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Published in GQ magazine, 2006

Pic: Pte Chris Thompson, ex-First Light Infantry, Bishop Auclkan, Co Durham. By Stuart Griffiths


The soldiers that war forgot: how British forces returning from the Iraq conflict are being failed

The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder include nightmares, flashbacks and the vivid re-experiencing of traumatic events. The symptoms also include hypervigilance and avoidance of situations likely to cause stress. If a car backfires on the high street or cutlery crashes around the kitchen, sufferers can find themselves diving to the ground into “contact positions” as the heart rate skyrockets and the senses are flooded with imagined stimuli. Long-term problems related to PTSD, a syndrome recognised in 1982, include depression, insomnia, substance abuse and difficulties with memory and cognition.

A handwritten list on the living room table in ex-serviceman David McGough’s Preston maisonette includes all of these and more: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, aggression, joint stiffness, agoraphobia, personality disorder, low sex-drive, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivity, headaches, tingling in the fingers and arms, dermatitis and fibromyalgia, muscular fatigue disorder more commonly associated with the middle-aged than with 24-year-olds like McGough. He makes lists like these because he suffers from one of the first symptoms - memory loss - and to put a name to the paralysing fog of discomfort that has crept into his life.

The former Royal Medical Corps Lance Corporal McGough has time on his hands since he quit his sales job last year. ‘All the structure has gone out of life,’ he says. ‘It’s weird.’ He is short, wiry and dresses smartly, but the soldier’s bearing is neither stiff-backed and regimental. Instead he looks cramped with invisible anxieties and the large watch he wears makes his wrist look fragile and thin. In the stark, undecorated white living room a doorstep-thick edition of Muscle Development magazine lies open and a punchbag stands in the corner. McGough kills time for an hour every morning, beating the punchbag into submission. But he knows the aggression will surface again the next morning, as it does every morning. In the monochromatic day-to-day of a long, solitary recovery from his Iraq war experience, he focuses on his health, rubs his aching knee joints and copes. He is helped by Clomipramine, an antidepressant, and Olanzapine, an antipsychotic.

McGough served for five months from March 2003 in a medical trauma regiment at Basra in south-east Iraq, the place he recalls as ‘Hell on Earth.’ He spent 17 hours a day dressing bodies blown apart by shrapnel and ordnance, sewing the living dead back together and watching others die in the intensifying sectarian war that followed Saddam Hussein’s removal from power. The nature of PTSD is that such that the waking nightmare of pain, fear and confusion stalked its way back home with McGough, and everyday it showreels through his mind. He often relives one particularly grisly tableaux:

‘She was about 8 or 9,’ McGough says. ‘She was a little girl and some of her family had died. We were trying to do a nice thing by giving her water and bits of chocolate, stuff like that. She was being hanged in an alleyway by a militia – civilians with weapons, Iraqi military. We had to make the decision whether to go in and save her and cause a riot and have more people dying, or just allow one person to die.’

The decision was taken. ‘She hanged.’

‘It just carried on,’ McGough explains. ‘When the guys left, we took her down and buried her. That’s on my conscience. At 21. I mean, most 21-year-olds are out getting pissed. But I’ve got that on his conscience, and it will be till I die. It’s hard to deal with and you feel crap every day.’

A powerfully macabre irony hangs over McGough’s case. Among the first to arrive in theatre of war in March 2003, his regiment experienced the full transition from dictatorship to democracy by means of armed force. When he returned to the UK in July 2004 he began coughing up blood - a disorder that never reached a dignosis - and was unable to sleep. He experienced depression, and was professional enough to understand what it all meant. ‘I was a medic in a medical regiment, and I was recognising psychological symptoms and going to a medical centre for help.’ Prozac was about the extent of the support McGough was offered. He was referred to an army psychiatrist in Catterick, and says that the doctor told him him it was all in his head, he should stop being stupid and get on with his job. He was placed on sick leave in October. In December 2004, he was given a medical discharge. McGough fought against the discharge, but by then had recognised he was too weak to fight a private war against the snuff footage in his head and a cold war with his former employer. He was diagnosed with PTSD by an NHS GP in 2005.

With its structures removed, L/Cprl McGough’s life deteriorated. His weight plummeted, sleep became a distant memory, he broke up with his girlfriend and his relationship with his regiment soured. He says former colleagues were told not to speak to him. ‘My OCD got really bad, I was bleaching myself and wouldn't got out of the house,’ McGough says. ‘It stopped my life. There was no contact and everything was failing around me and I felt like shit. The nightmares would make me go into the bathroom, lock the door and cry. For hours. It was hard.’ He attempted suicide twice – once with a knife, the other with a gun that misfired.

McGough’s experience of the ‘Sandpit’ was stressful in the extreme. ‘We did exactly what the other soldiers did, patrols and stuff,’ he says. ‘The difference with medics is we see the after-effects of war as well. We see all the casualties. We’ll have to deal with the carnage and death and destruction’.

But he was totally unprepared for what would happen after the carnage and death and destruction – the manner in which he was dealt by the army, the paucity of support he recieved, the confusion over his illnesses and their treatment, and lastly the chilly sense of rejection he felt when he walked through the garrison gates for the final time.

Ignominy is added to injury, and this is the way it goes for many of the returning heroes of Gulf War II. Resentment towards the MOD is felt by many serviceman, an undercurrent of feeling that matches in many ways public resentment towards a war that few in the UK considered just or legal.

Brutality is hardly unique to the 2003 Iraq war and the country’s subsequent collapse into vicious sectarian urban violence, but nor is McGough’s experience uncommon. The story of failures in care for veterans before and after dischrage is repeated time and again. Up and down the UK the reality of life for many veterans of Operation TELIC, and others who served in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Gulf War I and the Falklands conflict is marked by social isolation, soured relationships with their former employers and extreme difficulties in re-integration into civilian life. Contrary to US general Douglas MacArthur’s assertion that “old soldiers don't die, they just fade away”, there is no shortage of young old soldiers in the UK - many barely out of their teenage years - who refuse to button it. Many are openly critical of the army, the MOD and the war in Iraq itself.

Some are easy to spot, like L/Cprl Daniel Twiddy, 25, a former gunner-operator with the Queens Royal Lancers. Quite apart from the fact that he is a striking 6’5” with bleached highlights and drives a soft-top BMW around his Stamford home town, he is conspicuous: the left side of the 25-year-old face has slipped, as if he’s suffered a stroke. You notice the skin grafts on his cheeks first, then they way his left eye hangs unnaturally open, and the shrapnel discolouration of the skin around his nose. Twiddy’s arms are a relief-map of complex grafts and, even if you can’t seem them, so are his elbows, head, back, legs and knees. He has no hearing in his left ear and tone damage to his right. His face, jaw and teeth have been reconstructed. His NHS treatment is ongoing.

Five days into the war in March 2003, Twiddy was blown off the top of his Challenger II tank outside Basra by a round of friendly fire – a 120mm high-explosive squash-head shell – from another British tank. Twiddy burst into flames and a second round impacted on the turret of his vehicle, killing two of his colleagues. He remembers being on his hands and knees, on fire, screaming and thinking he was going to die. He awoke a month later in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford. Initially his parents couldn’t identify the swollen bundle of bones, scarred flesh and gauze in the bed next to the life-support machine. His skin was burnt to 80 per cent and there was a large hole in his face

Twiddy considers himself lucky. ‘Very lucky,’ he says. ‘I’ve been a gunner myself and when you hit hard targets like tanks, it’s unbelievable.’

120mm high explosive squash heads are designed for bunkers and large targets. “They’re ideal for convoys because your don’t have to hit the convoy, it just has to land near the convoy and it will take them out. That's how lucky I was. They fired two.’

For the past tree years, Twiddy has received extensive treatment, surgery and support from the NHS, the British Legion, his friends and family. The same can't be said of the MOD. He is pursuing compensation, but even prior to his discharge last year, his efforts to find care and support from the MOD met with intransigence.

Skin grafts require regular massage to break down scar tissue. Twiddy pays for this himself, he says, after the MOD insisted they would not. Through three years of flashbacks, nightmares, emotional setback and constant pain, Twiddy has focused on rebuilding his body and his life while the esteem in which he the MOD has totally disintegrated.

‘When I joined, I respected the MOD at the time, and respected that it was their care of duty to support you through a thick and thin,’ he says. ‘When you're at the passing off parade and they say, “not only is your son part of our family, you're all part of our family now” – it's bollocks. Talking shit. As soon as something like this happened, they toss you aside like a number. They’re not bothered about you.’

‘Physically, I can heal up,’ Twiddy says. ‘What hurts the most is that I’ve been left. I’ll always remember what they’ve done to me. It’s something that should never have happened, friendly fire. So their care of duty should be looking after me. They won't admit it. That’s what makes me angry – they won't admit they’ve messed up.’

There are currently around 7,200 British forces personnel in Iraq. Daily news reports of death from car bombs, suicide bombings, small arms and RPG attacks across Iraq tell their own story, but so do figures for the British servicemen who return home in a casket draped with the Union flag. As the Iraq death toll steadily climbs beyond past 115, it is accompanied by many more who suffered permanent physical and psychological damage in the service of Queen and country. Between the outbreak of war, in March 20 2003, and December 2005, the MOD recorded 230 personnel wounded in action. But the spectre of psychiatric illlness also haunts the ex-service community in the UK. Around 1,500 personnel were treated for mental disorders and 208 servicemen fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

It remains unclear how much longer politicians will commit British troops to Iraq, but if British Forces are operational there for another three years at least, in the constant turnover of troops means casualty numbers aren't going to disappear.

The majority of British troops in Iraq are involved in security sector reform which makes them targets of insurgent militia groups and armed criminals. British troops fight a diffuse, faceless guerrilla enemy who cannot be identified simply by their ownership of a Kalashnikov, an operational situation that from the start of the conflict has made for for extremely testing conditions. It is what Malcolm Bellwood, Director of Welfare for Combat Stress, a support agency specialising in psychiatric care for ex-servicemen, calls a ‘psycholigically bad war’.

In ‘psychologically good’ wars, Bellwood argues, soldiers ‘have clear objectives, finite time-frames, tend to be on the winning side and ‘are home for tea and medals. If however,’ he adds, ‘as Iraq has become and Northern Ireland was for many years – peacekeeping – and you’re don’t know who the bad bloke is, the terms of engagement are unclear and you’re not too sure you're going to get home, those are the kind of things that make it a psychologically bad war.’

The legacy of Gulf War II does not stop here. Even among serving soldiers awaiting discharge, problems finding adequate care for physical and psychological injury exist. In Bishop Auckland, County Durham Chris Thompson, a private with the First Light Infantry, sits alone watching Andy Murray lose on Eurosport in his mum’s redbrick local authority house. The 20-year-old’s football shirt and the England tattoo on his left tricep leave little doubt as to his allegiances. When he walks he hobbles, and when he sits down, he sometimes takes off his prosthetic right limb and massages the remaining three inches or so of his lower leg. Pte Thompson flexes and massages his stump when he talks and chuckles lugubriously, but overall he is resigned, and underneath somewhere he feels angry because this is what same allegiance to England won him: a military career abbreviated by events in Iraq and then slowly amputated in messy bureaucratic procedure marked by confusion and coldness, and this hurts the soldier just as much.

Thompson’s right leg was shattered on March 11 2004 by an improvised explosive device packed with steel ballbearings, buried in the road and detonated as his vehicle slowed at a police checkpoint in Amarah, south-east Iraq. Thompson remembers the bang, the screaming, the two inches of blood he saw in the back of the vehicle in which he had been standing and the realisation that he could not walk. He was operated on in Shaibah, the main British army logistical base in Iraq, then flown back to Selly Oak hospital outside Birmingham where a doctor told him amputation was his only choice. Thompson dropped his head in his hands and told them he was only a kid.

A new kind of struggle began as the teenager was then left to fend for himself facing life without a limb, fighting to recover and battling for the care and support he was due. ‘I had to do everything meself with the NHS, he says in a broad Mackem accent, ‘go down to the hospital in Bishop, do phsyio down there.’

Contact with the army has subsequently been minimal – he was promised a medal for his operational tour, but it failed to arrive. He is well known as a hero round his Bishop Auckland estate now, and the local press hailed Thompson too. Before long, the TV, broadsheet and Andrew Gilligan took in interest in the veteran’s case. This was not to the MOD’s liking. Thompson says he received phone call one day, and was told ‘don’t do no more interviews in case you say owt bad or something wrong. I wasn’t having it,’ he says. ‘I was like, “nah”.’

Now Thompson waits out the twilight of his career watching Eurosport until he receives his discharge, go before the medical board and begin climbing the mountain of compensation paperwork. He feels doesn't sadness, but ‘just pissed off really, know what I mean? Because you fight for your country and they just toss you out of the window. They just forget about you.’

For McGough, Twiddy and Thompson the fight continues. Now they are fighting with the MOD for compensation.


Vistors to Headley Court, the MOD’s the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Epsom, Surrey, are made immediately aware that the MOD takes the business of care for its serving soldiers very seriously. ‘A lot of money is invested in these guys – it’s in everyone interest for them to get better’ says [CHK RANK] Vinnie Gallagher, the Royal Medical Corps physio who shows GQ around.

Facilities for the rehabilitation of muscular, skeletal and neurological injuries sustained in service look second to none. Headly Court is a grand 19th century house with large, calm gardens; perhaps similar to those of Craiglockhart, the Scottish military hospital descibed in Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy ‘Regeneration’, in which Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen convalesced. Or perhaps it is unique: the MOD has 14 other rehab facilities across the UK and 15 Departments of Community Mental Health for mentally ill soldiers, but it no longer has dedicated military hospitals. Responsibilty for a soldier’s care after discharge passes into the hands of the NHS, and The Priory Group – more notable for its work with casualties including Kate Moss – in the case of psychiatric disorders.

The MOD is rightfully proud of its facilities. ‘We consider that Headley Court is world class, unique and offers something very special for members of the armed forces,’ Surgeon Commodore Lionel Jarvis, the MOD Director of Medical Policy, tells GQ.

Jarvis says there are ‘a whole range of initiatives to assure [servicemen’s] transition to civilian life. But once they are discharged from the armed forces it is the responsibility of the NHS to look after those individuals. We don't, unlike the United States for example, provide a veterans healthcare service. It was a decision take at the inception of the NHS.’

But is an all too common experience for soldiers experiencing illness after discharge to find that NHS may treat their illness, but fail to understand them as ill former servicemen. ‘That is something we are well aware off,’ Jarvis says, ‘and we are making constant strenuous efforts to address that within the copmplicated farmework of the NHS. We will work hard with veterans policy unit and the civil service to make them continually aware of these difficulties. But there may be areas where there may be a GP, for example, who isn't entirely familiar, and thath is our job to maintain that educational.”

There is little doubt the MOD is improving its care services: in May reservists, who suffered higher incidences of mental illness than regulars, won entitlement for MOD mental health care extending to three years after demobilisation.

Psychiatric problems such as PTSD, Commodore Jarvis acknowledged, presented ‘a very big issue. There is a huge and constant educational prorgamme among all commanders and member of the armed forces to remove any suggestion of stigma. We are increasingly open and promoting the availablity of mental health support and and have been increasingly proactive over recent years.’

‘When someone is in service they are in the service family environmentand we hope and believe we pick people up when they have those problems. When they come to dicharge, they have to have a full discharge medical which assure that they are medically fit for discharge, and that includes mental health.’

The experiences of soldiers GQ spoke to suggest a different perspective - that it is depressingly easy for injured soldiers to fall into the cracks between the huge bureaucratic structures of the MOD and the NHS as they transfer between operations, returning home and life after discharge. Visitors to Headley Court may also be left with another nagging question: when care can be as substantial as this, why does it fail to reach so many others?


Even when they haven’t lost a limb or their reason, life beyond the garrison gates has always presented challenges to the former serviceman. The institutionalised nature of soldiering means many experience difficulties with the everyday logistics of civilian life after discharge: paying bills or rent, for example. Drug and alcohol addiction are commonplace. The military life excels in making soldiers self-reliant and adaptable: one consequence is that are they adept at being homeless. It remains extremely easy for soldiers to slip through the welfare net into homelessness, prison or substance abuse. Numbers of Gulf War I veterans living on the street soared during the Nineties, and although the MOD has pumped money into accommodation agencies, almost one in four homeless in 1997 were thought to ex-services.

One of the greatest problems is reticence. Soldiers on the parade ground aren’t given to volunteering vulnerability. It can take years of silent self-medication through drink and drugs before a veteran can reach out for help. Terry Saftis, a psychotherapist who works for ex-services hostel Home Base in west London, estimates it may take ‘five to six years for the symptoms to start surfacing in an acute form.’ Combat Stress say the delay a can amount to far longer. Demand for their services is strong: currently the agency are treating 69 veterans from the current conflict, and more than 2300 from Gulf War I, the Falklands and the army’s peacekeeping role in Northern Ireland. Veterans who fought in the Falklands, 24 years ago, are still coming forward with problems.

‘People who suffer from [mental illness] are very reticent to come forward - I can understand that as an ex-serviceman,’ Bellwood says. ‘There is a degree of guilt and shame and a stigma attached to whatever we say about mental illness. The average time between finishing service and coming to us is about 13 years. They have suffered or coped and but that’s awfully long time to be holding off treatment.”

There are further problems for the heroes of the Iraq conflict. Soldiers fighting  abroad operate with support from friends and family back home. But the support for Britain’s role in the Iraq campiagn has been prodoundly ambiguous form the start.

At least one eminent voice, Dr Chris Freeman, a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Edinburgh, wasn’t afraid to critique the current crisis publicly. Commenting on the case of a 21-year-old Scottish veteran who returned from Iraq with severe injuries and was housed amid drug addicts on a council estate, Freeman told The Scotsman, “Gulf War Two has changed society's attitude to soldiers. It has become our Vietnam. There have been no heroes in this war. Two-thirds of the country didn't want it to happen and that has a massive effect on the men who come home. Servicemen know they have been involved in something deeply unpopular, which has since spiralled out of control.’

Terry Saftis also notes a difference in attitudes to Iraq against other conflicts. ‘Ten per cent of referrals have served in the most recent conflict,’ he says, ‘and more from Afghanistan. Many felt very disillusioned after their experience there and didn't want to go to Iraq. A lot of had them didn't believe that they had any right to be there – it wasn’t just.’
For some the Iraq experience has shaken their faith in the institution of the army itself.

Sergeant Paul Kelly, 37, of the POW’s Royal Regiment served Iraq with an attachment with Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and was awarded of the rare and prestigious Military Cross, bestowed for ‘gallantry in the face of the enemy on land.’

In 2004 the ex-serviceman saw intense combat in south East Iraq and was shot in an ambush. Kelly is as robust and blunt as he is modest, and says: ‘Medals don’t make you a good soldier. It means that for an hour or two one day you probably did something extremely stupid. When I got shot, I thought I was going to die and when you think you're going to die, you do anything. So I was delighted to receive it - but still didn’t think I deserved it.’

Yet the point of it for Sgt Paul Kelly, who quit the army February and works now in bodyguarding in Kabul, Afghanistan, was always to do the job of soldiering to the best of his ability, whatever the broader strategic objectives and politics of the campaign, a position that probably situates Kelly closer to the mentality of the privates and corporals he commanded – ‘my blokes’ – than the officer class he served under. But by the time he emerged from Iraq and was discharged, everything had changed.

He terms the day he left as ‘the best day of my life’. And when he left his regiment, Kelly knew he was an influential, admired figure for new recruits. ‘I was asked if I could possibly keep quiet,’ he recalls. ‘And the answer was “no”.’
Kelly served 15 years with six tours in Northern Ireland, two in Iraq and one in Bosnia. He was decorated by the Queen for acts of gallantry in 2004. Earlier that year 2004 his patrol was ambushed, Kelly was shot in the left hand and fought back with his right against a 200-man militia with guns, RGPs, grenades and satchel charges. The unit were trapped in a building, fought back and took casualties for five hours. Kelly refused morphine because he wanted to remains consious.

Scars show where the bullet entered his body, shattereing bones, and where it emerged through his wrist. ‘I was lucky,’ he says. He thought he was going to die. In the end, his unit killed around 100 insurgents and quelled the battle. In a separate incident, Kelly led an attack to exterminate a gun position. His experience of contact in Iraq is extensive and his acquaintance with death, with an criminal adversary in sandals armed with RPGs and the nature of a messy, exhausting war in a dirty, dangerous place is as close as it gets: in yet another firefight Kelly recounts loading limbless corpses of his blokes into a personnel carrier. Into the vehicle, out of it into another fight, and back again, standing on bodies covered with blood, excrement and piss all the way back to the camp. The camp was attacked that night.

After his injury in 2004, the hero returned the UK to recuperate, ‘virtually begging for treatment,’ and ran into familiar problems. ‘The treatment just wasn’t there,’ he says. He ended up administering his own care. ‘I’d get my own stuff and bring it home, I’d clean it myself,’ he says. He found physiotherapy was unavailable too.

In 2005 Kelly became depressed and asked for help. He cried solidly for two hours in the company of an army psychiatrist as he sought to understand the trauma of 2004, and to understand why his unit’s raw contact experiences weren’t put to use training other soldiers. Around the same time he was passed over for a promotion. Some time later Kelly saw another psychiatrist. ‘He said, “there’s nothing wrong with you”,’ Kelly recalls. ‘I said, “I’m depressed. So you’re just telling me I’m whingeing?” He said, ‘well, yeah. ’So I shook his hand and walked out. That was the only help I got from the army.’
Kelly can survey a supremely accomplished service record, but he knows that while he survived Iraq, his career as a soldier could not survive the army.

‘I never asked for my life,’ he says, ‘I just liked doing my job to the best of my ability. Soon as you sign off you’re just a piece of shit. It's like that for most people. They don't care any more. Just go. I was quite happy to live to live with how crappy the army is, how you get treated, how they're not willing to learn from their mistakes, but since I been out - no.’

It’s hardly uncommon for former soldiers to feel less than effusive about their former employers. All soldiers enlist knowing injury is a possibility and that death can be part of the job. At the other end of a career, discharge is a brutally efficient process that doesn't encourage sentimental attachments to the past. Meanwhile, some regiments, as the British Army begins to deploy in growing numers in Afghanistan, are already thought to be overstretched and recruitment thought to be faltering, especially in the TA. An MOD report found 22 per cent of soldiers wanted to quit the army as soon as possible. It may be that in the long term Iraq will profoundly affect the army itself.

What is clear is that in the consciousness of the British public, Iraq, the remote conflict in the dangerous, dusty land, refuses to diminish. In fact, it grows larger and returns to the UK in caskets draped with the Union Flag, and is driven home by the experiences of the those physically injured, psychologically and emotionally brutalised, by their presence in the civilian life of Great Britain.

Unlike L/Cprl Daniel Twiddy, others are inconspicuous and their injuries limit them to a reclusive existence fighting their way through a psychoneurotic labyrinth stalked by PTSD, Gulf War Syndrome, depression, chronic fatigues, arthritis and other unexplainable illnesses.

Private Tony Bradshaw, 22, sits in the garden of the house he shares with his fiancée and four children outside Hull, and though he can tell you how he feel, he cannot tell you why he feels that way. It appears nobody can, or nobody wishes to try.

Bradshaw served in the ‘mucky dark horrible country’ in 23 Pioneer regiment at the start of the war, literally up to his arms in the muck. Pioneers are tasked with construction, and when the digging was done – although it was never really finished - Bradshaw would man a GPMG and scan the horizon. He recalls a continual sense of fearful panic and confused anxiety in the theatre of war.

He thinks his depression, flaring anger and panic attacks could be symptoms of PTSD. Is his sickness, cramps and fatigue Gulf War Syndrome, caused by anthrax tablets, squalene poisoning or depleted uranium exposure? He doesn’t know. Nor has a diagnosis been found for the violently painful skin disease for which he was evacuated out of Iraq. Angry welts and boils continues to appear all over his body and his arms, head, face and torso are cratered. ‘When I was in hospital, the major said to me, “when you get home you need to see a tropical medicine specialist”. I kept banging on to the army that I needed to go see these people. I’ve tried me own GP, and she can’t fund it. I found a hospital in Liverpool that will do it, but I’ll have to fund that myself. I’m funding me own psychotherapy, taking trips down to London but that’s £70 on trains at least. I’m living on £25 a week. It’s hard because that’s one trip to the shops and it’s gone.

‘I feel let down with the lack of proper medical help from the army. Gulf War syndrome should be recognised, I know it's been recognised as a ‘thing’, but not as an illness. Putting finger on what is actually making us ill. That’s what needs to happen.’

Like almost all the veterans GQ spoke to, Bradshaw feels Iraq changed him – it altered the positive way he felt about the army, and though he left the adversary over there, since his administrative discharge in 2004 he has fought desperately with illness. Just as few see an end to the violence in Iraq, Bradshaw is unable to see an end to his private struggle.

Illness, injury, anger and resentment but mainly profound disillusionment and a deathly resignation mark the lives of many British Army veterans who helped toppled Saddam Hussein and fought to establish peace in the new Iraq after 2003. It’s hardly surprising when L/Cprl David McGough says there ‘isn't a chance in hell’ that Britain should have been involved in Iraq in the first place, but it is shocking that heroes who fought and suffered were so poorly treated and abandoned after discharge, and in some cases, even before. While some of those GQ spoke to have been decorated, few of them received a hero’s welcome and none of them have been compensated so far.

Locked in combat with a spectrum of difficulties, disabilities and disorders related to their service, almost all of those GQ spoke to perceive the MOD, the Whitehall institution commentator Anthony Sampson termed ‘the Cold Monster’, as a particularly difficult new enemy in their civilian lives. Like fellow veterans who fought in the first Iraq war in 1991 who are still struggling to have Gulf war Syndrome recognised by the Ministry, the old soldier don't die or even fade away. These days they stand up, speak out and begin to fight back. In the end war in Iraq robbed the heroes of many things, but not their bravery.

The National Gulf veterans and Families Association
The British Legion,
Combat Stress,

Oswald Stoll

© 2006 Kevin Braddock


All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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