Thursday, 26 June 2008


Just want to respond to the amazing comments that I've received about my post about PTSD.

My wonderful Granpa was in the WWI he was with his older brother and his twin brother on the Somme. Both of them were killed in action there and Granpa was sent home like Private Ryan to serve the rest of the war in Cambridge teaching new soldiers.

He was the most gentle soul, when he was 70 I bought him what I thought was a wonderful present, I was about 14 . It was a recording by a man called Vince Hill of the song Roses of Picardy. I knew it had been a first World War song. I thought in my innocence that Granpa would like it. I played it in front of the family. He sat there crying and not saying a word. I don't know if anyone spoke, I don't have any more memory of the event.

I don't know if he ever talked about his experiences. And it was only years later after his death, when his stolen diary turned up that I got the chance to read his story of being sent out to France till the day his beloved twin brother died, when he stopped writing.

I have always felt powerfully drawn to the history of WWI, and in the last two years have been to both Ypres and to the Somme. In the later I saw my Great Uncles name carved into the monument at Arras, Granpa's twin brother.

In my job I work counselling anyone the GPs send me. I specialise in getting people to deal with their emotions be they anger or sadness or whatever. I do not exclusively work with ex military, they are just a group I'm seeing more of and doing some intensive work with at the moment. But then I'm also doing that with a fair few people at the moment.

And in answer to one of the comments, or course hundreds of servicemen and woman will not need counselling. Just as not all the population needs it. Although I think everyone would actually benefit in knowing healthier ways to deal with their feelings. Especially those who use stress related disorders like depression and anxiety or addictions to deal with their stuff.

I only work with people who have reached a point in their lives for whatever reason that they feel trapped by their own ways of working emotionally, and they come needing to find a different way so as they can make sense of their worlds.

So crying and yelling works in a way that when tried, is a real eye opener to the person who has been severely stuck emotionally before. It's not some wacky sort of cult stuff I'm advocating here. It's learning to be whole emotionally and logically and not frightened of our feelings. We all have them, we're born with them. But we don't all feel at ease expressing them.

I'm never happier in therapy than when I get women letting go of their rage and men crying, so working against the typical stereotypes of how each gender should behave.

Psychological distress has been around for ever, I agree you can find it in any poetry from the WWI poets. The only difference now is we know it's coming. Back then nobody knew about psychiatric illness being as result of warfare. Pat Barker's trilogy about this makes fantastic reading as it looks at the development of the psychiatry service that continues today.

This time though WE know that the young people who return will be likely, but of course not definitely, be suffering from PTSD.

We the people here have a responsibility of care for them. Brushing it under the carpet will not do. Thinking that it's not real won't work. If we do this we will have a situation like that in America related to their Vietnam vets.

The armed forces need their disciplined and obedient soldiers.

We need normalised young people back.

The photo at the top is of Tyne Cop, the biggest Commonwealth Grave in the world. There are 11,000 bodies buried there, and 50,000 names engraved on the walls of the monument of unfound bodies in Ypres.

Lest we forget.


Withy Brook said...

Thank you for that explanation Bb. You do a wonderful job. Who looks after you and the others working in the field?

CAMILLA said...

Thank you BB, as Withy says you do an amazing job. I hope there are others who are looking after you when times get too tough.

Mei Del said...

hear! hear!

and thank you for your mention of roses of picardy -it reminded me of the mario lanza records my dad used to play

Trixie said...

It is such a rewarding job for you hon!

Exmoorjane said...

I too would advocate the incredible Pat Barker trilogy. My great uncle was shell-shocked from WWI - before he went to the trenches he was a concert pianist - his hands never stopped shaking afterwards. So many other relatives who never spoke of the many lives that veered off course afterwards.
As a coda to this, Adrian was phoned by a woman doing market research on charities. She read him a huge list and he said 'I don't give to any of those'. So she asked him which charities he did support. He replied 'military ones'. 'Oh, we don't have any of those on our list,' she said. Says it all really.
I echo Withy - who looks after you in this? Take care, BB.

Preseli Mags said...

Very moving story about your Grandpa. My Grandad didn't talk about his experiences in Ypres either. I can't even begin to understand what it was like for our grandparents or for any other serviceman or woman enduring the theatre of war. I think it is a very brave job that you do too and add my thanks to the others above that you have written two such amazing blogs on the subject. xx PM

Blossomcottage said...

Wonderful blog. I was talking to my mother yesterday about your blog on our way to see a friend of hers who is very ill. She was telling me that her friends husband was in the Air Force during the WW11 he was a pilot in Bomber Command and flew the missions to Dresden. He never spoke of it, he was a stern and stubborn man and difficult to live with. During the 60's they had a cruise on the Rhine and when they stopped at Dresend, he refused to get off he just sat pale in stunned silence.

Walker said...

My grandfather faught in WWI.
My father says he never spoke oof it and for the rest of his life untill he was 105 he spent it alone.
He would leave my Grandmother and the kids and would go into the mountains and watch flocks of sheep while the oweners tgave the money to my grandmother.
No one knows what he saw.

I used to know many Canadian WWI vets who faught in Ypres, the Somme and Vimy Ridge, they didn't say much other than it was a living nightmare.

Most suffered from shell shock the rest of their lives.
War is hell that neer ends even during peace time.

I think John Mcrea summed it up best when he wrote In Flanders Fields.
Their horror and desire to end the carnage spoken through him by someone who saw who himself joined his fallen comrades.

Great posts

Midnight said...

I've been to many commonwealth war graves around the world and they are all tended superbly. At least we have got that right!

Bollinger Byrd said...

Again it's difficult to find words for individual comments, so I hope you'll let me off for not doing so.

But thank you so much for your caring comments.
It does have to be said that one of the places I get looked after is here.
And most days that is enough, and if it's not then I have a very good supportive group of friends, who are mainly all therapists themselves!

hugs to you all,and I will be round to see you this weekend, but got to learn to sail first!

Lady in red said...

About 8 months ago I was visiting my grandfather in hospital when he started telling me about his time in france during WW2. When I visited my mother in hospital next day I mentioned this. She thought he must have been talking about a film he had seen as her father adn't been in the war he was one of those who had to stay behind because of his job but he was a fire warden.

Over the following few months my grandfather began to talk more about his time in france. It now transpires that he had never told anyone including his family that he had been in the war.

He had signed the Official Secrets so to him that meant he couldn't talk about his experiences. But now in his 90's he thinks it is safe to talk about it at last.

I wonder how many other men also kept things to themselves for the same reason.