British Army could be about to get its first ever female boss


The Army could be led by a woman for the first time after the Chief of General Staff quit in a shock move.

Lt Gen Sharon Nesmith is one of four high-profile defence chiefs in line for the job, including two former SAS soldiers.

Sir Patrick Sanders last week told close friends he could now “look myself square in the mirror” after his decision to end his four-year tenure just 12 months in because of increasing frustration over cuts.

He is said to be furious the Army’s size has been reduced to a 300-year low, with long-promised updated equipment either delayed or beset by technical difficulties.

The 57-year-old had already made his decision when, last week, he launched a scathing attack on the state of armoured vehicles and tanks, likening equipment to “rotary dial telephones in an iPhone age”.

Gen Sir Patrick is expected to step down in January and four generals are being considered to replace him in the £145,000-a-year role, which also brings a knight or Damehood.

Mother-of-two Lt Gen Sharon, a Royal Signals officer, is married to a tree surgeon and is considered at Army HQ to be “switched on”. She has served as deputy chief of the general staff and commanded a signals HQ in Iraq – although she is viewed by many as not possessing the “combat edge” of her rivals.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who as Chief of the Defence Staff is in charge of the whole Armed Forces, is regarded as a champion for diversity.

He appointed the first female admiral, Jude Terry. Britain has had a female defence secretary in Penny Mordaunt, but never a female chief of general staff in the Army.

Others on the shortlist are understood to include generals Ralph Wooddisse, Nick Borton and Roly Walker. Wooddisse is an imposing man who served with the SAS.

He went to Moscow with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Adm Sir Tony in late 2021 to speak with Russian generals before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

He is said to be a very quiet “thinking man’s officer”.

Borton commanded 5 Scots and was given command of the Paras’ 16 Air Assault Brigade in a surprise move after he scored well at staff college.

Walker, a Grenadier Guards officer who served with the SAS and as director of special forces, has an unblemished pedigree of operating in the right circles – he is seen as the obvious “safe choice”.

Staff at Gen Sir Patrick’s HQ in Andover praised the outgoing 6ft 4in Rifles officer. Some have admitted their shock at the way “he was stabbed in the back for doing his job and standing up for the Army”.

His views placed him in a headlong trajectory against Adm Sir Tony, whose overall focus remains Britain’s so-called tilt to the Pacific and maritime power even while a land war is raging in Ukraine.

Relations between the two are said to have been cool at best.

“Let’s just say they are neither at the top of their Christmas card lists,” said a senior source on Saturday night.

“In simple terms Patrick feels – it is a major concern, actually – the CDS does not understand the Army.

“And I have no doubt the CDS will welcome no longer having to contend with Patrick’s misgivings.”

Gen Sir Patrick was preparing to make fundamental changes to centuries of tradition by introducing gender neutral ranks in Guards and his own Rifles Regiment.

However, women in both the Household Division and Rifles have publicly opposed changing the rank of Rifleman or Guardsman.

Diversity has become an increasingly important aspect in a fundamental cultural shift which all three branches are going through.

In 2020, the Army established a Diversity and Inclusion Directorate to ensure employees “feel authentic in the workplace”.

Last week an official inquiry found attempts to increase the numbers of women and ethnic minorities in the RAF had led to unlawful positive discrimination against white male candidates.

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