http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article2648621.eceOne 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 Davids 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. Im 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 Id 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 wasnt 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 Kings 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 Kings 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 dont 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. Its a macho world, said one reservist, speaking anonymously. First of all, no one is going to give you a weapon again, but also you cant say you suffer from something because youve seen stuff, because its 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 cant give a f*** anymore. I just turn up, do whats expected and go home.
When he was provoked in a pub, a fight ensued and he bit the mans 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 cant settle down, Bill said. Id 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 cant be bothered, he said. Its 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.