Carla McManus: How did you hear about the War Veteran Vehicle Project?
Robert: There's a gentleman called Steve, he's associated with Combat Stress, which I go to once--probably twice--a year. It's a rehabilitation center. They actually followed me up, explained what this was, and 'Would I be interested in getting interviewed and saying things about the project?' I sat down, thought about it, obviously with everything I've gone through in life it took me a couple of days so I decided 'yeah, I'd go into it' and Steve, he was at Combat Stress, can't remember his last name--
R: Griffiths. Steve Griffiths, sorry, he put me into this. He said he'd be there on the day it was happening, so I'd have someone I could trust being there so I started leaning towards coming and that's how I got involved.
CM: What were your first impressions when you heard about the project?
R: I was a bit skeptical because I still couldn't understand--you've got to understand, being military minded, hearing a civilian talking about it, it sounds a bit mixed up. If it'd been a military person telling me what it was about I would have understood it more. All I heard was it was a tank, this and that, ... well I've got to see this all. What was the question?
CM: What were your first impressions of the project? Was there anything you were skeptical about or worried about participating in?
R: Yeah, yes. Seeing when I got told it was going to be a tank, At the time, which was a LandRover 110. I got told it was going to be done up for war, and that did scare me a little bit, seeing a vehicle ready for war.
CM: And so what was it that made you decide to get involved? Was it personal reasons? Did you feel you'd benefit from the project?
R: Yes, it was mainly personal reasons, as I've had a lot of ghosts. And over the years I've been fighting my own thoughts and memories of things that happened and over the last few years I've actually been seeking out to aid me to get a bit better with this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thinking of doing something like this, when I found out what it was going to be, with audio, then I thought rather than go through certain details there will be some things I could talk about and it might help me and help my family. And they'll understand a little more what I was going through when I found out how deep it was going to be.
CM: And did you find it beneficial that Lisa got involved, your wife?
R: At the time I didn't think I was going to find it beneficial, but when I heard Lisa talking it opened my eyes and it also ripped me apart listening to it. And yes, it does help me since that day it happened knowing now what she's been going through. And I put her through all those years, so yes it has been beneficial in that we because I understand now that it's not just me suffering: she's suffering just as bad.
CM: And do you think that from your first sessions, and the first meeting that you came along to, and the record session to Steve Griffiths, and the end product of the projections. Do you think that you grew in confidence or that you benefited from the process?
R: The confidence is immense, of which you have seen me with a camera. I'd talk, I spoke, I thought on the project. I'd sit back, just watch everyone. But I saw people at the project--normal civilians--looking at it wanting to know why or where, and I just spoke to them. I grew with confidence and stature then. These people want to hear stories, want to know that 'are these real people talking? are they real or are they actors?' ... I was an actual person, who was in the event that we ware speaking about, made me more confident and now, since then, I've gone a long to so many meetings now it's unbelievable.
CM: From the recording sessions, you did two recording sessions, how did you decide what you were going to talk about? Were there specific things that you wanted to get across, that would be shown in public, that you wanted people to know?
R: There were things I wanted people to know but obviously I can't talk about because certain accidents the military, the army... The things I did speak about, that have been destroying my mind some of them, I thought they would upset a lot of people. Probably do but not tell me. But obviously I've not gone into detail on certain events ... the bodies that you saw, might of spoke about, of what you had to do. I could only tell about certain events, but there's things there that only myself and the persons involved with certain events will ever know. And unfortunately that's going to be passed with my torch for the rest of my life.
CM: And do you think it's beneficial for the public to hear more about these experiences and to hear first-hand accounts from soldiers?
R: Yes I think it is because what you hear on the news, and you get all your soldiers talk all roughy-toughies "Oh I just go on patrols and when seeing bodies .. there, you're talking to the camera, but to actually sit down with a soldier who's out of the military, who's suffered for so many years with a family, and actually listen to what really happens in wartime in the background rather than seeing what happens in the front, then it would be beneficial for people to know what really lads, young lads, soldiers, and obviously as they get older, as older soldiers are feeling and need help. And for these people to understand it. It will be beneficial in the end to the soldiers if [the public] understands it better.
CM: From the other participants, did you learn anything from their stories when you heard them being played back? Did you learn anything from their voices?
R: Yes. Well, I heard every voice on the file, whatever you call it. When you talk to the people who are involved in it they all sound the same... but when you hear them on the audio they've all got that voice, that pain in the voice, and I realized it's not just me talking with pain, it's every certain person including my wife, including the families. They've all got that pain in the voice, and that's haunted me since--that's a bad thing, a good thing it's not just me I've listened to all the voices and they're all the same. It's pain that they're going through.
CM: You could identify with that then?
R: I can now, I couldn't before. It's taken something like that project for me to understand that we're all the same, we're all going through the same hurt, pain, emotions. When you think it's just you, you're alone, you're not. When you hear them all, we're all suffering as one as a collective rather than individuals. That's what we need people to understand. We're all hurting inside.
CM: At the projection sites, I know that you had the camera, and that you were interviewing certain people and talking to them about the project. Was there anything in particular that you talked to them about, or that they asked you at the site?
R: There there were things that stood out. A couple of young lads, I'd asked them how they felt about the voices, and there was a certain person who said "Well that's what your job was" and I tried to explain to him, No the job is to protect people, and when I tried to explain with certain people, I joined up for the job, and also knowing I was going to at high two islands. Obviously, I did not join up to go to war, but people now, people then in the 80s knew, even now they say to you "Well you knew what you joined up for" well you don't. The army don't tell you what you joined up for. They prepare you to certain extent. You'll never know what war's like until you go into war. No one can prepare you for that and what really grips me is when people say "You know what you were joining for." No you don't. You know that you could be hurt, maimed, killed, yeah. But not in wartime, they don't prepare you for the atrocities, or the death. They don't prepare you for that. Nothing could prepare you for that. That's, you know, what was the question?
CM: That's it. And, since leaving the Falklands, what help have you received? Do you feel as if there's been enough help?
R: I've received none whatsoever for, I got off the army '92, '93, I received ... I went to an arsenal (?) which was mainly for drunks, alcoholics, drug addicts and everything. I spent six months there. And...it wasn't until Steve Griffiths, Combat Stress, had got in touch with me in '90--2001, 2002 is when they said I'd qualify--whatever that means--to go to their units to see if they could help me. And you go there once or twice a year. Over the last year the present, the last year the real help I've been a psychologist in a unit in ..., which even though the civilians they're only learning what we're going through now, no disrespect to Combat Stress their help is more intense and I feel as though, no I don't feel, it is helping me, whereas Combat Stress it's great to meet the lovely people, they're there to do what they do, but what happens is when you leave them, they don't forget you but you feel as though you're forgotten for another seven, eight months now. They help I'm getting now they prioritize military personnel, to fill out in the civilian world.
CM: And do you think that the help that you're getting, this ongoing help, would benefit with projects like this? Do you think there would be a nice supplement to the ongoing help that you're getting? The likes of the Wodiczko project, do you think that runs alongside?
R: Well, yes it's on the eyes of a lot of people. I'm one of the people who take part myself, and the other ex-soldiers. It does help you. Basically all you do is you're letting people know you're still a reason. It's like a relief valve: where's your valve after 20-odd years. You've got a thousand relief valves in your body, and each one you're letting it out every so often. And that sort of project, you're letting a bit out, but letting that bit out helps you. And then other people know. It is a therapy, and you're letting them know what goes on. Obviously you can't go too in-depth with it, but it starts them to pass the word out. You want to see what they're going through, what pain, and what happens when they join up the training. It's not all easy going. It has been therapy, for if it hadn't been for that, from that date whenever it was a few months ago to the present date. I've never felt--yeah I'm still suffering, but I've never felt so confident. It's brought the confidence out in me to go around.
CM: That I've seen, from working with everyone throughout the entire process. Krzysztof talks a lot about in his work, the notion of parhessia, and free speech, and the people that should be heard speaking out in public, and I think with your story and seeing how you've grown over this project, and your confidence, and your ability to speak out. I think that's been one of the main successes of the project, for me anyway. What do you think have been successes of the project?
R: You just said, from the way I was to the way I've gone. Now there are other people who'd say, from what you've just said, "See, he's better now." But all it is, it's just a little thing that's aiding us. It's a little thing that's helping. You go to an army psychiatrist and say "well you've just said that he's better." And that's it, then, but really we're still suffering bad, but what was your last question, then?
CM: Successes of the project.
R: Successes of the project is that, from what I've seen, there's a lady called..., a beautiful lady, she's doing another project so now all these artists are going to look at these sorts of projects and go "Wow, it's big businesses, big books." People are taking note of this, and what you're all seeing, that's coming up next year, things are happening now, so we feel, I feel, people are looking at us now. If we're able to help them, great. If it's going to save a life. And if a mother says "hang on, listen to that soldier even though he's getting on a bit, listen to him" and, you know, say to her son "listen here son,
CM: And do you think you don't feel so alone if you can identify with other people in that same situation or if others raise these issues, and make them in the public, do you think it makes you feel less alone?
R: To be honest with you, now there's been a few people who I've been in contact with who at one time, a couple years ago. We've got certain problems, and now from what the people I've spoken to who've been involved in the project--the other lads and families--I understand and realize quick now that they're going through certain things. And so now I feel I can help them, even if it means telling which route to go down on the phone... If you've got another project going on now, I could say to one of them, "Come in this might help you now." So it has, that way it has helped me. Now I can help you by bringing in more soldiers, younger soldiers, older soldiers,
CM: Do you think there are any difficulties with the project? If it were to happen again, is there anything you would change?
R: Change. The only change I'd make, the project itself, all of it, including the vehicle, including the projector, including the voices, I'd have more voices, more family, get people to be involved. The best place you had it in was actually in the cathedral. And what I'd do next time, if possible is put it near the center of town. Do it on a Thursday or Wednesday night when there are no deadheads around. Or, if you can't, get one major academy school with permission of teachers and council and ask could you do it there with the soldiers involved to be around the vehicle for people to talk to and say 'well they're not actors they're the real soldiers,' ask them what the stories they've got. I think that, then, would make the story bigger.