Colonel John Ralph Barnes (UK) has been serving his country for most of his life. 

With a total of 54 years and 201 days of service, he achieved the longest career in the army (active duty/service).

Although his record was verified in 2022, soon after he retired from active service, his application had been secretly submitted by his son, James Barnes. 

While Colonel Barnes remained blissfully unaware of his achievement and enjoyed his retirement with his grandchildren, his family was preparing a big surprise to properly celebrate such a milestone.

Together with the rest of the family, James Barnes revealed the surprise for his father's birthday - approximately one year after his retirement. 

The entire family was on holiday, spending the summer abroad, and decided that it would have been the perfect time to present the Colonel with the record-breaking news. 

Colonel Barnes and cert

“The family have been superb," Colonel Barnes said after the celebration. “They surprised me by presenting me the certificate on my 74th Birthday - while we were all on holiday.”

Interestingly some of my colleagues were not surprised! - Colonel Barnes

A long-time fan of Guinness World Records, he confessed: "I used to read the book as a child," meaning he was ready to accept the honour and delighted with his title. 

He always dreamt of joining the army. 

In fact, Colonel Barnes remembers that he found a page in a school book from when he was only five years that stated: "When I grow up, I want to be a soldier."

Many years later, he can say with unwavering confidence that he managed to go above and beyond to fulfil that childhood dream!

“I feel surprised and proud,” he says. “It wasn’t at all expected.”

A young Colonel Barnes graduating, accompanied by his family

“I felt like I had just been doing my duty and was happy to carry on as long as people thought I was contributing," he says now about his record-breaking career.

During his years of serving, the Colonel traveled the world, covered several roles and had the chance to work with many different people who inspired him. 

He served in transport, holding numerous regimental and staff appointments. As he recalls, the former included commanding at troop, squadron and regimental level.

“Staff appointee included procurement, human resources, chief of staff and defence advisor,” he explained.

As one can imagine, there were plenty of standout moments in such a long journey: a lot of challenges, yes, but also fond moments and colleagues who encouraged Colonel Barnes to pursue his dreams. 

Colonel Barnes presenting the flag

Despite the difficult role of a soldier, looking back, Colonel Barnes recalls that the more heartwarming memories are centred around the people he worked with.

Soldiers are a very special breed of person. Their enthusiasm, determination, loyalty and sense of humour know no bounds!

“A fun challenge I remember was when ‘managing’ the Hong Kong combined services football team, we got to the local Chinese league,” he recalls when asked about a happy memory of his field years.

“I served where I was required when I was required,” he says, looking back with a nostalgic eye on the many people he met and the countries he visited.

Colonel Barnes and his comrades

Today, Colonel Barnes is happily retired and enjoying being a grandparent. 

 “My main hobby now is probably looking after my grandchildren,” he says.

I love spending time with them - time I didn’t always have with my children.

“We’re so proud of him,” adds his family, who is delighted with the record. 

They did everything to celebrate the Colonel's milestone, and turned it into a chance to salute together a life of successes and adventures.

“He’s always been an excellent advocate for the army and has had a remarkable career that has included the Berlin Wall coming down, hand back of Hong Kong to China, the Gulf war, withdrawal of forces from Germany to name a few," said the Colonel's family. "These are all places where he has served.”

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