Just two years after his friend William Aldridge, 18, was fatally wounded in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, becoming the youngest British soldier to die there, Rifleman Allan Arnold took his own life. The 20-year-old was on leave and staying with his sister Abigail, 23, in Cirencester, when he was found dead.
She recalls the last thing he ever said to her: “‘Don’t lock the door as I will be coming straight back, I’ll see you in a bit’. Allan was walking someone home who had had too much to drink and he knew how much I hated leaving my front door unlocked when I was going to bed.”
But he never came back and was later found hanging from a tree on the edge of Cirencester.
“At first I didn’t really want to believe it. I couldn’t believe that my brother had taken his own life.”
Abigail describes the brother she grew up with. “He was truly amazing, he had gone through so much and struggled so hard as a child with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, but throughout everything Allan never gave up. When he had a goal he always achieved it no matter what. He was kind and honest and full of laughter, he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He loved all his family and friends and would have done anything for us. He was fantastic - truly amazing, very free spirited, and anything was possible in Allan’s eyes.”
Before he went to Afghanistan in 2009, her brother was “full of life, really hyperactive and always having a good time, his motto was work hard play harder. When he was home the house was always full of laughter and banter and loud music it was always fun.”
But Allan returned from Afghanistan “a broken man, a man who had traumatic flashbacks that on one occasion had resulted in hospitalisation, and he barely slept for the fear of ‘going back there’.”
Her brother started drinking heavily and “barely talked about his tour, only when he was drunk and of a certain state of mind. Even then he spoke more of his guilt about surviving and being uninjured than of what actually happened. He’d said a couple of times that it should have been him who had died not his mates. It was hard hearing this, and equally as hard seeing him cry over a hallucination of his mate William Aldridge - whom Allan said was standing in our family kitchen smiling and looking at him.”
Abigail recalls the guilt her brother felt. “I think Allan blamed himself even though it wasn’t his fault and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it, he felt guilty for being alive.”
Whilst not blaming anyone for her brother’s death, she says more could have been done to prevent it. “He obviously wasn’t in a good place and I believe that the Army/MOD failed in its duty of care to acknowledge Allan’s pain and suffering.”
His sister adds: “In the weeks before his death Allan had spoken out to a physiotherapist about his mental health saying he didn’t feel ready to go back out on tour and that he was struggling...yet nothing came of this conversation.”
The sense of loss she feels is indescribable. “I don’t think I can put into words how much I miss Alan at all, there’ll be a song on the radio that will remind me of him or somebody will walk past whose wore the same deodorant or aftershave as him and you get that gut wrenching feeling in your stomach like you want to be sick, because you are never going to see him again.”
Determined that her brother’s death not be in vain, she has vowed to “do all that I can to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder. I will not rest until the opinion of PTSD being a weakness is changed and until there is a change in the system where all individuals who want and need help are actually given it. Counselling needs to be more readily available, the stigma of PTSD being a weakness needs to change its not a weakness at all it never has been a weakness. And I think that more awareness needs to be raised about the stresses and strains that our troops go through with any tour.”