Falklands veteran opens up about the horrors of war and living with PTSD
A FALKLANDS war veteran has spoken openly about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder in the hope of helping to tackle the stigma associated with it.
Tony McNally, from Ulverston, was only 16 when he joined the army and 19 when he was deployed to the Falkland Islands to protect the British territory from the Argentine invasion.
The anti-aircraft missile operator shot down two jets in San Carlos soon after arriving, but it wasn't until he had returned home the reality of the conflict began to sink in.
He said: "My dad used to wake up and hear me screaming at night - I was waking up with nightmares a few weeks after coming home.
"One minute you are in a war zone and then you're back home with friends and family and they have no idea what you've been through, you're just thrown back in to normal life.
"I shot two aircrafts and it was years afterwards that I actually thought about the men who would have been inside that plane, but at the time you just follow orders and do your job.
"You become withdrawn and in those days, in the 80s, you did what the military told you, you got drunk."
In recent years charities like Mind and Help for Heroes have tried to raise the profile of the illness and encourage sufferers to speak up and help identify the telltale signs.
People can notice changes to their sleeping patterns, nightmares and antisocial and argumentative behaviour, and noises can often trigger flashbacks.
"Two hundred and fifty-five British military men died in the conflict but more than 300 have committed suicide from the Falklands, more have taken their own lives than have been killed and we're talking about SAS, paratroopers, these are tough men," Mr McNally added.
Despite being diagnosed with PTSD shortly after the Falkands, army medics still gave him the all-clear to head to Northern Ireland.
He said: "Belfast wasn't as horrific as the Falklands but we had people spitting in our face and it was so violent, it was definitely a war.
"I was still struggling and having nightmares and I was walking around carrying a loaded weapon.
"The problem is, if you are not injured, people think you are OK. They can't see scars or injuries so it's a difficult thing to get across and some people just judge it as weakness."
On the recommendation of a counsellor, Mr McNally was told to channel his thoughts through poetry and writing as he "clammed up" whenever he tried to speak about his condition.
The father-of-two has even finished an autobiography explaining the intricacies of the illness and how he has managed to deal with it for more than 30 years.
A bout of tinnitus triggered an episode which saw the former serviceman hospitalised in 2010.
Mr McNally added: "I thought it was the right thing to do in taking back the Falklands from Argentina in 1982.
"But what people don't realise is that they remember on the 11th, but every day the events are spinning around in my head.
"The war was like yesterday to me."
WHY I WEAR A POPPY by Tony McNally
Another poppy grows from the hard dry ground
As another soldier falls His name will live forever more
On the War memorial walls
The petals still gently blow in Flanders fields
Dancing in the winter sun
As a solder falls in Helmand province
He wont be the only one
Just once a year we wear our poppies proud
Standing silent in our towns
We cant hear the rifle shot in Afghanistan
That’s just brought another soldier down
As another poppy seed is planted
Another baby boy is borne
Lets pray he doesn’t have to die
To protect us all at home
A poppy is not just a paper flower
Its represents a life
A brother , son , uncle
Who leaves a grieving wife
So next time you see a poppy
Remember what it means
A fallen Hero
Who died for us
Some still in their late teens
On the 11.11.11.
Lets bow our heads an pray
That another British soldier
Will not die on this sacred day.
© Tony McNally