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I have been working with ex military vets who have kindly shared their horrific war stories with me. As Soldiers... We soldier on. This was a repeated phrase used by many of our heroes. I have been connecting with soldiers and turning their stories into monologues working with a company called Iconic enterprise. With the stories, I have written them into performance pieces for our event to bring awareness to these outstanding people. I have shared three of my monologues below to help bring awareness of the pain and suffering our soldiers are put through, many suffering from PTSD.
Below is the monologue I performed on stage. There was not a dry eye in the audience. I felt honoured to tell Fergus's story and to meet him and his dog Kia in person. Truly honoured.
As Soldiers, We Soldier ON! Inspired by Fergus Kenny's true story. Written and performed by Rachel Warren
On my 21st birthday... I was in Iraq... on patrol, creeping in the dessert, my boots crunching on the sand and rocks with only me and my driver Bill. This was my first time out... My breath was short, eyes widened.. scanning miles and miles of dusty desert, I saw bloodied limbs sprawled and splattered in the sand. The rotten smells of murder consumed the heavily humid sticky air... random abandoned vehicles like BMW’s, Mercedes, land rovers… just dumped... the hardest thing to deal with was the unknown, who was out there? I never knew what was coming next... As we walked my heart was racing, palms sweating. BANG... The sound was so intense, an explosion went off. Bill was hit. He had a large chunk of shrapnel stuck in his leg. We were in a MINE FIELD... Next, I found myself in Bosnia—I was a driver, body guard... They needed someone to step into the gunners seat. Yep, it was me. As I hurled myself into the seat, the tank rolled down a steep hill... suddenly out of nowhere the barrel went down and the bridge block went up! CRUNCH... “That was it.” My head was wedged in between them both, my vision was blurred. If I didn’t have that helmet on, my head would have been crushed.
Since then I was haunted by the excruciating pain occurring in my neck… but I had one thought... "as soldiers... we soldier on." I wanted to get back to my children… (Sarcastically) I had really helpful advice and treatment for this. “Take 2 Ibuprofen and have two weeks rest.” (Pause) Just what you want to hear after your head was nearly crushed by a tank! I did what they said and because of the lack of treatment, I suffer from Arthritis and have nerve damage all down my right side... Years later at Christmas, I found myself in Basra in Sadam Hussains Hotel we used as our base camp. I had a Hernia repair the month before. The doctors said, “Take it easy for 3 to 4 months.” You don’t get this luxury as a soldier! I was in agony, my body trembling. I was in the air control tower and on my first 2 hours we came under rocket attack. We were metres away, I saw a flash of light, and a violent rumbling where everyone just dove to the deck. It was over so quickly. Again I stared death right in the face. I swallowed hard to keep the fear down.
After this, we got called out to another incident, Queen Dragoon Guards took over our unit. Sadly the troop leader's landcover was hit by an IED—Improvised Explosive Device. This was devastating. Unfortunately the troop leader and the driver were killed. The two guys in the back were severely injured—"That should have been me..." … This was my first feeling of "survivor's guilt," an unforgivable pang of pain I felt in my gut by seeing people losing their lives when it could have or should have been me..
Recovering from this was another job all in itself... after service I spent 3 years in rehab... I struggled with insomnia; low moods, night mares, avoidance of anything, people, things… I felt so shut out and alone… With nowhere to go, I was fighting with pain in my neck being a constant reminder, I can't remember my nightmares but when I woke every time… Boom. Boom. Boom, the sound of my heart pounding through my chest, the sound of gun shots, the sound of screams, the coldness of death/.. my side of the bed was always drenched in sweat. I found myself homeless, with only one change of clothes and my phone. I didn’t know where to go, who to call... Would it be easier to sleep on the streets so that I don’t have to face society? As I sat alone... I wondered... what's next? I sit in silence whilst sadness filled my veins, I could hear the humming of the town getting on with their own lives... birds making nests in trees… Would I ever fit in?... I’ve never felt this alone in all my life...
I looked down and to my surprise my phone was flashing. Desperate... I answered and as if by miracle I spoke with Andy from Once We Were Soldiers charity who I would now call a brother. This charity was set up to help war veterans. Without this man… I think my life would have been a lot different... but with the help of him and the charity they got a roof over my head... somewhere I could finally call home... I found a reason to continue on... for my children, for the charity... for my very much loved dog and definitely my best friend Kia. After getting the help I needed, I realised I was suffering from PTSD which all began many years ago in Iraq. I felt liberated that I finally found coping mechanisms to help with the constant triggers associated with PTSD—it's never something that goes away but I can now manage it. I work with the charity, we wear many hats, I wake up, have a cup of NATO—pull back my curtains, (takes in a deep breath) I am grateful for the breath I breathe and the life that I still have... in my wartime, I was given the gift of 9 lives.
It's estimated that 35% of men and women who have spent time in war zones experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fergus is just one of them.
The Breakfast Club
The day you join the military you meet some big hairy assed sergeant who scares the shit out of you. He’s a pig, he makes you believe you don’t count for anything—“you don’t have a mother... I’m your mother now,” he says. On day one you are told that you don’t need any help—“I’ll tell you how to survive, alone.”
We now only have each other, an unbreakable bond united by a force, an indescribable unbreakable bond between men. Don’t go sick, it's a sign of weakness, we cannot be seen to be weak, you’ll be eaten alive by the rest of the crowd. Just like wild animals, we are wild humans. We are forces not Civi’s. Once a soldier, always a soldier—we are joined as brothers from all over the world.
At our breakfast club we reunite as our tribe. A get together of ex forces. We are back home. We sip on our brew and eat bacon sandwiches telling our bullshit stories and times in the army... No one else connects the way we do together. Stories shared... We were in a minefield, another piercing explosion filled the silent desert… My mate called out to me “I’ve lost me leg,” in which I replied, “No, you haven’t mate, it's over there.”
In Afghan, one of our soldiers was helping to clean the bombing destruction. A guy came over with a wheelbarrow covered with a bit of mould carpet... The man weakly said, “Can you help me bury my family?" He peeled back manky carpet to reveal the burnt limbs of what was left of his wife and children... parts of shredded burnt limbs piled up in the barrow; the only thing that looked recognisable was a small toasted chips with a candle still on… You can get rid of that vision. Ever.
This geezer comes out of the army, seen his mates killed, blood and guts sprawled in the desert, fought in only a way animals do to survive... He’s as thick as shit… out of the army we are expected to fit back into society… there's no chance... I can't handle this—I can survive on my own. Get me a rucksack and a sleeping bag… On the street—it's so much more appealing. This is what we know. All soldiers could be rehomed but we don’t want to be.
So our meet ups at The Breakfast Club is our comfort, going back to our tribe, a place where we can come get a brew and chat bollocks. We can be loud, but don’t ASK us to shut up... TELL us... we are programmed to take orders and not make decisions. You can come home for 1000 nights, but nothing beats going to the breakfast club. We get to go back to where we belong. It’s not just a club.. it's a family.
Scream for me, Sarajevo!
The scale of the war was pretty jaw dropping as Iron Maiden predominantly Bruce Dickinson... naively accepted the invite to play in concert in Sarajevo during the war. He thought to himself, “Why not, it's not like we will go into a proper war...” But it was more than just a proper war... it was a PROPER war! They did the impossible by putting on a concert in a city under siege. Frankly there was a significant risk that the band members would be shot whilst singing their hearts out from the front line... Bullets flying, mothers and their children ducking and running to any kind of cover, dust spreading through the air as bombs were set off... it was harrowing, the roads were dark and dusty so devastatingly neglected it's shocking to think that these poor civilians were living there.
A soldier began to describe to us, “You see that brown line just above the hill..? I could see very clearly what he was pointing at... It was so close to us.
“That's the Serbian frontline... they are watching us now as we are watching them... but the difference is, they are watching us through sniper sights...” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, the fear of death, the fear of the unknown.
As we were driving along the road… a guy jumps into the middle of the road and points a AK47 at us. “Right, well this is worse than we thought.” It was astonishing, seeing the kids scurrying like rats from one building to another to the sound of gun fire opening. People were getting massacred and genocide was going on, ethnic cleansing... but there was nothing I could do... absolutely nothing. Sarajevo was a city under siege, a siege that saw the indiscriminate murder, systematically of men, women, and children by its own occupants.
I remember coming back to the UK and sitting on a train just watching people... It got me so angry… I felt like saying to them, “Why don’t you just stop and listen to yourself, they were complaining about trivial bullshit, in-comparison to where I had just come from this morning. People don’t have any food to eat, they don’t have power, they might get shot at any moment… This feeling softens over time but it was a real sense of dislocation... it's just the reality of how awful people can be to other people... Bruce tells us, when I was there, I met lots of children. The older kids were looking after the little ones... I went in to show them some music, we started off by warming up and the drummer stepped in as the children had never seen a guitar before... so we needed to go back to basics, he clapped his hands together. Clap three times) to which we were surprised as the kids recognised this sound! Their little eyes lit up and looked excited... They imitated and clapped three time fast even faster (clap 3 times fast) but instead of sitting there waiting for the next instruction, they all fell on the floor pretending to be dead… As they lay there—it was frightening to see them looking so good at playing dead… This was their reality. It was horrifying, something as innocent as clapping to music... was instantly turned onto the sound of gunfire... and that's the world these poor kids were growing up into.
Iron Maiden survived the war zone and sung from the bottom of their hearts... "Scream for Me Sarajevo" echoed through the night air. This was a concert that no-one believed would ever happen. It was a moment of pure enlightenment allowing the people to fill their bodies with hope, allowing the people to escape the terror which lingered just meters away...
SCREAM FOR ME SARAJEVO Trailer
A clip which inspired me on so many levels. Extremely powerful footage.