We all know those adverts; they seem to body slam themselves on to our TVs in their entire camouflage and beret swagger. ‘Army. Be the Best!’ Without realising it, we TV addicts find ourselves regularly being prompted to become squaddies. But when people think of the army and the experiences soldiers find themselves in, they only imagine life on the front line. You don’t generally take into account the aftermath, when the soldiers return home and attempt to fall back into normal society. Panorama: Forgotten Heroes delves into this side of the war effort, the men who have tried to get back into everyday life and failed. Prison, sleeping on the streets, unemployment, isolation and night terrors, a plethora of less than desirable circumstances have greeted the handful of men Tim Collin’s documentary follows. Quite far from being the best then.
Tim Collins, the Colonel who garnered international fame for his speech given before the invasion of Iraq, is a straight-faced man whose narration and tone can only forebode the depressing facts that are to come. Apparently 3.5 % of our prisons’ populations are ex-military, and one ex-soldier called Mark has been sleeping rough on the streets for six years between ‘stretches’ after leaving the army. Another man, also bereft of any sort of independence, is sleeping on a mattress in his mother’s house due to the fact that being a single man he is of low priority and therefore left without a house by his council. Charming.
It would seem then, that serving the country and becoming a national asset is repaid in no way whatsoever for many soldiers. Naturally the documentary makes large generalisations, there are countless former serviceman not stuck in this unemployed rut, but the fact that even a few are, let alone many is a shock. Forgotten Heroes gives us a brief look into a group of extremely fragile and fractured men, breaking the given image of the soldier and replacing it with a shell of a man who, once abandoned by the service he gave years of his life to serve, falls through the cracks of society. Heart-rending stuff.