THERE are only certain types of women who can survive as army wives, according to Stephanie Gibb, who after 10 years classifies herself as a professional. That special woman, she says, is very easy going, strong and independent. It is a tough combination of attributes and perhaps explains why British army marriages are now said to be breaking up at a rate of nearly twice the UK national average. At the annual conference of the British-based Federation of Army Wives recently, it was announced that morale among its members was very low. Attendants were told the sacrifices demanded from a squaddie's wife are many. At Stanley Fort this week, four Black Watch army wives did not contest the divorce statistics, nor that their lives sometimes seem like a series of compromises. It became clear that giving up careers and domestic security and moving away from families and friends is part of the course if you're an army wife. Sitting around the table in the Community Centre were Stephanie, 29, who has been in Hong Kong for two months, 27-year-old Allison Douglas, Mary Gillespie, 25, and Debbie Beveridge, 20, who have all been based at Stanley Barracks for the past 10 months. With 17 years' experience as army wives between them, Stephanie and Allison are old timers who have seen life through khaki coloured glasses in Germany, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. While only 20, Debbie has been an army wife for 21/2 years. She spent her late teenage years making a lot of adjustments. Her experience and ready laugh has made her an important friend for Mary, an army wife of just 10 months. They say life in the army is toughest on the young newly-weds. Mary is still learning and adapting to her new life off civvy street. Civvy street was a term the women used often during their afternoon chat which started as a slightly strained interview and ended up as an exchange of support and shared experiences. Life in a barracks is very different from life out there in the real world and army life comes with its own set of stresses and strains. But, as Mary and Debbie were assured, ''It gets easier.'' Mary, from Ireland and the only non-Scot among the group, is already looking forward to going home. This is the first time she's been away from home and is finding this separation from her close knit family difficult. Thrown into a world surrounded by the army in a foreign land, feelings of alienation and loneliness can hit a young girl a long way from family and friends. As Debbie put it: ''You're seeing it, you're talking it, you're living it 24 hours a day. You can't get away from it.'' And if you do try to get away from it, there is a grapevine that leads straight back to other wives or your husband, where ever he maybe. It is not uncommon for a wife to get a terse letter from far away saying: ''Hope you enjoyed yourself last Saturday night.'' ''Everybody knows everybody else. You can't do anything without it being talked about,'' said Stephanie. The temptation to get away is strong at times and they all talked about jumping on a bus, wherever it may be going, for some non-army time. But some women make the barracks their lives and rarely venture further than Stanley market. Food and language are two big difficulties for many army wives in the territory. It's hard not being ''with your own people'' and many would prefer to eat Chinese food at home - ''At least you know what's in it.'' McDonald's tends to be the choice for many when they venture beyond the Fort. It is hard for people outside the army to understand what life is like for an army wife and how different it is, all four woman believe. Mary first realised her life would not be the same when she tried to walk through the gates at Stanley Fort without a pass. She felt like a prisoner, she remembers, and recalled how she returned to her accommodation in the barracks and ''cried and cried'' - and not for the last time either. ''I found it very hard when I first got here. I didn't know anybody and my husband was sent away soon after we arrived. ''I felt alone, isolated. I thought seriously about packing up and going home,'' recalls Mary. Waiting seems to take up a lot of the army wives' time - waiting for your man to come back from a tour of duty or an exercise many miles away. Or waiting for the knock at the door which will drag him away from his tea and his family. On the flip side is the self-reliance that comes with being alone. Allison's husband spent long stretches away when they were based in Northern Ireland. She recalls how having him around again was almost like a space invasion. She got used to being alone and not having boots in the hallway. You learn quickly how to be a handywoman around the home too. But that home is never really yours. You are allowed to hang pictures on the wall, but that's it. The lodgings are rented, but belong to the army and must be returned in army-issue condition. The army says it happily accepts and accommodates families as part and parcel of its volunteers. There are now more wives and children than soldiers themselves, with 360 families housed at Stanley. The Black Watch will be shipped out of Hong Kong next year, hopefully in August to coincide with British school holidays. The Gurkhas will be leaving in November 1996, the end of the Nepali school year. But the fact is that wives and children go where and when they're told. Choice is something checked in at the gate if they want to stay married - especially happily. ''You can stamp your foot all you like,'' says Allison, ''but it doesn't make any difference. There is no choice.'' When Debbie was first married she wanted a marriage like her sister's, who seemed to be able to run her own life the way she wanted. Debbie saw early on the restrictions which would become a part of her married life. ''It's like this: 'I can give up things for you, but there is nothing you can give up for me, so we can't do what I want to do'. His life isn't his own.'' But as Stephanie and Allison will tell you, ''You get used to it''. All gave up a career or training of some sort when they, in their own way, signed up. Only Allison is working now - as a clerk in the Family Services Office at Stanley Fort. Soldier's wives have a reputation outside the ranks, a stereotype they do not appreciate. ''People presume we're thick,'' said Allison. ''A lot of army wives are professional people, qualified people who have given up training and jobs to follow their husbands. ''It's hard to get a job if you're an army wife because as soon as the employer knows that you'll be gone in two years, even though a lot of civilians don't stick a job that long,'' she added. The girls of Black Watch say the one thing that's hitting them all hard now is uncertainty over the future. They don't know where they'll be moved to next, when they will have to move on to the next post or even if their husbands' jobs are safe. And there's always the possibility of a ''trouble spot'', such as Northern Ireland. ''You just don't think of the danger,'' says Stephanie. ''I didn't listen to the news or read the papers because you just worry yourself sick.'' Allison learnt to cut herself off, to become close to the other army wives and build her own life. Both the soldiers and their wives can have a good time under tough circumstances. But the once job-for-life security of the army is now under threat - since the Options for Change programme was introduced in 1990, 18,000 soldiers have been made compulsorily redundant. ''Postings are shorter and there are less of them. It is a strain because you have to worry about the future, if there will be another tour,'' commented Stephanie. Not that army wages are high, they assured, and there's rent, utilities and poll tax to be paid out of it. It makes living a ''normal'' life outside the confines of subsidised army living, especially while you're on tour abroad, a financial impossibility. And as for life after the army - ''It's not that easy. After all, what are they qualified for? At 40-odd they have to find a job and a house,'' added Allison. ''I know one man who was in the army for 22 years and he left as a Lance-Corporal. He was qualified to shoot and drive around a lot.'' Is there a positive side to being a squadette, a duty that in itself seems to deserve a medal for dedication? For all the doubt and worry and pressure, there is a close knit community which provides support not found on any civvy street. If you're ever in trouble, there is always someone around to help, they say, all you've got to do is ask. And there's the travel, getting to live in exotic locations and meeting new people. And there are plenty of shopping opportunities. ''I love it,'' enthused Stephanie with a Scottish drawl and a big, warm laugh.