Injured services veterans display artwork in Help for Heroes exhibition in Edinburgh alongside World War I poetry

Injured services veterans are displaying their artistic skills in a special exhibition of their work alongside the words of First World War poets at the War Poets Collection.

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 3:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 4:22 pm

The exhibition will see their art alongside the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, written during their time convalescing after the hell of the trenches at Craiglockhart War Hospital – now part of Napier University’s Craiglockhart campus, which is hosting the moving event.

The Creative Force has been organised by forces charity, Help for Heroes, and will include paintings, woodwork, engraving, pottery, photography, poetry, music and drama produced by veterans.

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Mark Martin-Davy with his photographs and wife Julie's art, which has been used in Christmas cards. Penny Lyons (left) shows off her woodwork.

Gerry McGregor, Help for Heroes’ Band of Brothers/Sisters Coordinator for Scotland, who has organised the exhibition, said: “Those who have served our country and their families experience struggles that some of us will never understand. Recovery from physical or psychological injury takes time and there is no ‘one size fits all’ ­approach.

“Some may benefit from a physical programme, such as sports recovery, while others find creativity eases the daily struggle of living with pain, ­depression, anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to meet some of the artists, hear their heartfelt stories and see their truly inspirational artworks demonstrate how ­creative activity helps in their recovery.”

All 30 exhibitors are members of Help for Heroes’ peer support networks, Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters, who have a combined membership of over 800 in Scotland.

Gus McLean and his t-shirt design.

They include Gus McLean, who served as an infantryman with the Royal Scots for three years before transferring to the Corps of Army Music and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD after leaving the military and becoming a welder.

Gus, who served with the Royal Scots in Germany, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Cyprus, discovered a love for arts and crafts which helped him deal with PTSD symptoms and also led to his designs being chosen by Help for Heroes for a new range of clothing, to raise funds to support other ­veterans.

Mr McLean, said: “Art has helped me get to a better place mentally. It gives me a better outlook for the future and helps me with my concentration. It makes things so simple, you don’t get anything wrong, even if you don’t like it at the end. It’s time not thinking about your problems, it just helps towards your recovery and gives you a break from your anxiety.”

Also among the exhibitors is Julie Martin-Davy, 40, from Glenrothes, and her husband Mark, who was injured in 2009 on a training exercise while serving with the Royal Signals. Mark suffered lower spinal damage which resulted in him being in constant pain and needing to use a wheelchair and this has had an adverse effect on his mental health.

Julie, who works part-time as a retail supervisor, is also her husband’s carer.

She said: “When you are a carer, you get stuck within your own little bubble. Being able to participate in the Creative Force exhibition has given me a real confidence boost.”

Mark is exhibiting his photographs for the first time, after being inspired by his wife, who had contributed to a previous exhibition and by fellow Fife veteran, Ken de Soyza, who will also have work on display.

Mr de Soyza said: “Seeing how Julie has progressed her art over the last few years gave me a fresh drive to do something. Creative Force has given us meaning and purpose. I take pride in seeing my photos up there, it’s like a dream come true. If it gives someone else an incentive, then that is great too.”

Mr de Soyza, who inspired Mark, served 22 years in the RAF, and was medically discharged in 2002 after suffering back and spinal injuries. He suffered further injuries when he was knocked off his bike while training for the 2017 Invictus Games Trials, including loss of power in his left arm and upper limb paralysis.

His wife bought him a camera to aid help with his recovery and to encourage him to get out of the house. He said: “My camera gets me out more often and further afield because I have a reason to go out and I enjoy the results.

“I love the challenge of taking photographs of wildlife and insects. I am one-handed because of limited use of my hand and arm and I struggle with pain, but I endeavour to overcome this to get my shot.”

Some of the other veterans involved include RAF veteran Dave Philips, Paisley; Royal Navy veteran Alistair Parker, Ayr; and military administrator Penny Lyons of Addiewelln.

Guests at Tuesday night’s launch of the exhibition learned how the veterans’ creative activities have helped their recovery journey.

Mrs McGregor added: “Over 100 years later we are doing the same thing, the past is meeting the present. Creativity is such an important part of our veterans’ recovery journey – just as it was for the War Poets here at Craiglockhart – with the same benefits for mental health.”

The exhibition runs at Craiglockhart Campus Napier- War Poets Collection until November 22nd.

Help for Heroes - What they do

Help for Heroes supports those with injuries and illnesses attributable to their service in the British Armed Forces.

No matter when someone served, the charity believe that those prepared to put their lives second, deserve a second chance at life.

Every course and activity they offer aims to empower ex-services personnel and help them to look beyond illness and injury, regain their purpose, reach their potential and have a positive impact on society.

Founded in 2017, it is an internationally recognised charity that has been able to assist more over 22,000 people affected by serving their country.

For more information, to donate, or to give your time to Help for Heroes, please go to their website at www.helpforheroes.org.uk/