Scotland

Falklands vet returns PoW trumpet

Tony Banks with Omar Rene Tabarez
Image caption Tony Banks met up with Omar Rene Tabarez 28 years on from the war

The Argentinian jets screamed overhead the young paratrooper from Dundee, dropping their deadly payloads over Sussex Mountain.

For Tony Banks, the Falklands war had become real and terrifying as the battle for Goose Green got under way.

"All through that night and all through that battle, I just thought 'God get me through this, just get me through this'," Tony said.

"I'd seen comrades fall - that was the first time I'd seen anyone close to me getting killed."

Tony survived, physically unscathed at least. Other comrades-in-arms were not so fortunate, with close friends paying the ultimate price.

The young para returned to "civvy street" and made efforts to put the war behind him. He started working in the care home sector and built up a multi-million pound business.

Despite his success, the dark shadows of war still haunted his imagination.

He said: "I never spoke about the Falklands for years, I just never felt I could speak to anyone about it.

"It's always this thing about civilians that they don't understand what it's like. But you took it out in other ways."

Adjusting to post-war life brought out some unpleasant characteristics.

Hard to adjust

Tony said: "I was a very angry young man, you drink too much, you get involved in fights and that was common with a lot of the guys at the time.

"We found it really hard to adjust to being back into normal life."

Image caption Mr Banks said the experiences of war had shaped his whole life

It seems it's an all too common experience for many soldiers.

Charities such as Combat Stress say the number of service personnel seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder has risen by 72% in the past five years.

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to that but it's a familiar problem for veterans of any conflict.

"When people come back from a war situation, they sometimes can have moderate to severe depressive symptoms," according to Major Garry Walker, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder at Surehaven Hospital.

He said: "More commonly they abuse alcohol or other substances to help them sleep because they may have nightmares about particular situations."

For many, these symptoms lessen as time goes on. For a small minority of people it causes lasting damage.

Tony Banks now devotes a lot of his time to helping veterans at Combat Stress.

Tony's thankful he's been spared a level of mental turmoil that many of them face - but he feels there's some unfinished business standing between his Falklands experience and a full recovery.

There's an unusual reason for this.

As the Argentinian prisoners of war were loaded onto British troop carriers, Tony and his mates made sure they were not carrying any personal possessions.

There was nothing sinister to this - they were following standard procedures.

One small black box caught Tony's eye. It contained a trumpet and a book of music. He confiscated it from the Argentinian trooper and kept it as a war trophy.

Plagued by nightmares

Twenty-eight years on that instrument is a reminder of those cruel times.

He set out to find the soldier so he could hand it back. Tony only had a name written inside the music book: Omar Rene Tabarez.

A trip to Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital, followed and one wet and miserable evening he found himself in Omar's front garden.

The door opened and a warm, friendly figure welcomed Tony and paid tribute to him for bringing the trumpet back.

"I thank you because this closes that stage of my life," said Omar.

"To find myself reunited with my companion gives me strength. It lifts my spirits."

Those words were rich with meaning, as Omar too suffered mentally after the war - plagued by nightmares.

The two old enemies - now it seemed the greatest of friends - sat down and reminisced about the war.

Omar even played the trumpet, faltering a little at first but the militaristic notes became loud and clear.

This moving act of reconciliation certainly seemed to have moved Tony on to a better place.

"Having come back now and given Omar back the trumpet it's brought a bit of closure to me," he said.

"I feel I've returned the trumpet to the rightful owner. I can go to my grave now thinking I did the right thing."

For years, Tony has been that frightened young para, pinned down on the dark mountainside in the Falklands. Now he can begin to escape his past.

You can see more of Tony's story in From War to Peace on BBC One Scotland at 1930 BST on Monday.