Veterans invited to seek Solace in sylvan retreat
After the horrors of war, many servicemen and women find themselves facing another battle: post-traumatic stress disorder. But a pioneering experiment is being launched in Fife inviting stressed soldiers from The Black Watch and other Scottish battalions
“The aim of the project is to support wellbeing
of veterans by introducing them to spending time in and working
WHEN 140 US soldiers stormed the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993 to capture two lieutenants in the service of a local warlord, what should have been a simple search and capture operation lasting under an hour, turned into a hellish battle in a foreign city that didn’t end until the following morning, when the troops were finally evacuated.
The US army suffered its heaviest losses since the Vietnam War.
As a war film, Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down brought home the adrenalin r ush of modern technological warfare, piling on the fire-fights, helicopter crashes, and bloody carnage.
But for South Africanborn British citizen Stuart Press, who served as a major in the Australian Defence Force, the film brought back horrific memories.
In Somalia, at a time when famine and civil war had gripped the country, resulting in over 300,000 civilian deaths he was part of a group giving close protection to UN workers.
He was also tasked with clearing thousands of bodies from the roads which were often driven over due to their number.
It wasn’t so much the blood and guts that got to him but the orphaned, feral children running wild with packs of dogs, whose only chance of survival was to eat the decaying remains of massacred villagers.
Major Press also spent a year in Rwanda where he was highly decorated in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide when an estimated 800,000 in the small east African nation were massacred.
After 25 years in the military, he went on to enjoy a rewarding career with the UN in southern Africa.
But around 10 years after Rwanda, the horrific experiences caught up with him.
He suffered severe depression, anxiety and had violent outbursts.
In short, he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
He and his Danish journalist wife Anneline Ussing believe that if it wasn’t for the time he has been able to spend on his own in nature working on their organic farm in Denmark, they would probably not still be together as a family.
But now Anne-line (41) and Stuart (52) — who have three children aged nine, seven and two — would like other veterans and their families to be given the same opportunities, and they are now working with Falkland Estate in Fife to provide Scottish veterans with the opportunity to work in and with nature.
Anne- line told The Courier: “In December 2010 I was invited to a meeting at Clarence House because I was involved in the setting up of a ‘care farming’ project in Denmark.
“It caught the eye of Prince Charles who is the head of Combat Stress and through that came contact with Ninian Crichton Stuart at the Falkland Centre for Stewardship.
“We have been over here for one and a half months now looking at how we can set up the wood training skills pilot project at Falkland Estate.
“The aim of the project is to support wellbeing of veterans by introducing them to spending time in and working with nature; to encourage learning of new skills for veterans here under hut building; to lay the foundations for a longer term relationship with veterans in the Forest of Falkland and to create foundations of a site in the woods that can be used for future programmes.
“Apart from these listed aims of the pilot, it will also assist the involved parties in establishing the feasibility of a larger scale project, Nature Retreats for Veterans, involving all of Scotland which aids veterans to rehabilitate and reintegrate by introducing veterans to nature as a safe place to recreate and rehabilitate.”
She continued: “In a very concrete way we are inviting up to 12 veterans to participate in the pilot project in June to set up a base camp while socialising and sharing their ideas on the issue thus contributing to
the realisation of the bigger vision.
Four will be given a five-day chainsaw certification course that they will be able to use at Falkland Estate and elsewhere in the future.
“Personally I would like to appeal to wives and girlfriends of veterans like myself to get in touch so we can help give both them and their men a break.”
Ninian Crichton Stuart, the Hereditary Keeper of Falkland Palace and co-founder of Falkland Centre for Stewardship, said the pilot project was supported by a small grant from the Big Lottery’s Awards for All that will provide opportunities for veterans who wish to work in the woods, in a supportive environment, learning about nature and forest culture.
He added: “This is a new venture for us — but feels like a natural step to provide activities for veterans in a supportive environment and for them to help look after the woodlands, learn new skills and perhaps reconnect with people and with the natural environment — with all its healing and inspiring qualities.”
For more information email info@ centreforstewardship.org.uk.
A soldier of B company, Worcester and Sherwood Forest regiment, taking part in an operation in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.
Rwandan refugee children plead with Zairian soldiers to let them cross a bridge to rejoin their mothers who had crossed the bridge moments before the soldiers closed the border, in Bukavu, Zaire on August 20 1994. For years, majority Hutus and minority...
Stuart Press and Anne-line Ussing at the Falkland Estate.