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Ex-Soldier Copes With Stress of Falklands War Thanks to Art

Author: Catherine Smyth Published: 20th February 2012 12:22

A former soldier who ended up homeless as he fought internal battles because of the horrors he witnessed serving in the Falklands has found new life and hope thanks to art.

Darren Horsnell and Tracey VickHope: Darren Horsnell and fiancee Tracey Vick.

Painting gave Darren Horsnell a means to express himself and it provided a therapy that has enabled him to cope with the terrors that have besieged his life for many years.

At his lowest point the former Royal Artillery soldier, who now lives in Haslingden, repeatedly self harmed to rid himself of a voice in his head. He tried suicide and was found by police wandering on a motorway when anxiety and panic attacks made him unable to remember where he was.

Darren spent 18 months living in his car or sleeping on friends' and relatives' floors and was committed to a mental institution twice before being diagnosed with chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, thanks to the national veterans' charity Combat Stress and the love and loyalty of his fiancee Tracey Vick, he is rebuilding his life and as he says: "I have found a new and better drug - art.

Darren Horsnell with one of his paintingsArt therapy, Darren Horsnell with one of his paintings. 

"I was never interested in any form of art before, but I know what I get out of it. When times are hard for me, when it's painful and when I am depressed or fighting the memories which are all war related, I can sit at a canvas and start to paint and it all seems to disappear, it just goes by the wayside.

"All my anger, my frustrations and my worries, they all go and what I create with those feelings turns a negative into a positive and it creates something that gives me self-worth and people say they like my paintings."

Darren is now running art classes every Friday for ex-veterans at the REAL office in Bacup, Through charity Veterans In Action (VIA), which helps sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He also hopes to train as a therapist.

Darren and Tracey grew up in the same street in East London but their lives went in separate directions when Tracey moved to Lancashire, married and had five children while Darren went into the army at 17, married and had three children.

They both divorced their partners and met again 10 years ago through the social networking site Friends Reunited - Tracey lived in Haslingden while Darren was in Surrey.

Darren with another veteranInspiring others: Darren Horsnell advises another
ex-veteran on how to draw.

Carer Tracey, 48, said: "It was fate that we met when we did. He was in a sorry state. At the time I never thought of me and what I was taking on we just hit it off and we have been through everything together since.

"I have never been with anybody who cares for me as much as he does, he is so genuine and we have helped each other even though the tough times."

Darren explained: "There are some images that never leave me. There were 250 Argentinian soldiers we had captured. One was crying and the tears were almost freezing on his face. I knew I shouldn't have made eye contact with him. They were just young conscripts who didn't want to be there. I have a recurring dream of seeing that boy and can still wake up sweating and upset by the memory.

"Later in the conflict I received a bayonet wound and went to the army field hospital at Ajax Bay. What I saw there was very disturbing. Soldiers screaming in pain. Burns, gunshot wounds, massive shrapnel wounds and amputees. The images never leave you. A man was lying dead two feet in front of me while I was being operated on.

"On exercises it could all come back to me and I could be physically sick at hearing a gun go off. I knew other comrades who were having the same problem but we all knew it would end our careers if we spoke about it."

Despite leaving the army in 1985, it was many years before Darren began to pick up to pieces and he was finally able to get the help he needed.

At Combat Stress's treatment centre he discovered a hitherto unknown talent.

Using oils as his preferred medium, Darren now paints commissions from wildlife and landscapes to pets.
He said: "If anyone relates to my story and has experienced similar difficulties, I recommend them to talk about it. VIA holds drop-in sessions at Haslingden Community Link on Mondays and at REAL in Bacup on Wednesdays, both from 11am to 3.30pm.

"Nothing veterans can say will shock us but it is the first step to dealing with the trauma they have witnessed.

"In April it will be 30 years since the Falklands War. It cost the lives of 255, including servicemen and three women civilian. Statistics show since then 347 veterans have committed suicide, a percentage are now living on the streets and a small number are in prison."

Darren and Tracey got engaged this month on Darren's 50th birthday. To view Darren's artwork visit www.origin-oils.com

To find out more about the art classes contact REAL on 01706 871730 or Veterans In Action's North West regional Manager Bob Elliott on 07961 554006 or visit www.veteransinaction.org.uk.

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