Remembrance is a time to celebrate the armed forces, while commemorating those who served during times of conflict.
It is an annual reminder of how, through bonds between ranks, through friendships between soldiers, the military represents one of the country’s tightest communities, which is often reflected by sporting occasions that unite the services.
The Army Rugby Union is an embodiment of this, resembling more of a family than a team.
But army teammates Jade Mullen and Lauren Brooks will face off against each other on 18 November, when newly-promoted Ealing Trailfinders take on Harlequins in what will be this season’s first Premiership game for both sides.
Now representing Trailfinders, Brooks recounted a conversation she had with former Harlequins team-mate Mullen in a recent UK Armed Forces match against Bristol Bears.
She said: “We kept it very much UKAF [UK Armed Forces] focused, but Jade is an excellent player so she is bound to bring some threats when we play them.”
While both players acknowledge the importance of their upcoming match, they will always experience a vastly different feeling when playing for the army which, again, reflects the family that exists within the team.
Earlier this year, Mullen captained the women’s army team to victory at Twickenham Stadium in the 2023 Inter-Service Championship final.
Both Jade Mullen and Lauren Brooks were part of the Army team that ran out 67-5 winners in the Inter-Services final earlier this year.
“It was a really proud moment in my career. Wearing the army jersey is an absolute honour and I am grateful that we were able to retain the Inter Service trophy,” she said.
As a Staff Sergeant, Mullen holds a position of leadership that allows her to inspire a community of soldiers and players.
With 14 years’ experience in her senior role for the British army, SSgt Jade Mullen explains how, as a professional rugby player for Harlequins, a career in the military has elevated her performances on the pitch.
“Core values as a soldier, and getting beasted in training, balance well with the things that are required in a game of rugby,” Mullen said.
“I am looking forward to pursuing my next rank in two years’ time whilst also balancing my rugby career.”
Playing for three different teams – Harlequins, the army and Wales – Mullen is often having to adjust to a completely different set of players at various points throughout the year.
This is something that the majority of players would find challenging, but Mullen explained how her military career has, perhaps unsurprisingly, put her in good stead for these situations.
“I move units every two to three years, and people get posted in-and-out all of the time, so the military has taught me to adapt and overcome,” she explained.
“You learn how to work with people, so changing teams does not really affect me.”
SSgt Jade Mullen crosses the try-line during the final at Twickenham.
It is not uncommon, however, for a professional athlete to find their sport through the armed forces. Nigel Benn, for instance, took up boxing so that he could avoid soldier-related duties in the army.
As a result, the term “tracksuit soldier” has, from time-to-time, been used to describe a military person who is given the freedom to pursue their sporting ambitions.
It could be deemed derogatory, though, as the term suggests that the individual is less committed to the services.
“I work hard in the army and on the rugby pitch, so I do not take offence when people make comments like that,” Mullen said
“I feel blessed to have had a really good chain of command and been based in units that have always supported me. But sometimes you have to pick and choose [between sport and service].”
Sapper Lauren Brooks also balances rugby commitments alongside service. As an army reservist for the Royal Engineers corps, Brooks’ route into the military was well nurtured, as her dad served the same regiment during his time as a soldier.
She said: “The fact that he has so many memories from serving made it something that I always wanted to be involved in.
“You create friendships that are so different to others outside of the military.”
Spr Lauren Brooks was handed her UKAF cap in the annual Remembrance fixture last week.
Being involved in such a specialised area has allowed Brooks to learn skills that she would not have otherwise been taught.
“He [her dad] is a qualified carpenter, so would never let me touch any power tools. Whereas now, being involved in the military, I have had that hands-on experience to give me skills that I can use in later life.”
Away from her army and rugby commitments, Brooks works for a creative marketing agency, enabling her to utilise some of these skills in a non-sporting sense as well.
“I work at an agency that focuses on healthcare communications, but my managers and colleagues have enabled me to be available for training and, during the Inter Service championship, I was able to work on the coach and in areas around Gloucester,” she explained.
Representing the army both on and off the pitch, Brooks recognises, are two worlds that often complement each other.
“Just to wear the red shirt is an honour and a privilege, and to play at Twickenham is phenomenal,” she said.
“The confidence gained from service allows girls to speak their mind in a way that brings the team up with them, because we are all out there to perform for each other.”