Combat Stress 100: a unique collaboration with Age Exchange

In May 2019 Age Exchange joined with the military mental health charity Combat Stress to create a nationwide programme to mark its centenary. Combat Stress 100 has aimed not only to share the remarkable history of Combat Stress but to engage with veterans and their families, enabling them to share their own story. All those who have taken part have done so because they want the public to understand how military service related PTSD impacts on those who serve on the front line and on those closest to them. Along with raising the profile of Combat Stress in its centenary year veterans and families have bravely come forward to share often painful and harrowing experience in order to further the cause of destigmatising mental illness.

Combat Stress 100 has been a veterans led project in every sense. It began with Age Exchange training eight veteran volunteers to the project (back in May/June 2019), in oral history interview technique, using film cameras and sound equipment, as well as digitising archive materials. This brilliant team then worked with us in partner venues across the UK carrying out 73 interviews with veterans, family members and Combat Stress Staff. 61 of the interviews have been with veterans who have been supported by Combat Stress. Interviews have taken place in Combat Stress treatment centres at Tyrwhitt House and Audley Court in England and Hollybush House in Scotland, and at National Museums Liverpool, Tyne & Wear Museums, St Helens RFC, Leeds Rhinos RFC, Queens University Belfast, and the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

The Combat Stress 100 Steering Group including Combat Stress Staff and veterans, and Age Exchange project leaders played a crucial role in identifying themes for the interview process. Veteran volunteers and clinical and support staff at Combat Stress helped shape the interview questions which were then used right across the UK.

Over 50 hours of interviews with veterans, Combat Stress Staff, and veterans’ families have been filmed resulting in a one hour film documentary “Combat Stress 100”, which began touring the UK in November 2019 as part of Armistice Commemorations at National Museums Liverpool. Screenings followed at Bentley Priory Museum and Merton Heritage Centre as well as all 3 Combat Stress treatment centres. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the film by the veteran’s community who feel it reflects their experience of service and of PTSD faithfully. Families of veterans have also been in touch to say how pleased they are that veterans have made a film about their PTSD and spoken so openly and honestly about the impact on themselves and on their families. If you would like to see feedback we have received please get in touch via hello@age-exchange.org.uk

The film was booked to screen in Cardiff, Newcastle, Belfast, Edinburgh, St Helens, Leeds, and London from April 2020. Sadly we had to temporarily suspend all screenings and project activity in March 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  We also had to suspend the 4 Combat Stress 100 schools’ projects delivered in partnership with The National Army Museum.

UPDATE AS OF 29TH JULY 2020

Combat Stress 100 was streamed by The Imperial War Museum (War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network) during Mental Health Week in May. We are delighted to confirm that Age Exchange and Combat Stress are now in discussion with the National Army Museum and The National Museum of the Royal Navy to plan streamings of Combat Stress 100, and webinars on the project during Armistice week. Discussion is also underway with other partners and venues around the UK which had worked with us and also booked the film to screen live before the pandemic and lockdown. Our plan is to offer a combination of streamings and live events from the Autumn 2020.

In September we will begin 4 virtual projects with secondary schools exploring the veterans’ experiences and treatment as part of the Recovery Curriculum studied in UK schools. Veterans have been trained to work in the 4 secondary schools, to share their story with students, supported also by interview edits from other veteran’s from the project. The students will create a series of art works, spoken word, and film, in response to what they learn from Combat Stress veterans. This will result in a special sharing day at The National Army Museum before the project concludes in March 2021.

Armistice in November will also see the launch of a series of 6 X 25 minute podcasts created by one of our project veterans working with Combat Stress staff and clinicians and Age Exchange. The podcasts will share more of the recorded interview material from veterans we met across the UK. Podcasts will cover themes including: enlisting and basic training, service and combat experience, trauma related incidents and treatment by Combat Stress.

At the end of this remarkable project Combat Stress with Age Exchange will have created and launched The Living Archive. Despite its 100 year history Combat Stress before its centenary programme, did not contain the recorded voices of veterans it has treated. Combat Stress 100 has changed that. Our filmed interviews with veterans treated for PTSD and other mental health conditions will form the foundations of an archive that will grow beyond this project supported by trained veteran volunteers. This archive will be there in future years for veterans, for researchers, for families and for the public to learn about the work of Combat Stress and better understand the impact of PTSD on those who serve in the military and their families.

Please watch this space for more information on Combat Stress 100 as the project develops and more opportunities to experience it, attend events present themselves.

When Combat Stress 100 was launched back in May last year

Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, said:

“We’re very excited to be partnering with Age Exchange for what is an invaluable opportunity to share the stories of veterans and their families who will convey in their own words the impact of living with military-related mental health. By creating a living archive of veterans’ stories, as well as those of their loved ones, we aim to further reduce the barrier to seeking help and increase the public understanding and respect for the impact on individual’s lives.”

David Savill, Artistic Director of Age Exchange, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be working in partnership with Combat Stress during its centenary year. Age Exchange is honoured to be working with veterans and their families to create a nationwide project which will enable the UK public to learn about and engage in the remarkable history of the charity and its ground-breaking work supporting military veterans for 100 years. Age Exchange comes to Combat Stress 100 having delivered two National Lottery funded projects as part of the First World War Centenary programme. Projects in the UK and in Germany explored the theme of the legacy of war in families, working with British and German children and grandchildren of First World War combatants. Both projects and the learning from them have played a key part in the thinking behind Combat Stress 100 and the partnership between our organisations. Combat Stress and Age Exchange would like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding Combat Stress 100.”  

Read the latest article in the spring issue of Combat Stress magazine.

If you would like to find out more about Combat Stress or are a veteran and would like to contact them please go to www.combatstress.org.uk/about-us