Yesterday in the Armed Forces debate in the House of Commons I recounted the experiences of Anthony Lock, a Newport East constituent who served his country in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The full transcript of my speech is copied below:
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday and on Reservists Day today. With that in mind, I shall start by paying tribute to the work of the reserve units based at Raglan barracks in Newport and thanking them for all they do for us. Armed Forces Day is an important way of ensuring we continue to recognise the service and sacrifice of our armed forces. A number of events are taking place in my constituency over the coming days to mark the occasion, including the civic flag-raising ceremony in Newport, the St Andrews armed forces cadet day in Lliswerry and the armed forces VE Day barbecue at Alway Primary School. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the two Royal British Legion branches in my constituency, in Caldicot and Newport. They undertake great work all year round to support the forces community.
I also pay tribute to all those past and present who have served from my constituency. At this point, I was going to mention the neighbour of the 86-year-old veteran who rang my office to complain about the veteran not being eligible for a free TV licence and how disgusted he felt about that, but the Minister dealt with that earlier. Lastly, I pay tribute to the Afghan interpreters who have come to make their home in Newport and who, I feel, need greater help and clarity from the Government about how they can be reunited with their families.
Military history, like national history, is so often written about the officer class—those who make the major decisions—but it is important that we understand, too, what happens in defence and war to the ordinary soldier. History is also, importantly, about everyone who serves, their day-to-day experience and their life afterwards, including the trauma that they face as a result of the service that they gave to their country. I will therefore take the opportunity of today’s debate to highlight the experiences and service of my constituent Anthony Lock, who was Corporal Anthony Lock, from Newport.
I appreciate the Minister’s earlier remarks about keeping perspective, and the many positive stories and experiences that we have shared today, but I wish to put Anthony’s story on the record. I recently read his brave and heartfelt book, “Broken by War”, which is a hugely powerful account of his time in combat, what he witnessed, how it affected him, his injuries, his recovery and, crucially, the lack of support offered to him throughout. He wrote the book to help others in his situation and to bring about change. I hope that Ministers will commit to read it, and will reflect again on what more needs to be done to support veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anthony joined the armed forces after leaving school in Newport aged 17. He went on to serve with the Royal Welsh Regiment in Kosovo and Iraq. However, his life was to change forever after his service in Afghanistan, when he was hit by two improvised explosive devices in six weeks. The first explosion broke his neck, but he was misdiagnosed, so, unknowingly, he continued to serve on the frontline, surviving on pain killers.
The second IED explosion during his service in Helmand province very nearly ended Anthony’s life. Thrown 30 feet in the air from the blast, he believes that he survived only because a rescue helicopter was nearby. His heart actually stopped beating for a time during the emergency flight to Camp Bastion, and he became the first British soldier serving in Afghanistan to be surgically operated on while in the air. He was the most injured soldier of his regiment in Afghanistan.
The life-changing injuries that Anthony experienced in Helmand were accompanied by the long-term legacy of post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. It is fair to say that he feels let down by his regiment. As he told me, in nine years there were nine close deaths around him and numerous traumatic events; yet not enough was done to help him through it. I think the Defence Committee acknowledged in its report the particular incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since leaving military service, Anthony has applied for many jobs, but to date has been unsuccessful. He has had help from military charities to write a CV, but otherwise the support has been limited, despite, as has been said a few times in the debate, the obvious many skills and experience that he has to offer. I would like the Minister to look again at what is happening in JobCentre Plus with the armed forces champions that are supposed to be in place.
Anthony is grateful for the help that he has received from charities, particularly Poppy Practice, which is only a small charity but found Anthony as a result of reading his book. He has talked to me about the waiting times for appointments for veterans suffering from PTSD, which are far too long in the UK. He has also talked to me about the spike in PTSD-related veteran suicides in 2018—a tragic reminder of the need for Government at all levels to have a more effective response to mental health issues among current and former service personnel. Just today he told me that he believes that there have been 32 suicides this year that we know of.
Anthony still suffers every day from invisible injuries, and has said that he might not be here today were it not for the support of his partner Rhiannon and his daughter Katie. In a recent interview, he said:“It’s been hard for them too. I am angry in my head but not outside it. I am just nervous around people. I’m angry about what happened. I got blown up twice and life is difficult now…I did English, maths and management qualifications in the army but no one can find them now and employers can’t see the person through a CV when you apply for jobs.I don’t sleep at night. I have nightmares about what happened to me”.
He also said: “If I had lost a limb my injuries would be more visible. If I walk down the street no one can see what I’ve been through but if someone has lost a leg people can see that.”
Anthony deserves huge credit for his continued commitment to fighting for the dignity of veterans, and I recommend his excellent book, “Broken by War,” which powerfully recounts his experiences of war and encourages other veterans to reach out for support.
Ahead of today’s debate, I asked Anthony what his main ask would be for improving the support available to veterans in our society. He told me that we need much quicker signposting of mental health support services within the forces community, a better system for handling the slow process of compensation and pension claims for those unable to work—the Defence Committee has also referenced that—help into work and recognition of the skills and experience of veterans, and, above all, a commitment from government at all levels to end the stigma around mental health in the armed forces.
In his own words, Anthony says “the forces community are too proud, too shy and too scared to reach out for help.”
He says that many veterans still feel the Government send young soldiers to war only to “leave us to fight on our own when we return.”
Anthony has served in some of the major conflicts since the second world war, but he is not a celebrity. So many veterans like Anthony are unknown individuals in society who could have become unknown soldiers lost on the battlefield, but their history and service are just as vital to the UK as that of any general, air marshal or captain. We have to listen to people like Anthony and we have to be told their stories.