A short postscript to my book 'War in Iraq – for my Son'

1. Prefaratory

It took me six years to get this short book into a form with which I was happy. This was not for lack of trying. There were many versions, and some attempts to get them published. Successful at first in gaining a publishers' attention, but not clear and honest enough. By the time I had the idea of simply telling this story in a simple way, I had lost interest in publication, and simply self-published it for my son, myself, and the old platoon. I read it to my son at bedtimes, and sent a copy to our platoon commander, Mark Adams in 2014. One way or another, it got into the hands of the lads, and I learned later that it was 'in the battalion’, or being read here and there, as little military books are by soldiers when they are bored and away from home.

I had written it because people there expected me to do so. Both because I was a writer by profession; and, because they wanted to be written about. And so I felt it was necessary to keep on trying to write it and finish it. I felt a bit of regret that I could not now get it published for widespread distribution. Obviously, this is not exactly what they had expected, with many pages concerned with my personal beliefs and my ‘poetry’, but I didn’t mind that. What I did mind was anyone taking offence by what I had said. As I saw it, one day, in maybe twenty years’ time, Spence Beynon would give me a ring and let me know that there was a reunion going on for Op. Telic 10, and invite me. I would go to such a reunion and say sorry for any upset when that day came, while being glad to be invited.

2. 'Spence'

Around Summer 2016 I did meet up with a few members of the platoon, at a funeral. I was utterly surprised to hear over BBC radio that Spence had been killed in a confrontation with the Police. He had, it seems, attempted suicide, and caused a disturbance, so that the Police were called to his home in Llanelli. Finding him on the road outside, holding a knife covered with his own blood, the Police officers shot him with an electrically charged projectile, and he died there in the street. I attended his funeral in Llanelli where I met his father and mother, along with six or seven of the platoon and many others from the company. It was said that he had remained in the Royal Welsh for a few years, but had been discharged for some drug use, and an injury suffered in Afghanistan.

Once discharged, he found himself unable to find a place for himself in society; at the same time, his grief about LCpl Francis, and his involvement in his dead friend’s final moments, began to impinge on his everyday relationship with the world. If he suffered like me, then he missed the life of the platoon terribly, and could not stop being ‘a soldier’; additionally, he was unable to be given any chance of seeing his friend again, under no circumstances. As I said in the book, he was made for fighting, for being with mates, and doing the bad things which are necessary to keep good people secure and orderly. It would have been impossible for him, who was like a force of nature in the battalion, to have carried on in Llanelli as if none of it had happened, while living a civil life. From Geraint Jones’s book of 2018, which describes Spence in Afghanistan, I understand that Spence was involved in almost the exact same situation as that one with Ryan Francis, but on the second occasion in Afghanistan, once again as so often, trying to save other people’s lives. Speaking with an Orthodox priest about Spence recently, it was suggested that ‘warrior societies’ do not know of post-traumatic stress (PTSD); a man like Spence, a professional if ungovernable soldier, would be understood by everyone in a warrior society, where success in battle is the highest value, and enjoined to take part in the ceremonial and business life of the society as one of its most valuable members. But that is not how it is now.

3. What happened next

I insist that I myself have not suffered post-traumatic stress, although my old TA friend from Wrexham, Geraint, complains in his ‘Band of Brothers’ (2018), that he did. Gez did almost three back to back tours in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2006 and 2009, so he is permitted some ‘burn out’. I mention at the end of my book that worse things happened to me after I had left the battalion than when I had been in it. I realise now that this can be misconstrued, and I wish to set the record straight. What I meant was that I went home to a very bitter and senseless marriage – about which I do not feel this is the place to speak. Suffice to say that, regarding the troubles we have at home, they can be sometimes have no resolution or good outcome. I am happy to be misunderstood by men; there is a chance of proving that we are right by trials of strength and of character. But there is no chance of this in a badly contracted marriage where two people have more or less nothing at all in common beyond their common parentage of children.

By late 2009 I was living with grandparents, and had never been welcome in my own family home with my then wife. And that is what I mean when I say that there are worse things than death and physical hurt. For me, and for most, I hope, the only mental ill-health, or depression, or sense of meaninglessness which we suffer as a result of the adventure in Iraq is in moderate, very mild sickness: an aversion to dusty and hot places which bring back that sense of listless, emotionless dread we used to feel; and a more or less constant comparison of how we are doing things now compared to how we used to do them in Iraq. More or less constant as in: when putting shoes on, when walking, when carrying something, when meeting someone in the street, when driving a vehicle, and a long list of other things. That background shadowing of me by my past self in the middle East never stops. But it is by no means a problem which makes life unbearable.

4. My promise to God

In the final pages of the book I told of a promise which I had made secretly to God and specifically to the memory of the earthly life of Jesus, and the Christian’s continual effort to be close to the eternal Christ. I wish to make my own comment on this, to clarify, largely for my own justification. I put it down in writing here because in our largely secular land, I believe it is of benefit, especially to people who have seen the more extreme varieties of life, to know that a relationship with God is both beneficial and based on something real. The best I can say of myself from the years 2008 to 2011 is that I had stopped concerning myself with Heidegger’s German pagan mythology of ‘the Last God’, and the Germans’ romantic ideal of revived Greek gods. Let’s be plain, I was always inclined to look for God or gods; it is in my nature to be loyal to a higher person or power, to value an unassailable order, and to lend my support. And as a child I was taken to the Methodist church; and Christian hymns and prayer were part of school life back then. A keen student of literature, as a young man I used to try to revive in myself outdated modes of thought, to awaken in myself the ideas which were believed by philosophers and poets of the Western Canon - people either devout, or anti-Christian. But there was no formal organisation which I could join which would make this private fascination something concrete. And for about three years after coming home, and after that promise, I did a bare minimum to fulfil my promise to God. I put my medals on in early November for a Remebrance service; went to Church a half-dozen times in 2008 at a local Church of England service, but eventually stopped, backed out of it, finding nothing to hold on to.

I took an interest in posting on, and its discussion forums not long after. As a result, I became quite socialist in political outlook. Around 2011 a mention of David Icke on one of these sites made me remember something Spence had said about David Icke in the tents one day years before. I bought a book of Icke's, and eventually read his entire corpus of works, before writing a critical analysis (The Man Who Woke Up (2014)). The single enduring thing about Icke's work is how frightened it made me about the power structures which I had once taken for granted. I also began meditating.

Now meditation, as it was taught to me in books by Buddhists, atheists, Hindus and by books from the Transcendental Meditation society, was something I found congenial to me. I do not intend to go any deeper than this, here. Suffice to say that the practice of sitting, for half an hour each day, to open up to the immensity of creation and the depth of the inside by stilling the mind with a precise and simple method, gave to me a self-relationship and grounding in the eternal which I had been trying to find by other means, unsuccessfully, for most of my life. Many persistent psychological problems, religiously associated with sin, fell away from me. I became healthier in body, calmer in mind, more intelligent and adult as a result of the practice. I was convinced that I had stumbled upon a neglected vision of what human life and human intellect is.

I carried on with this practice for years. I just called it meditation, and vaguley understood that I had set up a relationship with my deeper, eternal self, based in philosophical 'Being'. I did not name the fullness and stillness and rich source of ideas and wisdom and humility ‘God’. But I did have trouble understanding what the point of meditation was, and why it worked, and how it had no place in prior Western civilisation. To my mind, this question was answered around 2017, when my son asked to be allowed to go to a local church. He was lucky enough to have found a small Orthodox church with a local priest, in Chester. We began going together. Again, I cannot bring myself to speak of the very powerful reasons why I gradually felt more and more that, Christianity, as spelled out by the Orthodox catechism, and in the weekly liturgy, seemed to me to explain why meditation works for human beings. I also found, after disputes in which I tried to push back against my son (who was a very young scholar and convert to Orthodoxy), that the tradition of meditative prayer is an essential pillar of Orthodoxy, and of a Christian’s relationship to Christ. I was received into the Church in early 2019.

To me, it is essential that a man prays, or meditates, in order to be a complete man; this is so because we are not simply animals or the result of blind forces, but images of God and because we have an eternal basis. And, meditation brings a person close to the eternal source of human consciousness and life, namely, God. God is three persons, of course, as the Son (who was human), and the Father, the creator. And finally, for the person in meditation, God is the Holy Spirit as the energy of God which is given to us, making us part of that mystery.

I should add as an aside, a remark, whose meaning may lie in something which I do not understand, that Chistianity itself has gained followers in this world particularly from soldiers, and the stories of the early martyrs are sometimes, it seems, mostly the stories of converted Roman soldiers. In addition, the rise of Chistianity through central Europe, to France and the West, after the collapse of Rome, depends very largely on the reverence which was shown to the fighting saints. Thus the ancient reverence afforded to the soldier, St George, and in France to St Martin, whose influence converted the Carolingians. Perhaps, very generally, there is a value for rough and death-aware people, people who have done wrong and see no way of returning to civilian life, in the example of these former soldiers who recognised that the highest value is to be found in Christ, who is the power of God, rather than the power of the sword and of death. He, to speak plainly, gives eternal life, not just the false honour and dangerously cheap life of the war band. So much for this remark.
May, 2020

Design Jason Powell, 2020.