Lonely death of Private Dave Forshaw


One afternoon last month Dave Forshaw drove his Land Rover to a woodland park in Esher, Surrey. The 32-year-old Territorial Army volunteer removed his shoes, reclined his car seat and closed the windows. He then started a chainsaw and lay there while the fumes killed him.

He was seen in his car the next morning by people walking dogs, but they assumed he was sleeping. When he was still there the next day they summoned help. The police found his army identity card inside the car and a letter from an Australian colonel commending his conduct after his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Basra in July last year. Private Forshaw was unscathed, but his three passengers were all injured. “I was astounded at David’s composure as he went about the business of comforting his comrades,” the colonel wrote.

On the night that the body of her son was found, Janet Dawes, the mother of Private Forshaw, discovered a note that he had left in a wardrobe in his bedsit in Mitcham. He was dyslexic, so she believes he must have spent many hours writing it. He asked for the flag of St George to be draped over his coffin, for Everybody Hurts, a song by R.E.M., to be played at his funeral and for his ashes to be scattered at the Emirates stadium of his beloved Arsenal football team.

Private Forshaw, normally a gregarious, fun-loving man, told why he had taken his own life. “I’m leaving a lot of good friends and family behind and taking the easy way out, but for once in my life instead of making other people happy I am making myself happy. The best time of my life was being in the Army and fighting for my country, England,” he wrote.

Mrs Dawes told The Times that her son, a decorator, had always wanted to join the regular Army, but was barred by his dyslexia so joined the Territorials instead. In October 2005 he was sent to Iraq and served two six-month tours with only four weeks off in between. When he returned home in November 2006, “he was the happiest I’d ever seen him, he was at his absolute prime”, she said.

Then the decline began. He could not settle back into civilian life. He drifted from one job to another, ran up debts and stopped attending training sessions with the Territorials. He became moody. Some days he would hide himself away. He began eating alone and visited his mother less. All he wanted was to return to Iraq or Afghanistan, but his efforts to go back as a soldier or private security contractor were repeatedly frustrated. “He could not go on living the kind of pointless life he felt he was living. He wanted to live a life of real purpose but it wasn’t there,” said Bobby Stevens, who was his landlady for 11 years. So he ended it.

The military did not send an official representative to the funeral of Private Forshaw and he will not appear on the official list of Iraq war casualties. He may or may not have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but he was, in his own quiet way, a victim of that conflict, and in that he is not alone.

The MoD keeps no figures, but at least one other reservist is known to have committed suicide after serving in Iraq. In 2004, 13 months after returning from a stint as an ambulance driver for the TA, Peter Mahoney, from Carlisle, put on his uniform and medals and asphyxiated himself in his car, surrounded by photos of his four children.

Experts believe that hundreds more reservists have returned from Iraq with psychiatric problems and that many are isolated, bewildered, depressed and in need of help. They say that reservists suffer more than regular soldiers because the transition from military to civilian life is so abrupt, that they are less prepared for the horrors they encounter and lack the same support networks. Also, specialists such as medics and engineers in the Territorials are often sent to Iraq individually, not as part of a unit.

A study by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research concluded last year that as many as 6 per cent, about 700 in all, of the 12,000 reservists who have been deployed in Iraq could be suffering from PTSD, and that reservists suffered higher rates of depression than regular soldiers. A follow-up study revealed that they found it harder to adjust to being back home and said people did not understand what they had been through.

Shaun Rusling, vice-chairman of the National Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, says that his organisation receives more than a hundred calls a year from reservists with mental health problems.

Combat Stress, another charity that helps traumatised servicemen, believes that the true scale of the problem has yet to emerge because it can take soldiers years to realise that they need help. “The average veteran takes 13 years between leaving the services and getting in touch with us,” says Robert Marsh, the spokesman for the organisation and a former reservist.

Reservists who developed psychiatric disorders after being demobilised had to rely on the NHS until late last year, which had limited experience with problems arising from conflicts. After the report by the King’s Centre, the MoD opened the Reserves Mental Health Programme last November. This offers mental health assessments at the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre at Chilwell, near Nottingham, followed by treatment in military facilities, if necessary. In its first 11 months the programme assessed 35 reservists and sent 25 for treatment.

But independent experts say that the programme falls well short of what is required because it relies on reservists seeking help at a time when they are mentally debilitated. “Most people who have PTSD don’t know they have it,” said Scott Garthley, a reservist from Northampton who was injured in Iraq, developed PTSD, lost his long-term partner and £100,000-a-year job as a banker, and recently brought a £2.8 million lawsuit against the MoD for medical negligence. Few soldiers will readily admit to mental problems. “It’s a macho world”, said one reservist, speaking anonymously. “First of all, no one is going to give you a weapon again, but also you can’t say you suffer from something because you’ve seen stuff, because it’s not meant to bother you.”

Bill (not his real name) is a case in point. He is a burly veteran of the Territorials who returned from his second tour in Iraq late last year. Neither he nor three fellow reservists that The Times met in a bar in northern England this week would give their names, because the MoD forbids them to talk to the media. On his first tour an Iraqi stabbed Bill in the groin during a riot in Basra. On his second his base was repeatedly hit by mortar attacks. He now shows all the symptoms of PTSD: mood swings, nightmares, flashbacks, chronic insomnia. He loses his temper over tiny things and cannot deal with serious problems such as mortgage payments. Ask about his civilian job as a van driver and he says: “I can’t give a f*** anymore. I just turn up, do what’s expected and go home.”

When he was provoked in a pub, a fight ensued and he bit the man’s ear off. He is drinking twice as much as he used to, his marriage is strained and he can no longer cope with civilian life in a country where, he says, few understand, appreciate or are interested in what servicemen are doing in Iraq. “I can’t settle down,” Bill said. “I’d go back to Iraq, or to Afghanistan, tomorrow.”

For a long time Bill refused to admit that he had a problem. His wife and friends persuaded him finally to visit a doctor. But when the doctor gave him a form to fill out he threw it away. “You just can’t be bothered,” he said. “It’s the knock-on effect it will have on my job in the TA. If I have to go and see a shrink and they recommend time off, does it affect my civilan job? Will it go on my record that I have a mental health problem? You ignore it and say it will go away.”

None of the four reservists knew Bill was eligible for an assessment at Chilwell, though the MoD says that it has made strenuous efforts to publicise the programme. Indeed, they all felt that the moment they demobilised the MoD lost all interest in them.

In one sense, however, Bill is lucky. His three friends served in Iraq with him, and he can talk to them in a way that he cannot talk to his wife or workmates. Private Forshaw did not have that. Like many reservists, he was sent to Iraq with strangers. His mother said that after he returned to suburban Surrey he had no friends who had shared the same experiences. Nobody from the Territorials or the MoD contacted him to see if he was coping with the transition to civilian life. He was not the sort of person to share his problems with others — and knew that to have done so might have scuppered his chances of returning to Iraq.

As he wrote in his suicide note: “The help was there but I did not take it.”
Rest in Peace mate.

I've heard this said in one way or another many times "The best time of my life was being in the Army and fighting for my country, England"


We hear anecdotes for the TA being cut adrift when they return but seeing the story of one hits it home.
He killed himself about a mile from my house. I saw the flowers in the car park in the woods. Didn't know who it was until now.


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That is such a sad story. That such a young man should only feel happy by taking his own life is just too much. To feel that the only way to be happy was to be dead - his mind must have been in a huge turmoil.

I hope his funeral goes as he asked and that it is well attended. God rest his troubled soul.
Poor b*stard. RIP.
Sad - RIP fella.


Book Reviewer
What a heart-breaking story. He wasn't good enough to be a regular, but he was good enough to send out to a war WITH the regulars.

What a sad loss. RIP.

I hope the MOD reconsider the issue of dyslexia and joining up - it should not bar people from regular service.

Added to this, those in the TA that go on regular tours, especially to places like Afghan and Iraq, should be offered the same post-op services that the regular soldiers get (even if it is too little).


Another article from the Times:

The best time of my life was being in the Army and fighting for my country,” Private Dave Forshaw wrote in his heart-rending suicide note. It was life outside the Army, back in the country for which he had been fighting as a reservist, that he could not face. As Martin Fletcher reports today, Private Forshaw may or may not have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but he was surely a casualty of the Iraq war in which he fought for two six-month tours. And there will be more like him.

Even in peacetime, the Territorial Army provides essential technicial, logistical and medical support for regular soldiers. With British troops engaged in two major military operations, it carries a heavy burden. Yet while reservists and regulars run similar risks and endure comparable hardships in warzones, there is mounting evidence that those who serve in the TA pay a higher price in terms of mental health. Their transitions between civilian and military life are harsher, and they stand less chance of finding timely and appropriate treatment. Help is available, but too few reservists know about it and the systems in place to encourage them to use it are inadequate. They deserve better.

Suicides such as that of Private Forshaw are, so far, mercifully rare. But the odds of more returning reservists taking their own lives or inflicting serious harm on themselves or others are high. Studies suggest that 700 of the 12,000 TA members who have served in Iraq may be suffering from PTSD, and that, far from being shielded from the worst horrors of battle, they are more exposed to them than regular troops because so many serve as medics. Specialists, in particular, tend to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan individually rather than as units. And reservists are expected, in principle, to return at once to civilian life on completion of tours of duty. The luckier ones will find in family members and colleagues a level of support and understanding comparable with that offered by regular soldiers to each other. But many experience only mutual incomprehension, leading to deep isolation, depression and worse.

The Ministry of Defence has taken some initial steps to tackle the problem. The Reservists’ Mental Health Programme, less than a year old, offers psychiatric assessment and, if necessary, treatment, to all reservists who have completed overseas operational deployments since January 2003. But the treatment is offered only to those who seek it. The programme does little to overcome soldiers’ reluctance to discuss mental health issues for fear of being mocked by peers or – as in Private Forshaw’s case – denied the chance to return to combat. His was a macho world, another reservist said, which helps to explain why veterans wait, on average, 13 years after leaving the Armed Forces before seeking psychiatric help. But the moving honesty with which serving soldiers discuss PTSD on websites, protected by anonymity, belies such machismo and highlights the need for a more proactive approach from the MoD.

“The help was there but I did not take it,” Private Forshaw wrote. There could be no more powerful argument for routine psychiatric assessments for returning reservists. As a new memorial is unveiled to Britain’s post-Second World War combat casulties, the country’s duty of care towards combat survivors must not be forgotten.


RIP mate
The Dyslexia issue really shocks me. As Biped says, if he was deemed to be fit and able enough to serve 2 x back to back tours in the Sandpits, why on earth shouldn't he (and countless others like him, no doubt) have been given the chance to serve with the Regulars? With recruitment struggling at the moment, I believe this is an area which needs to be reviewed.


That got me as well. I don't know what his speciality was but his dyslexia did not not stop him becoming proficient in it. So much so that he deployed twice!
smudge67 said:
He killed himself about a mile from my house. I saw the flowers in the car park in the woods. Didn't know who it was until now.
Likewise, my wife and children saw the flowers too while walking there. I live and work within a mile too. This has disturbed my wife and I deeply(Mrs WH is ex TA), I cannot put words to they way I am feeling right now. Did anyone know Pte Forshaw or which TA unit he was part of?


Dyslexia wasn't a problem back in 85, I wonder what has changed since then.
I can only hope his soul can be at peace now. Such a shame.

RIP young man.


Tears in my eyes

Rest In Peace

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