Remembrance Day: A tribute by Helen Bolland

Tue, 09 Nov 2021 16:19:00 GMT
Helen's tattoos (pictured) along with other memories from her journey
Helen's tattoos (pictured) along with other memories from her journey

Each year, Remembrance Day gives us the opportunity to pay our respects to those who have defended our freedoms and protected our way of life. 

Here at GCU Student Life, we asked second year Social Work studentand RAF veteranHelen Bolland, what Remembrance Day means to her. 

In an emotional tribute, Helen spoke of the importance of two key factors we should consider when remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who continue to live with their pain; faith and remembrance. 

Here’s what she had to say… 

I write this in the run up to Remembrance Day, a time of year I always struggle with and finds me plagued with unwanted memories. 

I served in the RAF as an Intelligence Analyst for seven years covering various conflicts, both on the frontline and from the safety of the UK. During a tour of Iraq in 2005, I was injured both physically and psychologically which sadly brought my service to an end a couple of years later. I still struggle with this today, despite years of living on what is called the “recovery pathway”. It has been tough but two things helped get me through this hardship. 

I have two tattoos which have particular relevance to this journey; “Faith” and “Remembrance”. These aren’t my only tattoos, or my first tattoos, but they are the tattoos that help me seek and stay on track with my recovery. 

If you were to look up "faith" in a dictionary there would be so many different meanings. Whilst I am not particularly religious, I quite like the definition that can be found in the book of Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1, which says that faith is the assurance that what we can't see, can't touch, can't hear or smell will happen. How often have we all wanted something so badly to happen and have known that it will happen and then it has happened?  Thais faith. It is not a religious faith, it’s just a faith in yourself that things will somehow get better. 

I got my faith tattoo at a particularly hard time, when things for me could have gone either way. I could have given up trying all together on my recovery pathway or I could continue to have the faith that one day all this would be over and my health problems resolved - or at least have the ability to manage them and not let them manage me. I have it written to remind me to have faith in my recovery. 

Why is faith so important in the recovery pathway? Well its simple really, when you have been injured for several years, it's hard to believe that you will ever get to experience some sense of normality again in your life. That could mean being able to walk again after years of debilitating injury, or not hiding in the stair cupboard every time it gets too noisy outside or a firework goes off. Normality seems a long way off. 

Recovery is not a straightforward pathway. The right diagnosis needs to be obtained, then treatment pathways can be mired with hurdles to jump and red tape, all of which adds time to your recovery. The journey of recovery has many bends in it. Keeping focus on that endpoint is tough when so many things just aren’t straightforward. 

And when that day comes that you can finally get on with your real life, what do you do? After all you’ve been recovering for however many years and it's time for you to adjust to the real world and think about what's next: - employment, education, relationships, housing, the list goes on. So that is why we need to have faith, be reminded of faith and to keep the faith. Which brings me around to remembrance. 

Remembrance is such an easy thing to do. As a nation we remember our war fallen every November, we shed silent tears as the war widows and their small children lay wreaths on national TV, but apart from the families and those close to them, no-one on the outside really remembers the names.  

YetI remember the names of my colleagues who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, just like millions of veterans and those still serving remember the names, faces and everything else about their fallen colleagues. Remembrance is not just once a year for us, we remember every day. 

Remembrance is much more than remembering the name of someone who has died for their country. It is also about remembering the service personnel who survived conflict with or without injury. Its about their families who have lived with fear during those months. It’s about the wives who have held the family unit together and continued with daily life. Its about the mothers and fathers who jump every time the doorbell rings unexpectedly. It’s about the children who perhaps are too young to understand why their parent is deployed for half of the year, or struggle mentally and socially because that person is missing in their life, and perhaps not for the first time.  

This is why we remember. 

Remembrance is also about those servicemen and women with injuries physically and mentally, who grieve for the life they used to have. They now face a period of recovery, along which path they have to perhaps deal with no longer being able to do what they used to take for granted; the loss of their military career, and in some cases, even their families.  

Yes, we must remember those who have fallen, but we must also remember those who survived and paid the price of war, because to remember them is not only to say thank you for your service, but it’s to renew the magic of faith in their recovery.  

We must also remember and reflect on the millions of ordinary citizens who have paid the price of war. Those who have been displaced, lost their homes, their families, their livelihoods, because they too are paying the price. 

Remembrance is not about the rights or wrongs of war, or who won or lost. It is not something that should be politicised or argued over. It is just a simple acknowledgement to those who have paid the price of war. 

As I said earlier, I remember every day. It’s a burden and an honour to remember my colleagues who have paid the ultimate price or suffered injuryI choose to honour that loss by continuing to have faith that life will continue to get better for me.

I will always carry my injuries, but they no longer represent me as a personI now have an acceptance, which for so many of my surviving colleagues is hard to find. 

By Helen Bolland
RAF veteran and Social Work student (year 2)