COMING HOME

Next weekend the Parachute Regiment is staging the first major reunion of veterans from the Falklands War. Baroness Thatcher will be there, and Jim Davidson will be telling the jokes. But it will be an occasion of mixed emotions - as for many former soldiers the war is still not over
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THE paratrooper crouches without cover on the barren hillside, unable to move backwards or forwards, while all around the ground is churned up by explosions and flying metal. Next to him one comrade lies dead and another badly wounded, his body ripped full of holes from a mortar bomb. A trained medic, the "Para" has already done all he can for the injured man; now he can only talk to him constantly in order to keep him alive. He lies repeatedly that their dead friend is going to be fine. The rest of his unit has gone on into the vicious barrage, possibly blown to pieces, and his officer has gone back for help. Isolated without radio contact, the soldier can do little but wait, all the time believing that the next shell or bullet could have his name on it. It is a wait that goes on for five long hours. And all that time the guns keep firing.

This harrowing scene was first played out 16 years ago, in the battle for Goose Green during the Falklands War. Most recently the nightmare was re-enacted 10 days ago in the tortured mind of the Para veteran, as it has been on every anniversary since the battle. During the rest of the year he rarely sleeps properly and frequently wakes up screaming. His wife once found him cowering in the bottom of the wardrobe, still trying to find cover from the bullets and shells.

Dave Brown, a former private from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, is just one of hundreds of soldiers and sailors from that far-away conflict for whom the war is still going on. Like them, he is a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and his life has been permanently damaged. Still only 37, he can no longer work but must live on a military pension and constantly re-assessed state benefits. He used to have a serious drink problem and has served time in prison for football hooliganism. That he is still married makes him one of the lucky ones. The stories of his former comrades in arms are littered with divorce and broken relationships. Some have become virtual hermits, turning their backs on a society which doesn't understand and doesn't care; many others are homeless, hardened alcoholics or have spent time in jails and mental institutions. Dozens are thought to have committed suicide. It is a desperately sad conclusion to the story of Britain's most celebrated modern feat of arms, a million miles from the flag-waving jingoism and military hero- worship that characterised the war. And every month still brings news of fresh casualties.

Next weekend, the regimental headquarters at Aldershot plays host to the first major reunion of Falklands veterans from the Parachute Regiment and other airborne forces, coinciding with the anniversary of the final Argentinian surrender on 14 June 1982. Baroness Thatcher, who many believe owes much of her political success to those who fought, will be there, as will Lieutenant General Sir Huw Pike, one of the country's most senior soldiers and a former Para commander in the Falklands. Entertainment on Saturday night will be provided by comedian Jim Davidson, appearing for free in his role as friend to the forces. The celebratory mood, however, will be tempered on Sunday with the unveiling of a memorial to the 49 airborne soldiers who died in the campaign.

Dave Brown will also be there, reflecting the dual tone of the event. "I'm going because it will be great to see all the lads again, but also to show that we haven't forgotten those who didn't come back," he says. As the date marks the dimming of the nightmares for another year, it will also be an occasion of relief. Most of all, perhaps, he hopes that it will see the beginning of a greater awareness of the condition that afflicts so many like him. "We just want to say: Yes, remember the dead. But don't forget the living who are still suffering."

Dave's personal journey from idealistic young soldier to traumatised veteran began when he went ashore at San Carlos Bay in the lead landing- craft of the invasion force. It was his 21st birthday. Now he looks an unlikely "Para Reg" hero, or "trained killer" as he ironically calls himself - standing at a slim 5ft 10ins and wearing glasses. But in his eyes and in his slow Yorkshire speech there is an intensity which can be disturbing. His story is instructive, because in the extraordinary context of the terrible events at Goose Green, and the whole war, his experience was not exceptional. He did not receive horrendous physical wounds, and while doing his job very well he was awarded no medals for heroism. But, even though he was a member of the regiment which prides itself on being the toughest in the British Army, the mental scars he suffered that day will be with him for the rest of his life. How many more are afflicted in the same way? The shameful answer is that no one really knows. Official research has never been done. Some estimates, however, put the figure at more than 50 per cent of front-line troops.

AT 12 NOON on 28 May 1982, C Company of "2 Para" formed up behind a line of gorse bushes at the top of a gently sloping hill. Before them the ground, devoid of any features or cover, rolled down for two kilometres to their objective - the heavily defended airfield outside Goose Green village. By this stage the battalion had been marching and fighting for 19 hours and Colonel "H" Jones, its commander, was dead - shot down in a solo charge on Argentinian positions for which he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. His battle-plan had so far held C Company in reserve, but now their job was to form part of the final push with a frontal assault on the airfield. The plan, however, was running hours behind schedule and the attack that should have taken place in darkness was to be carried out in broad daylight. Staring down the hill, one officer described it as looking like a "sloping billiard table". Then came the order to fix bayonets.

"People just looked at each other, thinking: 'This is not real,' " says Dave. "It was like something out of the First World War. I think everybody had the same idea, that if we went out on that hill we would be slaughtered." But true to their training every man responded and the company moved in a straight-line "open formation" from behind their last means of cover. Another officer remembered the scene as almost comical, saying that it reminded him of the closing sequence of Dad's Army, and he found himself whistling the theme tune as he went forward. Reality came rushing back when, about half-way down the slope, the Argentinian defenders opened up with everything they had. Artillery, heavy machine guns, mortars and small-arms raked the hillside, together with withering fire from anti- aircraft guns capable of pumping out 1,000 rounds a minute. In response, C Company had no heavy supporting fire. Islanders who watched the scene from the nearby village of Goose Green thought that no one could possibly survive. In fact the unit sustained one dead and 12 wounded in as many minutes.

Dave, who was attached to the company command headquarters, was with some of the first to be hit. "One of our machine gunners took a blast from a mortar shell, and one of the signallers was hit when he went forward to help. I was about 100 yards away, but when I saw that two lads were wounded I charged down to see what I could do," he says. Another mortar round came in, killing the signaller and wounding the company commander, who had also arrived on the scene. "We were still under a horrendous barrage, and then just to spice things up they started firing rockets at us at head height."

The leading platoons, meanwhile, had disappeared further down the hill, and radio contact with them had been lost. The injured officer went back to the top to find out what was going on, leaving Dave to look after the wounded machine gunner. Remarkably the man survived, evacuated after the long wait for darkness and relief, and Dave eventually got back to where he had started from. During the night he went down again to retrieve the dead signaller's radio codes so that they did not fall into enemy hands, and then burned them in the gorse bushes which had caught fire during the day. As he did so, he found that his hands and uniform were covered in his friend's blood. "There were rumours that the rest of the company had been wiped out. So we sat there all night expecting an Argentinian counter-attack or thinking that in the morning we would have to go back down that hill to finish the job," says Dave. In fact, the Argentinian defenders surrendered the next morning, but Dave still spends many of his nights in fear. Often he will not sleep until first light, when he knows that he is safe.

He is not the only one to be traumatised by these events. Of the friends that he still sees from C Company, one sits in a council flat in Liverpool all day, drinking to dull the memories and refusing to come out. Another only leaves his isolated Welsh cottage once a month to buy groceries. A third takes to army training-grounds on the Brecon Beacons when it all becomes too much for him, living for days on end in a trench. Three others have committed suicide.

Dave left the regiment after a further three years' service. He got a job but spent his spare time drinking and following his beloved Leeds United, becoming notorious for his fighting prowess on the terraces. In 1987, he was caught up in the government crackdown on football hooliganism, and received a four-year sentence for conspiracy to cause violence in a trial that he still insists was a sham. Evidence that he was suffering from PTSD was ignored by the judge, he says.

Now he is receiving treatment for his condition, and only fights the system with letters. He finally won a partial war pension in 1995 - eight years after he was diagnosed with PTSD - and ever since has been arguing for what he considers to be his full entitlement. Recently he tried to organise a trip with the army back to the Falklands, on the advice of his psychologist, in order to lay some of the ghosts to rest. But so far he has been refused permission on the grounds that flights to the islands are purely for operational purposes. At the same time, seats have been made available to a commercial company mounting tours of the battlefields. "That just about says it all," says Dave. "All I want to do is walk down that hill in peacetime and bury some bad memories."

THE FIRST group legal action on behalf of psychologically damaged Falklands veterans is currently being mounted - the Ministry of Defence is accused of failing to take adequate care of them on their return. This failure, lawyers argue, compounded the problems of the sufferers and led to their natural trauma becoming a chronic condition.

Despite all the lessons learnt from the First and Second World Wars, when concepts such as "shell shock" or "battle shock" were first recognised, it was not until 1980 that a medical definition of PTSD was framed. This came out of extensive research done in the United States with Vietnam veterans, and from studies conducted in Israel in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This found that a set of characteristic symptoms followed distressing events well outside the usual range of human experience. As well as combat, other traumas associated with the condition include rape, being held hostage, natural disasters and road-traffic accidents. The symptoms involve the frequent re-experiencing of the event through dreams or flashbacks, avoidance of things associated with it, a numbing of emotional responses and increased psychological arousal - including sleeplessness, difficulty in concentrating and outbursts of anger or violence. While some or all of these things are natural short-term reactions to extreme stress, the full PTSD condition occurs when they persist or become more pronounced over a long period of time. Early intervention is seen as the key to preventing short-term shock turning into long-term disability.

The legal argument hinges on the fact that all this emerging knowledge was available to the MoD years before the outbreak of the Falklands War, and claims that preparations should have been made to deal with the inevitable PTSD casualties both during and after the fighting. Instead, lawyers say, the MoD chose virtually to ignore the problem, and so was in breach of its legal duty of care to the soldiers and sailors it commanded. Rather than increasing its efforts as problems began to emerge, the government actually scaled down the psychological facilities available to serving and former servicemen as part of defence budget cuts.

John Mackenzie is the lead solicitor in the action, and has spent five years researching PTSD and its effects. In 1995 he achieved a pounds 100,000 out-of-court settlement from the MoD for Alex Findlay, a Scots Guardsman who fought at the battle of Tumbledown and who suffered PTSD. While serving in Northern Ireland in 1990, Findlay suffered a complete breakdown and after a heavy drinking session held members of his platoon at gun point and fired two shots into a television. He was given two years in prison by a court martial. Mackenzie has now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights to try and get the conviction quashed.

"This is a terrifying, horrifying, appalling disorder," Mackenzie says. "Our general case is that if the MoD had got stuck in and done something during the first year after the Falklands then they could have made a substantial difference. Now I'm afraid that it's too late for a lot of these guys. They are ruined humans and they want an acknowledgement of their condition and their suffering."

Support for the argument came last year in an article published by Roderick Orner, district clinical psychologist for Lincoln District Healthcare NHS Trust, in which he charted the response of the MoD to PTSD after the Falklands and compared it with the very different reactions of the US and Israel to their combat veterans. He pointed, for instance, to American studies published as early as 1978 which recorded problems of violence, depression, political alienation and adjustment among Vietnam veterans. Failure to take this evidence on board before the Falklands campaign, said Orner, remains, "a source of lasting discredit and embarrassment to the British Ministry of Defence". He quoted a total of 37 studies carried out between 1973 and 1992 into PTSD in Vietnam veterans, and a seven-year follow-up project for Israeli veterans of the Lebanon War. By contrast, no comprehensive research into those who fought in the Falklands has ever been done. The official view, given in Parliament in October 1982, reported "only 17 men as shell-shock cases".

Such work as has been done shows this estimate to have been a huge understatement. In 1987, a national newspaper reported that Surgeon Commander Morgan O'Connell, a naval psychiatrist who served with the task force, had carried out a survey of 924 naval officers and ratings who were also in the South Atlantic. He found that one in eight were thought to have war-related psychiatric problems. The study, however, was never officially published. O'Connell did run intensive courses for some PTSD sufferers at a naval base in Portsmouth, until that was closed down.

In 1991, research was jointly published by Steven Hughes, the medical officer with 2 Para in the Falklands, into 64 veterans who were still serving in the battalion. It found that 22 per cent of this sample had the full PTSD syndrome, and a further 28 per cent suffered three out of the four criteria for the condition - a total of 50 per cent. Only 28 per cent did not admit to any PTSD symptoms. Crucially, the research raised the prospect of a "continued increase in rates due to delayed-onset PTSD". Furthermore, as the initial research was carried out five years after the conflict, it could take no account of the many veterans who had left the army by that time and who could be expected to show higher rates of problems.

The welfare and residential treatment of veterans is now almost entirely in the hands of voluntary organisations, and some veterans' groups are calling for more direct help from the Government. Last year, a new organisation, SAMA 82 (South Atlantic Medal Association), was formed to provide support and advice. It is now seeking a Lottery grant to fund the research into PTSD among Falklands veterans that the government has so signally failed to carry out.

So what is the reason for this official reticence? John Mackenzie is in no doubt. "They just don't care," he says. "The MoD is interested in servicemen so long as they remain fit and compliant, but as soon as they cease to fit that mould then the comfortable image it tries to portray of caring, family-style units, particularly regiments, goes out of the window. It's just a marketing ploy that has no basis in reality."

GRAHAM EVANS, or "Scooter" to his mates, will be having his own day of remembrance tomorrow. It will be a quiet affair, probably spent at home with his best friend from his old regiment - and a lot of beer. As a former lance-sergeant in the Welsh Guards, he will again be reliving the moment at 5pm on 8 June 1982 when a 500lb Argentinian bomb hit the troopship Sir Galahad. In that moment and its immediate aftermath, 51 of his comrades died in one of the most horrific and tragic incidents of the Falklands War.

" 'Air Warning Red! Air Warning Red!' Then BOOM!" Graham says. We are sitting in his kitchen but he sounds a long way off. "Boom! ... Boom! ... Boom!"

He was standing with the section he commanded on the main "tank deck" in the bowels of the ship, orders issued and fully loaded with kit and ammunition, still waiting after nine hours to be taken off by landing craft. He had just gone to talk to one of his officers, a captain and ex-regimental sergeant major known as "Chalky" White: "A very important man," says Graham. "I went up to Chalk and I said, ' 'Scuse me sir, we've been on this ship too fucking long.' Then we got the 'Air Warning Red'. I looked at Chalky, he looked at me, and we knew, we just fucking knew, there was something going down. Crazy. I just went for my rifle and then 'Boom!'. Hell on earth."

Graham was blown about 30 feet backwards through the air. "I remember thinking to myself, 'Fuck ... ing hell. I'm the best soldier in the world. How can anyone do this to me?' " But he fared better than the mortar platoon which was assembled in front of his own section on the deck where the bomb struck. They were just blown apart or "fried" where they stood. "People don't understand what happens when a bomb hits like that. People don't just die, they are blown all over the place, smashed against bulkheads, just smashed, smashed," says Graham. "And the men screaming. God, Jesus Christ, you don't ever want to hear a man scream like that. And there were 30 men screaming. I'm not an uneducated man, but I just can't find a word for it. There was mayhem and total chaos, yes, but nothing can describe what it was there. It wasn't fear. It was something beyond fear."

He'd been around a lot before that, he says. He'd been wounded during his first tour in Northern Ireland, and another man had been killed. He'd done and felt lots of things. "But nothing, before or since, has moved me like that split second of just seeing those men die."

He is not alone. The first tranche of 20 PTSD cases, due to come before the courts at the beginning of next year, is entirely made up of Welsh Guardsmen. Among their symptoms is a common feeling of guilt - guilt at not having done enough to help, despite their own injuries. Guilt at being taken off as casualties while their comrades had to fight on. Guilt at being alive when so many others had died.

Guilt was among the first wave of emotions that hit Graham when he was lying aboard the hospital ship with third-degree burns to his hands and face, on his way home. He knew then, he says, that his army career was effectively over.

Once back with the regiment he found himself able to carry on, initially with success, and he served for another five years. He was actually awarded the prize for being the best section commander in the battalion for two years running. But as his condition worsened he found himself increasingly in trouble for offences associated with drinking and insubordination. As his downwards spiral gathered pace, he lost both his marriage and, stage by stage, his position in the regiment. Far from receiving help, he felt himself to be the object of persecution. He spent his last 28 days of a distinguished 12-year army career in military prison, reduced to the rank of guardsman (private).

His attitude towards the army is now one of total bitterness. "They just brainwash you, and you get sucked into it," he says. "All they want are yes men, and if you won't do that any more they've got no use for you. When you leave, they give you nothing. Nothing. They don't even make sure you have got somewhere to live."

Back in "civvy-street", he quickly picked up a conviction and two years in prison for robbing someone at knife-point. Once out again, he lived rough for two months under the arches at Charing Cross station and sold the Big Issue to keep him in drink. It was only after a friend from army days, also a diagnosed PTSD sufferer, found him that things started to look up. His disorder was finally recognised, and he spent six months in a psychiatric institution and managed to straighten himself out to some extent. He got married again last year, and now lives in a council house in Peterborough on a war pension and disability benefits. His troubles, however, are still far from over.

He finds it hard to socialise in public, as he sees threats everywhere, and is frequently getting into fights or being beaten up. He now has four convictions, all for violence-related offences. Even at home, it seems, he is not safe. Last month, he was in court again, and was given two years on probation for affray. He had seen two youths urinating against his garden fence and had gone out to remonstrate. They attacked him, he went back in the house and then chased them down the street with a kitchen knife. He ended the day in casualty with 12 stitches in his head after being battered with a length of timber.

His main reason for pursuing a court case of his own, he insists, is for recognition. "It's not about the money, it really isn't. Mostly we are looking to make sure that the next Welsh Guardsman that goes in the regiment won't go through the same shit that we went through," says Graham, at the end of a long afternoon during which his kitchen table has become littered with empty beer cans.

"It's about time that we started saying, 'Give us some help.' I don't need to be in jail. I don't need to be dead. I need some help. Just give us some help. And then leave us alone."

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