The Army of Angels: War wounds aren’t necessarily physical
My name is Stephen Valentine and I was born in November 1969. At the age of 18, I decided to enlist in the British Army as a driver in the Royal Corps of Transport (RCT). I completed my basic training in February 1988 and was then posted to eight Squadron, 27 Regiment RCT at Buller Barracks in Aldershot.
In November 1990, 27 Regt was given formal notice of its deployment to Saudi Arabia in anticipation of taking part in operations during the first Gulf war. The regiment finally deployed on active service in January 1991.
Only days after arriving, our holding location came under attack from Scud missiles and shortly thereafter we relocated to our new home in the desert. Our tour of duty in the Gulf lasted approximately four months and covered the ground offensive in February of that year and the eventual liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi forces.
A few short weeks after returning home for rest and recuperation, we resumed our normal duties in Aldershot. For a long period after the end of the war many personnel suffered major problems due to their experiences and as a result were summarily discharged from the forces. I stayed with the Army until February 1992 at which point I decided to purchase my own discharge.
With no immediate help at hand after discharge, I moved with my family to Manchester, staying with my mother. Things didn’t go well for me – all the signs were there to see but somehow I missed them. Eventually, after a very self-destructive period, I was diagnosed with depression and placed on a cocktail of anti-depressants, which did little to relieve my symptoms or improve my situation. My problems persisted over the next few years and through contact with army friends with whom I had served, I came to realise that I wasn’t the only one to be suffering in this way.
The team from Combat Stress visited me on a number of occasions and finally offered me a place at their Audley Court treatment centre in Newport. This proved to be a turning point in my life. I was given the opportunity to meet a wide variety of ex-service personnel who had served during every conflict since the second World War. At the time I was under the misapprehension that I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), having being diagnosed as such by a specialist sent by the War Pensions Agency. Very quickly I understood from talking to those around me that, while I had a depressive illness, it wasn’t PTSD. And, more importantly, I recognised that I still needed help.
During my stay at the centre I met many people, including a WWII veteran who was one of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s skin graft patients (also proudly know as guinea pigs). He had been attending the centre almost from the day it was opened and returns each year for rehab and respite care. Another resident I met served in the Falklands War. He had found it almost impossible to adjust to civilian life, couldn’t hold down a job and had become a virtual recluse, preferring to stay in his home. I discovered that he had very few of the necessities of life in his flat to make his life more bearable. This touched me in such a way that I determined to make the lives of such people better in any way I could.
The result was the Army Of Angels charity, which was set up to assist former, and in some cases serving, members of the forces, with the basic necessities of life after, or in preparation for, their discharge. We want to provide items to help improve their situation, whatever it might be. We are also able to help the families of injured service personnel by offering respite breaks in our holiday homes and to assist the families of those personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The Army of Angels is committed to providing whatever help it can, and its ability to assist is only constrained by the funds available to help it meet the needs of injured forces personnel and their families.
We issued our plea this December to call veterans forward who may be suffering, just as I did, from either physical or psychological injuries as a result of UK conflict. Wounds aren’t necessarily physical, and the effects of both can cause veterans to struggle to make ends meet. The Army of Angels charity is here to help anyone suffering to improve their situation, and to remind all that no one should suffer in silence; particularly after fighting for their country.
For more information about the Army of Angels visit www.armyofangels.org.ukTagged in: army, Army of angels, Combat Stress, depression, Gulf War, Military, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, post-traumatic stress, PTSD, soldiers, War
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