|"How do you come back to the human race after you've been trained to kill?"|
Many of the people we've encountered in homeless centres are ex-military. This next interview at The Wellspring, with the remarkable Warren helps to explain why.
As with all these interviews, the opinions contained in it are those of the interviewee alone, and are transcribed here as told to us, having been read back to the interviewee and approved by them.
I was interviewed for an article in the Big Issue in Oct 2002 about the Homeless Union I set up. £15K on the first job, we were doing security, litter pickers, barmen... for festivals. All ex-military. I was living on the streets at the time in London. My mother had just died, my partner said ‘She’s gone, forget it…’ my head was far gone. I went round various homeless units, but I was normal: not a drug user, or alcoholic, no mental health issues, so they didn’t want to know. I was sleeping in an empty hotel opposite the Belfast Battle Cruiser on the river Thames - had two guards in shifts, about 10 of us sleeping there, all ex-military. Met all sorts on the streets, lawyer, account manager, even a judge.
Had a mentor system, anyone new on the streets would be offered help. We had new people joining us every day, new military skills. We ended up with groups all over London, groups of 10 people, men and girls, 10 the basic military formation. Back to what I knew, the system they taught me. I was in the military. Labour for the festivals was arranged by mobile phone, money split between everyone - the communist system. The Government took a different view on it. Scared of us.
They thought that because a lot of us were ex-military, we were liable to be a terrorist unit or something, I'm sure of it. Any group that forms in London, the first thing that's done - disrupters put in by MI5, it's a divide and conquer thing. The British are very good at divide and conquer, always have been. If you can cause dissension in a group, then great they'll split up. My second in command had some serious military skills, so there were people asking who Ben and I were, what we were doing. We suspected they were government agents. They fear us, they do fear us. The squatters in Levenshulme in 1919 they probably put in dissenters too. The Labour Party had the same problem too. The Conservatives and the Liberals were just a two party system. The Labour Party and the Unions had a lot of problems. The one thing you'll find with politicians is they protect themselves.
My father joined the military at 14, from an orphanage - the boys' service in the army. (I joined when I was 16) In the army everything done for him. When he came out aged 45/46 found it difficult with authority figures who were a bit stupid… he settled down in the end after 6 or 7 jobs.
How do you come back to the human race after you have been trained to kill people? Ex-military have problems because they’re not de-programmed, they don’t settle down well. Post Traumatic Stress, housing problems, getting infuriated by people who say you can’t do it... in the army the mentality is you CAN do it - how to blow up that bridge? I used to build models to find the weak points… When you come up against an obstacle, you go to type. The Army ‘break you to make you’, they need hard men to deal with situations around the world. De-program and re-program, if you can train a person to kill you can un-train.
A lot of people on the streets have some connection to the military, themselves or family that have been in. Military people, they’re a different breed. Something that the government and the law don't take into consideration, we don't understand the law out here in civilian life, because we've been trained in a different way. Your right from wrong is different from my right and wrong. I know it's wrong to kill people, but I've got a job to do... Families brought up in the military, all you've got is hard men, boys don't cry, tanks in the back garden. I started using a gun, a real gun, at 8. Had to start using it in case the house was attacked. We were in Libya a the time, just before we got kicked out in 1968. You were taught these things from a young age if you were in a military family. It was sort of expected that coming from a military family you will go into the military yourself.
My brother was born in BMH Rhintiele, which was built in the shape of a swastika, originally Hitler's love nest. After the war, my father was based at an army barracks Detmold which was the Luftwaffe he during the war for Goering and my father was part of the British Army of the Rhine, I was there as a child. Most military children end up in the military.
We have 250 years of service in my family, maybe more. I can trace my family back to some kind of military activity through to around 1066. My grandmother was a Warrant Officer in the Indian Army, late 1930s-45. They came here in 1954, being Christian in India at that time wasn't a good idea. My great grandfather was Durham Light Infantry, fought in the Boer War, round the time of Rourkes Drift and stuff like that. I’m half Indian, half Irish. My father was from Dublin, my mother Bombay, an airhostess, came over to England after independence. 1958 they got married. I was born in 1960, travelled round most of the world, I’ve lived and worked in 42 countries, an Officer in the 45 Commando Royal Marines, (Royal Engineers).
You've gotta have a heart, but you don't let that show to the public. We were giving rations to starving kids and we got told off for it. So you civilians can enjoy the good life, you need these men to do the bad work. With little appreciation. Fear is a good thing, anyone who tells me they haven't got any fear is a liar. Keeps you alert, aware of what you are and who you are, you're a fragile human at the end of the day, you can be killed like anybody else, hurt like anybody else. You've got emotions. We had a major problem in the First World War, men saw too much. Carnage. The military authorities at the time didn't accept that, no allowance for post traumatic stress and all these things. Consequently a lot of men were shot for cowardice, but there was no way they were cowards. They were also human beings.
By the time of WW2 the bomber crews were doing 50 or 60 missions over Germany, even though they were supposed to do only 30 until they had a break. These men were having mental breakdowns, due to stress, tiredness. The military took the attitude, right let's take you to the doctor. The doctor would sit there and basically threaten them with a thing called LMF - Lack of Moral Fibre. If you continue to do this we will mark your documents LMF, your family will be embarrassed and you will never get a job. No better than being shot really, except you're still alive. They made them continue the missions through a subterfuge, an implied threat. The continuation of that is up until the Gulf War, the British government are still not admitting that Gulf War Syndrome exists.
In 2002 there was an article in The Big Issue with a comment from the MOD that they were willing to give soldiers who felt they had issues an ID card to go back to barracks and see the military psychiatry. But it's never happened. In this particular case, in this article, we were fighting for the homeless but it was supposed to go across the board. This is another failure of the government' covenant with military soldiers. The covenant is if you are injured, sick, mentally ill, they will help you. They have failed on every issue of the Covenant in The Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, and the various other wars going on at this time. It goes right from WW1 to me now and the people who are on the streets now.
The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.