In the Beginning . . .
PTSD. Where do I begin? Perhaps if I tell you my story it may help you to understand the complexities that we veterans are living with and, in far too many cases, suffering from.
It all began on that dreadful night, the 10th / 11th of June 1982, when I ambushed a patrol of the enemy and discovered that it was our people and not the Argentine invaders. We had killed four of them and badly wounded three more.
My initial reactions were complete disbelief, followed instantly by horror, then overwhelming failure and shame, and a complete inertia, that was highly dangerous in the circumstances we were in. My Troop Sergeant had a quiet word in my ear, and I then carried on with the gruesome tasks we were now faced with. It was a night that is now marked as the first of two, that took me to a place I could not imagine, or describe.
It was hell on earth.
Twelve hours later we were leading the company into a major battle, that involved the whole of Three Commando Brigade Royal Marines. On the left flank we had 3 Para attacking Mount Longdon. On the right flank we had Four Two Commando attacking Mount Harriet. In the centre, there was us, Four Five Commando, attacking Two Sisters, a formidable mountain that required two directions of assault. It was one hell of a night and the blue-on-blue, friendly fire, incident of the previous night was superseded by a new set of horrors and mind-bending experiences. I had lost one old friend, killed beside me, and two other close friends received bad wounds. We lost four men in the unit that night and thirteen sailors on HMS Glamorgan, which was in direct support of the Commando.
I survived that one as well, and just felt glad to be alive.
A few weeks later we were back on the ship and heading home. It all felt very weird. There were tears and brotherly love at the company piss-up, but I was already numb and closed off. No emotion came near the surface. I could have happily gone around in circles in the South Atlantic indefinitely, rather than face going home. When it happened it was, predictably, awkward. The unit reunited in a hall in Condor Barracks and the press of humans, perhaps two thousand, made everything difficult. When we finally found each other there was a strange reluctance to hug and kiss, as if she knew I had already changed. Belfast, the jungle, and then the war, all in about 11 months; it was too much for her to take in. I did not know it then, but I was already lost to her, and everyone else that matters. I had found my own space to live in.
I was actually quite content.
We went home, as if nothing had happened, and played with our new baby girl, our first, and one that did not know her father. She was just over 1 year old and was born a few days before I deployed to war in Northern Ireland. I was not allowed to be at the birth. One year later she had celebrated her birthday on the night before I killed our friends. That was the first problem that would echo down the years.
Telling my wife about the blue-on-blue caused no reaction, other than a dead silence, whilst she digested the information, and then . . . nothing. It was never mentioned again between us.
Telling my parents caused a similar reaction, then Mum broke the awful moment by announcing we were going to the pub. This really did have an effect on me, but I followed anyway down the road to see the bunting and flags hanging out, and the happy, jubilant reception that knew I was a hero. I could feel my insides cringing and shrinking, I began to double up, as if under fire.
Once inside I was ordered to sit at a table, I was not going to spend any of my money. A man came straight up to me with a pint in his outstretched hand, I took it gratefully as he sat down opposite me, and leaning in close, he said ‘so, what’s it like to kill someone?’. I stood up and left the pub. Shutters had come down in my mind and I felt nothing.
I didn’t know it then, but I was already in denial.
It was a nice place to be.