Greg Wright: Is this a land fit for heroes?

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A trip to Ilkley library really can fire your imagination.

Over the weekend, we borrowed a DVD of the classic 1970s BBC drama, When the Boat Comes In, which described life in a fictional North East town in the aftermath of the First World War. The first episode “A land fit for heroes and idiots” included the story of a shell-shocked veteran who was rejected and abused by petty officials who lacked the most basic understanding of his condition.

It was a work of fiction, but there’s plenty of evidence to support the argument that Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s “land fit for heroes” was never created. Many returned from the trenches to the dole queue and destitution.

A century later, what has changed? We might believe that we’re far more sensitive and enlightened than our ancestors, but the facts don’t always bear this out. Recent conflicts haven’t been on the scale of the First World War, and the economic gloom is lifting. However, some former service personnel still cannot gain a foothold in the world of work, and this failure is harming our economy. Yesterday, I was contacted by a Yorkshire-based former member of the armed forces, who had been trying to put his skills to use in the private sector.

“What I experienced astounded me,” he said.

The former serviceman said that he was stunned to encounter so many negative reactions when the potential employer discovered that he’d been in the forces.

He recalled: “One person in a large security company told me, ‘We don’t want ex-forces as they are not suitable candidates for work.’

“Many companies used the excuse of saying, “You’re too qualified.’”

Others apparently told him: “You won’t stay here that long, with your qualifications and skills”.

The man claims to have been told by one company that former members of the armed forces “bring too much trouble”.

If this is correct, then it’s a shocking way of describing somebody who was willing to die for our freedom.

The former serviceman, who finally decided to set up his own enterprise, added: “We need to ensure all our servicemen and women are afforded the help, and advice that will stop them spiralling into crime because they have been neglected. Too many of our service personnel are in prison, and this needs addressing.”

Many veterans, of-course, adapt to civilian life and go on to have long and successful careers.

But there’s a still substantial number who fall through the net, and it’s up to the business community to work with centres like The Beacon, a supported housing scheme which is based on the edge of Catterick Garrison, to help those who need extra support. The veterans’ support organisation, The Forces in Mind Trust, estimates that the cost of helping ex-servicemen and women who have problems adapting to civilian life will soon rise to £122m a year. Too many ex-forces personnel struggle with alcoholism and mental health problems, which can be linked to

post traumatic stress disorder.

Trevor Morris, the MoD area manager at The Beacon, said: “The perception of veterans is of the elderly, Second World War retirees, but at The Beacon around 75 per cent of the men and women we help are under the age of 35.”

Sean Percival Scott is a typical ex-Beacon resident, he’s a former Army Commando, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was discharged after collapsing on a training exercise and ended up in hospital after a panic attack. Today, he runs his own dog handling business, after he received help from a therapist, and a friendly accountant.

Mr Morris added: “These men and women were once part of the best trained armed forces in the world.”

As Mr Morris observed, they face down what most of us run away from. They’ve earned their chance to shine on civvy street.