Dave Kelley planned to have along career in the RAF; joining up in 1977 as a RAF regiment gunner he was stationed around the world including Belize, Central America and what was formerly West Germany. When his 66 Squadron was disbanded, Dave went to the Royal School of Artillery at Larkhill for his basic rapier course; all the time building up his skills and knowledge for a successful career. However, it wasn’t meant to be. Whilst on a training exercise on the North Yorkshire Moors, Dave, who lives in Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, was blown up, sustaining injuries to his knees and was medically discharged in January 1981. He doesn’t remember anything about the incident as he was unconscious throughout which Dave believes is the reason he was not killed. Since then he has endured countless operations on both knees.
It wasn’t until some 30 years later, in 2008, that Dave’s PTSD reared its head. The PTSD was directly linked to the incident on the North Yorkshire Moors all those years ago.
People who live with PTSD will often talk about flashbacks and Dave recalls a significant one whilst receiving treatment with Combat Stress, one of the partners Help for Heroes grant funds.
Dave says: “It’s funny but the strangest things can lead to a flashback. I had just eaten lunch and was leaning over a tray of yoghurts, they had been in the sun for a while, and as I reached out for the closest there was a pop, the heat had built up pressure in the pot and the lid eventually failed. That would probably have been the end of the story, but, that pop, would have been very familiar to anyone who has thrown a grenade. I had a flashback and as far as I was concerned I was back on the North York Moors. As it turned out one of the nurses was standing next to me, and helped me back to my room. She saw me later, and said she’d had to fill out about two sheets of A4 about an exploding yoghurt pot. It is funny now and is a firm favourite regarding my PTSD stories/experiences, but I can assure you it was all too real and immediate at the time.”
Dave is a good example that living with psychological difficulties doesn’t have to hold you back. He got his first degree, a BSc in Psychology, at the age of 37 and then at the age of 52 graduated from Birkbeck College with an MA in Psychosocial Studies.
Dave says: “The rationale behind studying Psychology was to work out what was causing my nightmares and flashbacks, and I was also told, on my Access to Degree Studies Course, Psychologists also look at how the brain works, and that was the big hook for me, as I have always had a healthy interest in neuroscience.”
The Colchester Recovery Centre's support
Recently, Dave has also begun to engage with the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Colchester, Chavasse VC House, joining the H4H Band of Brothers fellowship and taking part in a range of holistic and wellbeing activities during his stay. As a former “RockApe” (the nickname given to RAF Regiment) Colchester has for him and his fellow “Rocks” always meant the Glasshouse, The Military Corrective Training Centre, and a place to be avoided if at all possible. Now, that statement could not be further from the truth and Colchester means a place of safety, and comradeship within the tranquillity and calmness that is Chavasse House.
Dave only has praise for the Recovery Centre and urges others who have not yet sought support for their injuries or illnesses to make contact with Help for Heroes:
“All the staff members I met, both serving and civilian, were most courteous, respectful, and happy to help no matter what was asked, this is a very precious skill, and I am sure it is why everyone veteran or serving who was there as a beneficiary has such a high regard for the Centre. More recently I had a second visit, and went canoeing on Alton Water, Suffolk, and whilst it was raining, windy and generally overcast, it couldn’t have been more fun.”
“When I joined the RAF in 1977, I didn’t think I needed O or A Levels, as anything I needed to learn would be taught on the job. But I am proof that you’re never too old to learn. I really found that for me my MA gave me a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, it provided a goal to aim for. The sense of achievement I felt when I graduated and seeing how proud my sister was of me was such a huge boost to my self-confidence, and it is something I can still draw on when I feel down and worthless, knowing that I did something so amazing. Yes I still have PTSD, Anxiety and Depression, but I also have the satisfaction of knowing I can achieve something amazing if I put my mind to it, and that, is the point, for if I can, a former SAC Gunner in the RAF Regiment, then why can’t you?”
A new career
Since the end of September 2015 Dave has worked on a secure psychiatric ward in Peterborough, which has a four bed MoD unit, and he is able to be a valuable link between serving personnel and civilian nurses; sometimes acting as a translator between them and the staff,
“One chap was asking how did he get his Dhobi done, and the poor staff member didn’t have a clue what he was asking, I told the staff member he wanted to get his washing done.”
The future is looking even more fruitful as Dave awaits a start date for a full time job as a Peer Support Worker on a secure ward at Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, and whilst he admits to being nervous, he also knows that the qualifications he has worked for over the years, are going to be a big help.
And if Dave’s own story isn’t enough to inspire others he likes to share an inspirational quote written almost 2000 years ago:
“Look beneath the surface: never let a thing’s intrinsic quality or worth escape you.”
Marcus Aurelius, Roman General and Emperor AD 121 – 180 – Meditations
If you are interested in how Help for Heroes can support you either through career recovery, psychological support or welfare needs then please contact the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Colchester on 01206 814880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org