Ali’s story reminds us that military suicide has been a problem since the military began, Lest We Forget. When we think of Military suicide we think of recent events, we think of the after effects of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, do we think of the effects of Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, Kenya, The Falklands for example? It’s always been there, it’s just been hidden, not talked about due to the stigma and societies inability to understand mental health. Ali breaks that silence today by talking about her brother, Denis, who took his own life in 1985. her brother’s suicide was never spoken about within the family, it shattered her family from that moment on and this is her chance to have her brother remembered and spoken about. I think you will admit, it has been a long time coming.
Denis was the eldest of us three kids, he was funny, kind ,the joker of the pack and at 6ft 5 and a size 13 shoe, a real gentle giant. Denis dream was the army , his dreams were almost shattered when the medical revealed that he was colour blind ,however he was offered a place as an RMP in the Royal Signals and started Army life at Catterick Garrison in 1973.
We didn’t have a great childhood and my little brother and I missed him terribly, we couldn’t wait for him to come home on leave. I remember him fastidiously shining his army boots with polish and a lighter, polishing his buckles and buttons ’til they gleamed! He looked amazing in his uniform and we were so proud of him.
He met Denise, a fellow RMP at Catterick and they married a couple of years later. He had postings in Berlin and Northern Ireland and eventually ended up at Aldershot.
His marriage broke up in early 1985,he came home for a visit and was his usual daft self. No alarm bells for us to think that he wasn’t coping. December 85 ,we got Christmas cards telling us that he would be home on leave in January.
Christmas Day 1985 : Denis’ CO turned up at our home to break the news that he had been found dead in the officers mess with a gunshot wound to the chest. Apparently, Denis was on guard duty on Christmas Eve and when it was his turn to walk the perimeter of the camp, he took his own life.
We were told that he had struck up a new relationship with a woman at Aldershot which had ended badly. His CO had been concerned that Denis was drinking and had lost a lot of weight but reassured us that he had been spoken to about this.
We were told he had left suicide notes but that they were evidence and would be released at some point and that he had written his will on December 10th leaving everything to Mark our little brother.
My mom, went into a depression like I didn’t know existed ,she didn’t speak, cry, wash ,eat and was referred to a psychiatrist. She never recovered.
Me? I was angry, I couldn’t believe that Denis would do such a selfish thing on Christmas Day of all days. It took me many years to understand that his actions were far from selfish.
Mark, was 17,he was devastated ,he had lost his hero in a way in which none of us could comprehend.
As a family, because of moms reaction, we never spoke of Denis or how his life had ended….she went onto develop dementia and then the opportunity was lost.
Christmases of course were cancelled ,as a nurse it was no problem, I worked all through them but once my son was born in 1995 we had a reason to celebrate once more without feeling guilty.
I have huge regrets about not talking to mom about Denis…I never saw his goodbye letters, I’ve little information about his last months and hate to think of my wonderful brother ,always happy , was so desperate that his only option was to take his own life. Did anybody realise ?Did he confide in anyone about how low he must have felt ? We will never know.
In the last 30 plus years I have written numerous letters and emails to the MOD ,SAAFA, my MP, ,Prince Harry, the Aldershot local news, for any bit of information to fill in the gaps, anything to help me understand why. I have nothing ! Its ” historical” its ” classified” its ” confidential”, “its too late
I let it go and then hear of another military suicide and start asking questions again..to no avail.
Last year, I saw Jo Jukes on our local news and listened to this incredible woman’s story as she fought for justice for her husband. I came across her Facebook group, For the Fallen and at last found people who share the same experience as mine. Its the club nobody wants to belong to but my goodness ,it gives me hope and strength every day.
Jo continues to inspire and motivate and I finally have hope that we can change the future for our serving personnel and veterans in getting timely and effective mental health care.
I may never get closure for Denis, but I wont give up hope for everybody else.
Please share our stories on your social media and any other way you can, help us build the traffic to the site as this will help us raise awareness and it means our message will be able to reach those who would not normally see it, as Google rankings are improved, we will be more visible. This is the start of the story for ‘For The Fallen’, a movement that we are convinced will help us to make tidal changes with regards military suicide, recognition of military deaths, the improvement in after care and support for families of the fallen as well as veterans themselves, as they leave the services to embark on civilian life we should be doing everything possible to ensure they have the best chance of success possible.