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   Inside Out - North East: Monday November 1, 2004


Desert war scene
Many of the troops in Iraq have been drawn from the TA

History recounts the awful cost of war - the dead, the maimed and the destruction. But we are now learning more of a hidden cost that often only shows itself when soldiers return home. Battlefield trauma can come with a heavy price.

Peter Mahoney was a long distance lorry driver. He enjoyed his job, his family and friends.

He was, as his wife Donna says, "a loving father and a loving husband".

But he was also dedicated in his commitment to the Territorial Army (TA) as a specialist truck driver.

With the TA comprising a quarter of the British Army, he was always on the call-up list to join front-line actions with his regular army colleagues.

In 2003, his call up came for action in Iraq.

He already had experience of active service with the TA in Bosnia, so his family and he were aware of the implications.

But in August 2004, he died.

He was immaculately turned out in his army uniform - smart as he always was.

But he didn't die on the front line in Iraq. He died in his car, in his garage.

Donna Mahoney
Donna still cannot make sense of it all

Donna says, "On the day that he died, he got up, he had put an alarm clock on for 6 o'clock, it was like he was going back to Iraq, because he'd shaved and he'd put his army uniform on and everything like, you know, it was precise.

"It was done a step at a time until he sort of sat in the car… well he'd put the exhaust pipe on, and laid everything out in the car of all the things that were special to him, like pictures of me and the children and their cuddly toys."

Warnings in print

Donna found a leaflet lying beside Peter.

It was a leaflet the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had issued to soldiers about psychological trauma caused by war.

Peter had ripped it up after previously keeping it to himself.

But Donna now wants the information in that leaflet to be sent not just to soldiers.

She insists that it's important the families of all soldiers should receive a copy too.

They could then recognise any change in their loved ones on returning from active service.

This was something that Donna was not aware of until it was too late.

Peter and Donna Mahoney
Peter's zest for life was always evident

Peter Mahoney was a fun loving person who brought a spark of life to all in his company.

He was also patriotic. His commitment to the TA was his way of showing his pride in being British.

But he grew sceptical about the motives for war in Iraq, and had been planning on leaving the TA just before he was called up.

Once in Iraq, he regularly wrote to Donna and the letters reflected his growing alienation and loneliness.

26h March 2003

Hi Baby,

The war has been going a few days now… we have rocket attacks quite regularly but we have a special bunker to go into so we are safe. We are taking Naps tablets, in case of chemical attack. We have the best protective clothing against it, so no worries there….

28th March 2003

…. I cannot and will not die. We have plans when we get old and dotty together, so put out of your mind any thoughts of me dying.

1st April 2003

Hi Babe,

One of Peter Mahoney's letters
Poignant reminders of the strength of love

I love you and miss you more and more each day. Feeling a little low today, like yourself at times. I'm physically here but mentally absent.

If I never see army green for the rest of my life I will not be unhappy…. I crave some peace and tranquillity just to regain some sort of sanity again. How I long for time with you back in the UK.


I love you with all my heart.

Man's inhumanity...

At first, Donna didn't detect the signs of personality change for what they eventually turned out to be.

With the benefit of hindsight, she now understands them as being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Warfare is an horrendous business. The general public are largely sanitised from the realities. But Peter wasn't.

Donna recalled his vivid descriptions of war.

"He and his colleagues were driving out to collect supplies and the soldiers gave a little girl a bar of chocolate.

Richard Marshall
Richard Marshall understands the hidden dangers of PTSD

"When they came back, about 20 minutes later, they found her hanging and, you know, because of her taking the chocolate off the soldiers.

"And then another time," she continued, "a little boy was given a brick to brick another little boy in the face until there was no features left on his face."

It's graphic images such as these that leave lasting scars on servicemen.

Richard Marshall, is a trauma psychologist, and recognises significant problems.

He says, "If death and dying involves young children, if you have children yourself, it's going to hit a raw nerve. The fact that children in Iraq were beaten and hung can be incredibly traumatising.

"These things often resonate at a very deep level with people and are often the sort of event that will be etched on their mind."

Hidden changes

These particular events may well have affected Peter's persona.

At first, when Peter returned from Iraq, his family did not notice much a of a change in his personality.

"After a while," says Donna, "we noticed there was, you know, changes.

Shaun Rusling
“The MoD have a duty of care”
Shaun Rusling

"He became angry and a racist. He was a loner and would go off on his own… one of the times was bonfire night, we all used to do things for bonfire night, but Peter chose to sort of not go."

This would be a particularly difficult time, thinks Richard Marshall.

"Fireworks going off, maybe a great thrill for kids and families on November 5, for people who have feared an explosion, to hear something going off nearby can be terrifying.

"If it triggers reactions and feelings that they felt when they were out serving in Iraq or any other war torn place, it is going to be potentially traumatic again because they're back there reliving it whilst others are laughing."

Duty of care

When home on leave, regular serviceman have the support of both their families and other soldiers with whom to share any problems.

But veterans say that TA soldiers can face additional problems after returning from service as they do not have the same camaraderie and support enjoyed by regular full-time soldiers.

Peter's personality changes had a huge effect on Donna.

"I wasn't quite sure what was happening, but as he became more aggressive and angry, then I asked him to go and get help, to go and see a doctor.

"But he refused.

"I didn't know how to love him anymore because of the way he was and I just, you know, I couldn't cope with it. We think now that he might have had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The sound of warfare can stay with a soldier for life

"The MoD have a duty of care and responsibility to those servicemen." says Shaun Rusling of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association.

"They put them in harm's way; the servicemen willingly go out to do their job.

"They don't complain about being ill or injured, they complain about being abandoned when they become ill or injured," he continues.

The MoD were asked to respond to the question of why they do not supply a leaflet on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to the families of soldiers, but they declined.

PTSD - the signs

However, they issued this statement:

"At this time our sympathies are with Mrs Mahoney and her family. While the death of Mr Mahoney is subject to an ongoing police investigation, and the coroner has yet to complete his work, it would be inappropriate for the MoD to comment in any detail on matters related to this tragic case".

But Donna wants this to change.

Tank in desert
Military actions are relentless in the heat of the deserts

"The one thing that I would really love to happen is that the MoD look at the after effects of coming out from the Gulf War or any war.

"And that families are actually given information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so that other families can see the signs and symptoms."

If you have a member of your family just returned from any theatre of war, and you recognise any similar traits, get in touch with the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association 24 Hour Helpline 01482 833 812


Combat Stress: (not 24 hours, but deals with non Gulf veterans too) 01372 841 680

You may also like to visit the websites listed - these may also be of help in recognising Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

See also ...

Inside Out: North East
More great stories from the region

On the rest of Inside Out
The Poetry of War
Return to Rwanda
For Valour

BBC Health: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
BBC News Online: Family's plea after soldier's suicide
BBC News Online: Iraq in Transition

On the rest of the web
Combat Stress
National Gulf Veteran & Families Association
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen and Families Association
PTSD - the symptoms
MoD: Gulf Veterans' Illnesses
NHS Direct - Self Help
Territorial Army

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Lynn Ridley
My son is, I believe, suffering from PTSD but has been diagnosed by army medical professionals with Recurrent Adjustment Disorder (RAD). Only problem is that according to the World Health Organsation, RAD doesn't actually exist as a stress condition. It stands to reason that if a disorder is 'recurrent' then it cannot be termed an 'adjustment' disorder which should only be short term - and I have no medical background.

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