They were teenage sweethearts and on the surface the letters Matt Neve sent home to his fiancé Zoe, were full of loved-up excitement about their forthcoming wedding and his beloved car. Eighteen years later, Zoe reads his military airmails (known as 'blueys') differently as it’s clear to her now the pain he was trying to hide and why he was focused so intently on the two things that mattered to him most.
It’s 10 years since the last British troops withdrew from Iraq, but veterans are suffering with lifelong mental and physical scars from the impact.
Part of Matt’s role was to assist with the transportation of those injured to the aircraft for repatriation. Days, weeks and months of seeing and supporting comrades with devastating injuries eventually took its toll on his mental health, to the point where Matt became one of these casualties himself and he was medevacked back to the UK.
“He was so depressed out there but you’d never know from those ‘blueys’ – there was so much he wasn’t saying about what was really going on, he tried to keep his letters as light and positive as possible. I didn’t realise he was in such awful pain. I still don’t know the full extent of the horrors he witnessed there.” - explains Zoe.
Matt and Zoe married, as planned, aged 19 on 13 March, 2004 and the Senior Aircraftsman was medically discharged from the RAF seven months after their wedding with PTSD. Leaving the tour had sent Matt into a downwards spiral and at his lowest point, he tried to take his own life.
Eventually Matt joined Help for Heroes’ Band of Brothers fellowship group and engaged with the charity’s sports programme, which introduced him to archery. A grant from Help for Heroes enabled Matt to buy his own kit, and in 2017 he was selected to compete in the Invictus Games in Toronto.
Through the Invictus Games process, Matt began to understand his own mental health difficulties, after getting to know other veterans who had been through similarly traumatic experiences. This ultimately led to him asking for help with his mental health, and he was supported by Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds service.
Zoe and Matt, 36, who have daughters Megan and Hayley and live in Swansea are both now ambassadors for the charity.
Zoe added: “It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok not to feel ok and know that asking for help is not a weakness.”