actionman_poster_72dpiWe were really poor when I was growing up. One Christmas my Dad gave me an empty box, on seeing my puzzlement, he explained that it was an Action Man deserter. A joke but one that has been in the public domain for a while.

Darren Cullen has done nothing more than take something from the public domain and used his freedom of expression to create slightly macabre toy dolls. A project undertaken with the backing of many veterans of the armed forces. Art imitating life. Poorly in this instance. The wounds that I treated as a combat medic and sustained as an infantry soldier are much more outrageous than any pastiche.

The plastic figurines will not spend more than thirty plus years undergoing surgery and further amputations. Nor will they spend a lifetime remembering when they could walk to the toilet unaided. Certainly none of them will actually drink themselves to death. My colleagues do and will.

I do not consider myself to have pilloried, as has been suggested by a politician, by a piece of modern art. Rather I consider myself pilloried by the cost conscious bureaucrats who at the behest of these same politicians determined that my disability was one percentage point below pensionable. I consider myself pilloried when my bus pass is withdrawn. I consider myself pilloried when raising funds for a colleagues prosthetic limbs that are denied him under the NHS. I consider myself yet more pilloried when a politician with a record of voting for military intervention, serving a party responsible for illegal wars expresses faux outrage on my behalf.

The reality of joining the Armed Forces includes the chance that one may become wounded, a perk of the job as it were. Aspects of this are addressed during training. The reality of being wounded involves being removed from a nominal roll that you have dedicated everything hitherto to appearing on. You are placed on something known as a “Y” list and forgotten until discharge.Then you find yourself confronted by the benefits system. None of this addressed at all.

On leaving the Forces you discover that the same politicians that sent you to war are the ones cutting your benefits and means testing your pension, whilst granting themselves inflation busting pay rises and selecting a new war.

It is certainly better business to be outraged over a doll than removing one’s nose from the trough.

Steve Neville served with the British Army, he is a member of Veterans For Peace UK.


  1. David Marchesi says:

    I seem to have read that a couple of the recent “shooters” in US incidents were/are ex-servicemen, and it remains true that rehabilitation for returned troops is generally skimped. A national disgrace, and has also been in the news re Trump, although we get only a very partial view of what the problem really is (perhaps he wants to “privatise” treatment for those with PTSD and physical injuries ?
    These figurines are an excellent way to alert the public to these issues, and deserve to be promoted widely.

    1. Gus Hales says:

      I need to reel you in a bit here David. You have made the common fallacy or link, unwittingly or not, that somehow traumatised ex-serviceman are on the verge of gun crazy rampaging slaughter. In fact the opposite is true, by far the majority of ex-servicemen who have witnessed true warfare and its effects are very compassionate, insightful thoughtful and caring people. The majority of their problems stem from the fact they have seen through the delusion and now find it difficult fitting back into what most would call a regular life, their hopelessness manifests in depression, frustration and anxiety. In addition exposure to high levels of stress has a physiological effect on the amygdala and hippocampus areas of the brain. So, please do not make the tabloid link that returning servicemen are somehow trigger happy nut jobs teetering on the edge of atrocities, because its nonsense. When you have seen the cruelty, the logical conclusion is that you would not want a second of it to be passed on to anyone else. In addition there are some very disturbed people who join the military with a propensity to violence, of which the military hones, then releases back into society without any deprogramming, they go on to commit crimes at the same rate as the rest. On discharge these men have the same propensity for aggression and violence as the day they went in. However, they will try and use service as a defence. As a Falklands veteran, I know many men who have killed in the most violent and brutal direct way imaginable, it is a subject never talked about when in their company, they are some of the most balanced, gentle and caring people you could wish to meet and would not ever call themselves hero’s. The problems mainly arise from those that never saw combat and feel that they have a licence to behave in a violent manner, because our society keeps reinforcing the view that they are somehow special.

  2. David Hall says:

    I was born in 1939 and can Remember after the war young men with no legs and other serious injuries having to beg on the streets for enough to survive on one in particular I saw in Sloane Square in London sitting on a square board with a castor wheel on each corner that he had to manoeuvre with his hand bound around with rags and seeing the way he was ignored or sneered at by the posh people as they walked past on their way into Lyons corner house it disgusted me and that turned me into a labour supporter at the age of 7or 8yrs.

  3. Michael Pike says:

    Fantastic, hard hitting and honest.

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