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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