When former commando Bob Curran related his experience of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in his book Heart of a Lamb, Courage of a Lion he little realised how much it would change his and others’ lives.
Bob had struggled with the condition for years before recording his experiences which, he said, derailed both his army career and that in the boxing ring; he was a successful featherweight fighter at the time.
After the book’s publication, he was contacted by other ex-service personnel seeking help and guidance for their own conditions which they found difficult to discuss with friends, family or a civilian doctor.
He heard about the nationwide organisation of Armed Forces and Veterans’ Breakfast Clubs and, as part of his efforts to support them, he set up a club initially in Dundee and later in Arbroath.
On Saturday, the area’s third club opened at the Royal British Legion Forfar, of which Bob is now vice-president.
He said: “I’ve had PTSD since 1969, when I was sexually abused, but it didn’t come to the surface until I was about a quarter of the way through my army service – and ruined it.
“I joined the army in December 1970 and served with 59 Commando Royal Engineers, leaving in May 1977 without any choice – I was booted out.
“At the time, I was probably number two in Britain as a featherweight boxer. I boxed for Scotland, the army and combined services but then everything imploded when the PTSD kicked in.
“It put an end to my boxing and army careers so I have a fair understanding of it.
“I couldn’t go to a civilian doctor about it and I first had to admit to myself that I had these problems. Because I wrote a book, a lot of people, especially ex-forces, totally got it and got in touch with me asking if I could help.
“I did some research online to find out how I could help and then went to Scotland’s premiere hypnotherapy school and became a hypnotherapist.
“I’ve now opened up in Forfar and am looking to specialise in PTSD.”
For the first two weeks after the club, which moves weekly between venues in each town, was started Bob was the only member.
Now there are up to 30 regulars attending in Dundee and 20 in Arbroath.
“It was a way to get me out as well,” he said.
“The last three or four years I’ve been more or less a recluse because of my problems but this gets me out of the house and those coming along have found it to be highly beneficial too.
“It’s a support network – when people come out of the forces they’ll speak to other squaddies but won’t speak to civvies about mental health problems.
“The breakfast clubs are a great and cheap way of getting together and having a bond. The clubs are open to serving armed forces members and veterans.
“People can come in and just sit down for a yap – it’s a laugh you have, even if the banter can sometimes be a bit black.”
Breakfast clubs were founded in Hull around 10 years ago by former Royal Engineer Dereck Hardman.
The concept has since been adopted nationally and internationally as a way of helping former forces members adjust to non-military life.
Men and women who leave the forces face a complete change in their way of life and can feel completely isolated. Due to training and conditioning, and the pride instilled in them, they persevere very often in silence.
It is a problem which, Bob said, is going to get worse as veterans of recent conflicts leave the forces.
But the clubs, which run for up to two hours, can make a huge difference.
He added: “I can’t stress enough that it’s going to be a huge epidemic in this country soon and there aren’t really adequate resources to deal with it.
“We’ve had a few serving members come along but not many, as they don’t really see themselves as veterans yet – it’s when they come out and away from the camaraderie that problems can start.
“But the clubs are very productive. In Arbroath, for instance, we’re going to Jersey in May for a week because the bond is so good.
“People maybe come for weeks, disappear for weeks and then come back.
“Some might decide that it’s not for them but they at least they know that support is there if they need it.”