“Have we moved on?” A soldier’s daughter and mum remembers


By Maria Carroll

Remembrance Sunday has a specific meaning in our family. You see, I’m a soldier’s daughter born to a soldier’s son. I’m also a soldier’s Mum.

From early childhood we have attended the parades, worn out poppies and paid tribute but we never talked about it. Never talked about what our forebears saw and the consequences of that on the generations that came after. There must be millions of families like mine that didn’t talk about it.

One hundred years of not talking about it.

It was only through tracing our family forces history that we found out some of it. My grandfather fought in WW1. From Ireland he and his five brothers came to fight against fascism. He was the only one of those six boys that survived the battle of the Somme. I didn’t know. We didn’t talk about it. He returned to life in a mining village. I believed the persistent cough was from mining, because we didn’t talk about the mustard gas.

As a young child of a soldier family I travelled the world with my parents. We played in the beautiful Roman ruins in Homs, probably the world’s most intact Roman ruins, now mostly lost to the bombing of Syria. We played with children in so many countries. None of us knew, because our parents didn’t talk about it. We were allies, not against another country or culture, but allies of childhood games.

I was six when I first remember dad being ill, or more ill than usual. I wrote in my school diary that my dad had been found in Cardiff, suffering from amnesia. A child of six telling school friends what amnesia was, describing an adult cowering in a corner crying, wasn’t something the schools could cope with. It soon got closed down because we don’t talk about that. By the age of seven I learned the stigma of mental health illness and I learnt to not talk about it. That’s what we do to get by, to belong, be accepted.

I was seven when Dad was medically discharged from the army. Just like that. No after care, no support. No home and a very sick man, who stared into space, tried but still cried, cowered in a corner reliving something we had no idea of and calling out about shoes, children’s shoes. He was still to me the most wonderful man on the planet.

Two years later my five brothers and I were told one morning, by Mum aged 33, that we had to be very brave – our Dad was dead. We didn’t get told how and why, because we didn’t talk about that. But the kids in school knew and it didn’t take long for them to escalate from your dad is in a ‘loony bin’ to he ‘topped’ himself. But there was no one for us to talk to, no one explaining or listening nor did we ask, because talking about it brings attention and we didn’t want that. We believed we were different, didn’t belong. Now we know we weren’t. It’s just that no one talks about it.

There was no such thing as PTSD, no care for veterans, plenty of heroic parades and celebrations for those who gave so much but no one talked about those suffering the impact in their minds. My Dad may have been honourably medically discharged from the army on paper but we were, all of us, dishonourably discharged from the celebrations, from society and any form of after support that may have existed for families. What little that did exist was from charities and they certainly didn’t want to talk about it, in fact our very presence felt like we were an embarrassment to them. After all aren’t we all supposed to be the victors, the leaders, the country with the best most disciplined forces in the world?

It was only in recent years that we learned the truth of Dad’s experience and that was by accident. A painted stone was moved from Mum’s fireplace. I learnt the stone was a gift from a survivor of the camps. My father had been part of the liberation force. What he saw was more than he could bear. He didn’t talk about it but Mum met one of the ‘band of brothers’ who told her how he had fallen apart. The sights they saw, the guilt, the horror of what they found, none of them were prepared for it. The thousands and thousands of pairs of children’s shoes.

So today, Remembrance Day, I ask have we moved on? Are we going to talk about it? Are we going to challenge the fact that thousands of veterans are living on the streets? Is PTSD recognised in our public services? Is support there for those families who for no fault of their own experience pain that we cannot imagine?

It was this life experience that brings me to support Jeremy Corbyn. He’s but one man but he signifies a growing awareness that there has to be a better way of resolving the world’s conflicts than war. We have to talk about this.

So today I decided to talk about it. I’m the daughter of a fantastic man that died because the system and our culture let him and so many others down, and it’s still doing it. War is not glorious and victory is not the land we conquer.

We have to talk about it. But we have to do more than talk about it. We must fight for a labour government. Because it is only a labour government, and this particular, right now, labour movement that will lead the world in promoting human rights, reform the arms trade, seek an end to conflict not preservation of a world order that seeks to preserve profit and make the promise of a nuclear-free world a reality before there is no planet left.

And we must start that right now by demanding that the funding axed by this government from mental health services and after care from veterans is immediately replaced.

One hundred years on I don’t want any family to suffer the generational agony that mine has.

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  1. Thank you… words fail as to your devastating personal experience but you are right that we need to talk about it … not just the power dynamics and the politics but also the personal. It is only through the personal that others can begin to understand the enormity of war … or has Harry Patch rightly called it ‘organised murder’. And ‘murder’ of not just the combatants physically but also their mental health. And ‘murder’ of not just the soldiers but also non-combatants such as their families and the rest of the population.

    My mother, a 99y old WRAF veteran who was out in Italy, has always reacted with contempt to the hi-jacking of the deaths for both World Wars. Her father was a Padre in the WW1 trenches. She remembers the 9′ deep trench that he dug in the rectory back garden, to be able to ‘keep his family safe’. As a two year old, that seemed quite normal to her but it hints as to what my grandfather must have been through…. and I suspect led to his eventually losing his faith.

    My mother, now in a care home, was visibly distressed by being included in the Rembrance ‘celebrations’. She hadn’t realised what it was all about. However, she said that there was a consecrated place inside of her for all those deaths and that none of the ‘glorification’ could touch that place. Her abiding nightmare is the scared look on the faces of 19y pilots preparing to take off and knowing that some would not come back.

  2. Maria Caroll is right that we need to talk about the government being responsible for soldiers who fight and survive wars, but are left disabled mentally and physically. We remember those who died, but it is so hypocritical for people to wear a red poppy and at the same time supply arms to cause more deaths, both soldiers and their innocent victims. It is time to speak out against The West’s war against the rest of the world.

  3. I recognise no just war other than the Allies’ waging of WWII – the fact that Maria Carroll lost her father as a result of his service there I’d hope might be of at least some comfort to her – but I doubt it is.
    It was presumably of insufficient comfort to her father.
    My sympathies and respect.

    Today’s commemoration is of WWI’s end – a war between imperialist elites goaded into war by greedy arms industries which massacred countless young men who were motivated by adventure and inculcated patriotism.
    They were unscrupulously manipulated into volunteering for what it was believed would be a short conflict.
    Youth’s belief in its own invincibility means few soldiers ever expect to die or be maimed themselves – whilst accepting the possibility of death none knowingly sign up to sacrifice their own lives.

    Their sacrifice was lauded by the elites as heroic and patriotic to deflect criticism from themselves for having caused the useless slaughter of a generation of young men – and the lonely widowhood and spinsterhood of a generation of young women.

    National expressions of commemoration, respect and admiration for the work of the armed services help to perpetuate war by making military service attractive to the young.
    I do contribute to British Legion appeals but decline to accept or wear the poppies.
    I also reject all foreign adventures ‘in defence of British interests’ abroad – in fact all military action not in direct defence of UK soil or at UN direction.

    Many who volubly and by civil disobedience objected at the time to successive American governments dropping 7 million tons of high-tech ordnance on the rural peoples of North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – the unexploded remainder and chemical legacy of which still kill many people today – might feel the same.

  4. Maria Carroll, I was very interested to read your story on Skwawkbox. I had two uncles in the 1939-45 war, fortunately they both survived, but as you say, they didn’t talk about it. I have long felt that, as you say, War is not glorious and praiseworthy. It is hideous, cruel, and evil, and it destroys much more than it’s victims. We only have to see the brutality of our World today to see that War settles nothing and no one really wins. To see the glorification and hypocrisy during Rememberance Day makes me so angry, Yes, remember but do not spend millions, as they must do, on ‘celebrating’ the wars. The money would be better spent on helping the victims and their families, both living and dead, for not only the dead are victims, as you so elequently said. A proper organisation should be set up to help those who need it, with proper funding, which is ringfenced, and all military families should be helped if they’re are in need. So much more could be done, if there was the will to do it. But no, the powers that be just want to waste money on unnecessary and inappropriate pomp.

  5. It’s a gut wrenching, heartbreaking account and I hardly dare break the silence, that surrounds it as I post; but thank you, Maria Carroll, for talking about it.

  6. Thank you for this distressing letter. It hurt me to read it, so I cannot imagine how much it must have pained you to have to write it. Thank you for the truth, you are right, we must talk about it.

  7. PTSD is hard enough, but when are we going to stop making weapons, when are we going to stop celebrating the World Wars as if we won the World Cup. Wars kill, wars mame, you never win a war, you survive a war, nothing else. What happened to Give Peace a Chance, Make Love not War.
    Maria Carroll my heart goes out to you, all I can send you is a hug

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