and Ecuador, with the South American trip providing the toughest moment of her Army career.
Lucy explained how she led an expedition of 11 soldiers on the world’s most active volcano, having arrived in Ecuador with just three days’ supply of food and $100 only to discover their contact, who had been set to arrange transport, accommodation and supplies for the three-week visit, had died. The team eventually completed their mission, but of the situation on their arrival, Lucy said: “I have to say it was the longest night of my life trying to think about how to keep these people going.”
Such an ability to respond in difficult situations is one of the key aspects Lucy said she learned from Army life, outlining that students should ‘always have a plan B’.
She concluded: “Make the most of every opportunity that comes up. Whatever you plan for your future, be prepared to change it. Life gives you opportunities but also takes them away, it’s not a race or a game. Life has this habit of bowling bouncers, so be prepared to duck now and again.”