What Matters to Veterans: Tom’s Story

Our most recent work, focuses on what matters to veterans in Essex and it highlights the importance of providing mental health support within the military. Tom’s story describes an experience which had a significant impact on him at a time when mental health support was not available. Tom’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

“I can give you an example of when I was a young soldier, I was based in Northampton. I was a young private soldier in the Royal Pioneer Corps before I transferred to the military police. We were clearing out the old barracks and, unfortunately, the fire service had attended as they were draining these old emergency water supply tanks. Well, this one was below ground level, so it was similar to a concrete swimming pool with a chicken wire-type fence around it. The fire service had come along, opened the chicken wire fence and the camp was basically empty. We were just moving the last few bits from Northampton to Oxfordshire, but the married quarter patch was still being used by a lot of military people that were coming out of the army. So, the fire brigade had come along, cut the fence open and they were starting to drain the tank. Unfortunately, they got called out on a blue light job, so they packed up everything and disappeared.

What we think happened was somebody’s cat got into the actual pond or into the water supply. Two children followed to try and get the cat out and both fell into the water and drowned. I was in there fishing them out basically, and we had absolutely no support whatsoever back in them days, it was the early nineties. I  went to the hospital with these two children who were clearly not alive and stood outside of the emergency room where they were being worked on. When the parents were brought in, obviously, I witnessed the whole lot and for a young lad it was not pleasant.

got virtually no support at that time, but I have been involved in lots of other stuff more recently. In the latter years I was in situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, working for the British Embassy on various jobs, but it is a world apart, it really is. There are mental health people assigned to work with the military now. You go through a completely different process whenever you deploy and then especially when you return from an operation. You go through what is called a ‘decompression process’ where everybody gets the opportunity to talk about things, and you’re signposted to the relevant authority. However as military, we tend to bottle it all up until something goes bang, which by that stage it is too late or the problem’s an awful lot worse.”