STT News & Course Updates

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Sobering up after Christmas

As the New Year dawns it's traditionally a time for reflection on the year just gone and looking ahead to the future. We live in serious times so I thought I'd start the year with a sobering thought after the frivolity of the holiday season.

For me it was Henry, Harry and William who captured my attention and admiration during 2008. The three men are the only three surviving servicemen from World War I, the Great War, as we sometimes refer to it. At a combined age of 330 years, these three men have a lot of memories. Some of the most vivid memories however come from their engagement with the enemy during the Great War. These traumatic memories have stayed with them for eighty years now - that is a lifetime of suffering they have endured.

Today, we think we understand about the traumas of war. We know all about PTSD and the acute stress reactions which some soldiers experience. Back in 1914-18 though the authorities couldn’t even decide what to call this disorder which was affecting front line troops. “Effort Syndrome” or “War Neurosis” or “Shell Shock” were the names which were banded about with no real understanding or comprehension of what these men were suffering in their minds.

I think the celebrated ‘war poets’ were probably the people who came closest to putting into words what men like Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and William Stone were reliving every day of their very long lives. The mournful poem by Siegfried Sassoon “Suicide in the Trenches” captures in verse what so many men had to face every day during the conflict.

At long last commentators and newspapers are picking up on stories about soldiers today and the trauma they have to face. It does seem that the Ministry of Defence always plays down the number of soldiers who are suffering from PTSD. Whatever figures you see on this matter, take them with a pinch of salt!

Looking to the year ahead, Britain’s military presence in Iraq will probably wind down but our military forces will be asked to take on an even bigger role in Afghanistan. With more frequent tour duties in countries of conflict the chances of troops developing PTSD are even greater.

Of course being British I'm seeing this from a British view point, concerned for our lads in the conflict zones. But we need to spare a thought for all those caught up in the theatre of war, from innocent civilians to those fighting on the other side. Who is there to recognise their mental stress and offer the help they need?

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