Celebrating Reservists: John Williams


It’s Reserves Day tomorrow, the day we celebrate the huge contribution Armed Forces Reservists make towards protecting the nation’s security at home and overseas. 

The first case study in our series focused on the Royal Naval Reserve, and now it’s the turn of the Army Reserve.

In the second of today’s two Army Reservist case studies, we’re talking to John Williams (38), a Garrison Engineer in a specialist team of Royal Engineers.


John Williams on exercise in Gibraltar.

Tell us about your career as a Reservist, when and where did it all start, what’s your current role, and what made you want to join up?

After seven years as a Regular in the Highlanders/4 SCOTS, I retired to go to university. Knowing that I’d have free time on my hands and enjoying instructing, I transferred to 6 SCOTS and taught at GSUOTC for five years, while I was completing a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering. On completion of my degree, I transferred to the Royal Engineers. Being new to Civil Engineering but 32 years old I was keen to get as much experience as I could, so working in Support Troop of 102 Sqn, 71 Engr Regt helped develop my site civil engineering experience, while at the same time I used my past experience to support the Sqn with training and exercises. Having started to specialise more towards water-related engineering, I transferred to 506 STRE (Water Infra) 65 Wks Gp, part of 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group. I am currently a Garrison Engineer in a Specialist Team, Royal Engineers (STRE). There are quite a few of these teams and the one I am in specialises in all aspects of water infrastructure from coastal and inland flooding to water and wastewater treatment to hydrogeology. The team is made up from Reservists whose civilian career is in a water infrastructure-related role and provides support to the MOD as required. I really enjoy the role. As a water engineer, it gives me great opportunities to travel around the world to work on projects relating to my civilian career, increasing experience in a way I wouldn’t have a chance to normally. In the past three years I have been to Cyprus twice and Gibraltar once, involving assessing reverse osmosis units, boreholes, hot weather sewage sludge treatment, Drinking Water Safety Plans and H&S inspections. All of that is different to my day job as a civil engineer in Scottish Water and provides me with great experience. 

Another thing that keeps me going is the attitude of the people that work in the Army. There is a cheerful, positive and hardworking attitude that tries to make tasks as simple as possible, then do them to a high standard which I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s really good to be a part of, which I would miss if I left the Reserves. I’m also a keen rock and winter climber, so I usually get a couple of weeks a year teaching rock climbing or winter climbing in the Highlands with the Royal Engineers Mountaineering and Exploration Club.

John climbing in the Cairngorms in winter.

What’s the best part of being a Reservist?

Having a laugh with fellow soldiers; soldiers in the Army seems to specialise in finding humour in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Where has your Reservist career taken you?

As a Reservist; North Yorkshire, Nottingham, London, all over Scotland, Cyprus and Gibraltar. As a Regular; Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kuwait, Govan and Clydebank (fire brigade strike), Brunei, Malaysia, Kenya, Germany, Poland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Belize, USA and Canada. 

Looking at the Old Water Catchment in Gibraltar in 2018.

Do you have a favourite moment?

I enjoy most of it, from teaching climbing in Scotland to the exercise I was on last month; visiting a broken dam in the Lake District and coming up with a hypothetical plan to repair it. Lots was involved from road upgrading to ground surveys to catchment planning, to structural engineering, to the logistics behind getting stores and equipment to the site. There were 16 members of the team involved and it was great to learn from each other as the subjects touched their specialist areas.


On a team-building exercise in London this year I had to get a selfie with number ten Downing Street (among other things). I managed to pose at the door and met Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office!

Tell us about your civilian job.

I’m in the Technical Support and Assurance team in Scottish Water. It’s a team of engineers (electrical, mechanical, process and civil) that review projects that our design alliances are working on to ensure they meet original scope, are ready for passing project gateways and that any scope changes are understood by Scottish Water. In addition we try to answer technical support questions from anywhere in the business. I like it because drinking water and wastewater treatment is vital every day in Scotland so there is a strong sense of purpose. It’s quite complicated too, so I’m looking forward to never stopping learning.

Being a Reservist requires time off work, how does your employer support those demands?

Scottish Water is excellent for Reserve support. I have an additional 15 days leave a year, 10 days of which goes on the mandatory two-week exercise, the other five usually go to a course to improve my qualifications. My unit is a national one based in Nottingham. Scottish Waters Agile Working allows me the flexibility to get away early on the Fridays of training weekends to catch the train to Nottingham or further south as required.

What skills have you gained as a Reservist that enhance your civilian role?

The Army Reserve really hammer team working and leadership exercises, so I think I’ve gained a lot from them. As an employee in the water industry, the benefit of experiencing a wide variety of different types of water infrastructure projects and examples, with colleagues on hand who are specialists in the field to explain details is huge. I also have a UK wide network of water infrastructure specialists that I can ask for support for projects I’m involved in.

What would you tell a colleague who was interested in becoming a Reservist?

Go for it 100%, you end up doing things confidently you would never have dreamt of doing. And even if you don’t enjoy it, you are still getting paid!

To find out more about the Army Reserves, click HERE.

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