"Initially I didn’t think that I’d get along with art therapy as I’m an ex-paratrooper"
“I joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) after serving with the Parachute Regiment. I then served with the SAS as a medic, completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After leaving the military I started suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Four years on, I finally got in touch with Combat Stress for some help. During my two-week assessment at Tyrwhitt House, I was introduced to art therapy, a way to express your feelings and emotions through a variety of mediums.
Initially I didn’t think that I’d get along with art therapy as I’m an ex-paratrooper, a paramedic, a bloke’s bloke and could not be arty at all, could I? However, I found myself producing some drawings in pastels and wondering where they came from as they just seemed to appear without thinking too much (that’s the para thing!).
I was invited by Combat Stress to put some of my pastel drawings in an exhibition at Sandham Memorial Chapel. The chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire, is famous for its paintings depicting the First World War by English artist Stanley Spencer who served in the RAMC.
The pastel drawings I chose were drawn in my kitchen between my assessment and my Intensive Treatment Programme (ITP). I was usually three-parts full of single malt when I drew them as I was in a dark place then.
The pictures are from memories of missions in Iraq. Into the Night is an image of the Chinook on the helipad in Afghanistan – it’s the image we had every night as we went out, the excitement of knowing what was about to happen, wondering if everyone would come back.
When I went to Tyrwhitt House for my ITP, I decided to try oil painting, after all it couldn’t be that hard could it? When the lads in my group told me they were impressed with my work, I was hooked. I then painted The Drop, which took me back to my Parachute Regiment days jumping into some horrible wet dreary part of the UK, hoping that I wouldn’t end up broken.
When I was asked if I’d be interested in exhibiting some work at Sandham, I thought I wasn’t good enough but the more paintings I did and the more positive comments I got, I thought why not? It helps get PTSD recognised by the public as a condition that has a very real effect on those who suffer from it, as well as the families who live with the realities of PTSD daily.
You can see this in A Long Way Home, which pictures the struggle I had getting back to my family after serving away for prolonged periods. I was back home with my family but still carrying the baggage of war. My family was there for me but during my journey to ‘normality’, they got pulled into my dark place from time to time. It was a struggle but there was a way through it with a lot of hard work.
I have already sold a couple of my paintings and donated the money to Combat Stress. Now I feel honoured to be able to display my work for the public to view. It’s fantastic knowing people looking at Stanley Spencer’s amazing artwork at Sandham will also see some of my work.
To find out more about the exhibition, click here.