Belfast Telegraph

How a former soldier from NI became a poet to highlight the stresses facing Army veterans

Graham Fergus meeting Princess Anne
Graham Fergus meeting Princess Anne

By Christopher Leebody

An Irish Guards veteran has penned an emotional poem in the run-up to Remembrance Day to raise awareness and funds for people suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Graham Fergus (42) was in the Army for 12-and-a-half years and completed tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Northern Ireland before leaving in 2010.

Mr Fergus, who is from here, was moved to write the poem, titled The Nomadic Soldier: Still Wandering And Not At Peace, after seeing friends struggling with PTSD.

Particularly moving for him was a pal who is a member of his church.

"He was a soldier back in the day during the Troubles and then moved to being a minister," he explained.

"One morning, 15 years after he had finished his previous job, he woke up and couldn't get out of bed. What he didn't know at the time was that this was the onset of PTSD.

"I just thought: 'I've had ideas and things bouncing around my head for ages. Instead of speaking directly to anybody, why don't I just put it into words?'"

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Working with the Veterans' Foundation, Graham turned his ideas into a powerful and emotive video on the charity's Facebook page that encouraged members of the public to raise money for former members of the Armed Forces suffering from mental illnesses.

The video refers to the struggle veterans face trying to find meaning in life after service.

While Graham has not suffered from PTSD, he knows the experience can be "very different for everybody".

"Some people would get flashbacks, or they might be affected by becoming introverted, where they don't want to socialise. The scale and breadth is massive," he explained.

"The biggest problem for us in Northern Ireland is that there is a real difficulty in diagnosing PTSD. There are only two qualified doctors in the country who can do it.

"It is often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety. I want to encourage people to talk about it and do something about it and take action".

A regular refrain in the poem asking "where do I belong?" is explained by Graham as being a regular sentiment of life after service, particularly for those from Northern Ireland, with the complex story associated with the Army in the province.

Explaining the line, he said: "I just thought: 'Where do you fit in and how can you integrate back into the society?'.

"You can't really do that in Northern Ireland.

"They (veterans) would really struggle with saying: 'I was a member of the British Army'. It is really taboo in Northern Ireland.

"There were people from all of Ireland involved in the wars.

"I joined as a little Northern Irish guy from one side of the community and ended up meeting everyone else."

Graham hopes that the poem will make a small difference, both in giving support to veterans and in raising money for the Veterans' Foundation.

"Everyone shares those thoughts. Maybe you can't vocalise it, but I'll do it on your behalf. I hope it resonates with people and that people know you should be proud of what you've done," he said.

The Veterans' Foundation added: "The Veterans' Foundation provides a nationwide source of funding to help charities who struggle to raise money to support serving and former members of the British Armed Forces and sometimes their dependants who are in need."

All donations raised by Graham's film will go directly to help support life-changing projects, in particular those set up to assist ex-servicemen and women suffering with PTSD.

For information or to donate, visit www.veteransfoundation.org.uk

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