Being a hidden childhood ‘war zone hero’

Being a hidden childhood ‘war zone hero’ 150 150 Jane Evans

“We did the First World War in school last week. Last term we did the Romans. I don’t normally give a shit about history ‘cos it’s…..well history, old stuff, about old people, I could care less about.

I was sitting in class, the sun was beaming in, and I was just dropping off as the teacher droned on about why the First World War happened. Who pissed who off blah, blah, blah….then she talked about shell shock and what it did to the soldiers.

Bam, it hit me squarely between the eyes, I nearly fell off my f%*+ing chair. “Shell shock caused them to……show a range of perceptual abnormalities, such as loss of or impaired hearing, sight and sensation, along with other common physical symptoms, such as tremor, loss of balance, headache and fatigue.” (Taken from American Psychological society) It sounded familiar in a weird way, like my body reacted to it ‘cos it recognised it, freaky.

I managed to come back in to the room; she went on to describe the unpredictability of life in the trenches. How any moment your mate could be lying dead beside you with a bullet in his head, blood pumping out, life over. I was listening then.

“Men ordered to attack – or ‘go over the top’ – had to climb out of their trenches, carrying their weapons and heavy equipment, and move through the enemy’s ‘field of fire’ over complex networks of barbed wire, keeping low to the ground for safety. (From British Library World War One)

In a weird way I instantly connected with it. In fact it sounded like my life for as far back as I could remember, except that ‘attack’ had never been an option, ever. My war zone was my home, not a trench, but nonetheless somewhere I was trapped and always waiting for the next ‘explosion’, or bleeding body.

If I slept at all, I woke with a start, I still do, asleep then BAM, awake and tense, ready, pulse racing, heart banging against my chest, headache, dizzy, time to risk leaving my room. What would I find when I went down stairs this time. What could I smell, stale beer, fags, dried blood? Was he up could I hear him coughing up phlegm in the kitchen, or her shuffling about in her slippers. Or was he still in bed, could I sense the snores vibrating through the walls.

You see my life has always been about ‘war’. Tension, being alert to threat, dodging the next hit, staying safe, looking out for her, the little ones, even the sorry arse dog. When would it…..what would it be…who would cop it first, last, or not at all. Never a moment to relax, no R&R in our house, relax and you could be next. Stay on it, ears, eyes, every f&*”ing nerve ending OPEN, or BAM!

Then I’d scoot out the door to school, pull the door to carefully, carefully, carefully, bang it too and she’ll get it when I’m gone. Head down, don’t make eye contact with anyone, just get in the door at school and find Jez, he gets me, I don’t need to say nothing, he knows.

First lesson is Maths, that’s OK I get numbers, they ARE predictable, there’s a system to them, then its English, no chance I’ll last long in that, he hates me and thinks I’m thick as shit so I’ll most likely kick off as he’s got that way of sneeringly saying, “err Jackson, what do you think?” I sit I say nothing. He smirks, I flip out, “Piss off I’m out of here”, I chuck my book on the floor and I’m in the corridor, might as well take myself to Zone K at least it’s quiet there and Janice knows me.

No time to read or study in my house,  I have to keep focused on staying safe, keeping out of his way, not making a sound, don’t give him any excuse to ‘kick off’. Anyway he rips the crap out of me if he sees me with book, “What the f”*k you doing with that ponsy book, you gay or something, get on the porno channel you wanker.”

Under the covers later that night I googled on my phone, the symptoms of shell shock,

  • Hysteria and anxiety
  • Paralysis
  • Limping and muscle contractions
  • Blindness and deafness
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Depression
  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Loss of appetite

(From BBC Inside Out)

Well, I had most of those plus a few more but I was no war hero as far as anyone knew. I wasn’t going to get a fucking medal for surviving in a war zone. I was just the ‘difficult kid’, always angry, never able to say why I had sworn, shoved, flipped out, kicked off again and, despite obviously being bright, was failing all my subjects, except Maths, still in with a shout for that one.

Well I’m the hidden ‘war zone hero’ , surviving the un-survivable on a daily basis, top secret SAS style, no one will ever know, who will even care?”

Domestic violence is often a family secret. Children learn early on to keep quiet, there’s no point telling, no one would understand, perhaps its ‘just the way it is.’ The tension and fear of the unpredictability of the violence and abuse has a lasting impact on their ability to function in daily life.

They operate on’hyper alert’ and are primed to act and react or to completely shut down as its what has kept them safe, even alive, so is an automatic response which is often miss-understood. They need all the adults in their daily life to truly, deeply understand this, as ts often their only hope. 

ChildLine 0800 11 11

National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247


Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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