“IF IT weren’t for the Legion, I wouldn’t be standing here,” says veteran Alan Simon Davies.
He is in a refurnished flat in Holywell, a recent move for the 45-year-old, who is receiving psychological support for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t feel safe in the old place,” he said. “It wasn’t a good neighbourhood. This is much better and I couldn’t have done it without the Royal British Legion.
“They sorted everything from the carpets to the fridge. I can’t ‘big’ them up enough.”
Simon. as he is known to his friends, is ex-RAF, having served as a weapons technician in Germany, the USA and Saudi Arabia, where he supported air operations in Iraq in 1995.
Although he was a non-combatant, Simon is marked by his time in the air force.
On one occasion in Saudi Arabia, he and his colleagues were fired upon while making their way to lunch – but he shrugs this off as “just what it was like”.
But it is one particular event he has carried with him in the 15 years since he left the forces.
He doesn’t want to talk about the violence he witnessed and refers to it only as “the incident”.
“I still have nightmares,” he said. “My wife, Jacqui, and I sleep in separate rooms because it can get pretty bad. Not all the time, but sometimes. I’ll get flashbacks.”
Understandably, Simon sometimes finds it painful to watch war footage on the news or see images online.
Facebook, he says, “has a lot to answer for”, because you never know what people are going to post, especially as he has used the network to get in touch with his old friends from the forces.
But even innocuous things can trigger a flashback.
He said: “I had one recently because there was a game of pool on TV. Just a game of pool – but it reminded me of playing with my workmates and took me straight back there.” He joined the RAF in 1986, aged 18. He said: “I’d done a couple of jobs after school. I studied at Holywell High. I wanted to join to better myself and see the world.
“I certainly got to do that. Saudi was a bit of a culture shock.”
He showed me his Saudi driving licence. It’s expiry date is 1419 because it follows the Islamic calendar.
“Remember when there was all that fuss about the Millennium Bug? Well they were there saying: ‘We don’t have to worry for another 600 years’.
“Then there was Chop Chop Square (Deera Square in the capital Riyadh) where the public executions took place. It’s a different world.”
On the other hand, many of his best memories come courtesy of the RAF, including “cloud busting” with the pilot of an F-4 Phantom, rolling through the skies over Belgium.
Adjusting to civilian life turned out to be trickier than Simon anticipated.
He said: “There you were – you’d had a roof over your head and three square meals a day for more than a decade, and suddenly that was gone.
“It was OK, you’re 30, you’ve left the forces, welcome to the real world’. It was like losing my family. These were the people I ate with, worked with and socialised with. Suddenly I was on my own.
“I worked in the Middle East for a bit as it was the done thing, but I couldn’t hack it.
The authorities took your passport off you while you were contracted there and you only got it back when you had your holiday. I went on holiday to North Wales and never went back.”
Simon secured a job at Airbus, although he is not currently working.
His opinion of the forces is complex – he admitted he felt “betrayed” by the lack of support, but said he felt leaving the RAF was the “worst decision” he’d ever made.
Gradually his memories caught up with him and he sought escape through alcohol.
He said: “I had a bit of a problem with drink. Never drugs or anything like that – that was drilled into us in the forces. But drinking was part of the forces culture.
“If you’d asked me 18 months ago if I needed counselling, I’d have laughed in your face. I just thought I drank a bit too much.
“But then I got on to CAIS (a service working to free people from drug and alcohol dependency) and was referred on to a doctor. I was diagnosed with PTSD five years ago and things started making sense.”
Jacqui, 47, who has been married to Simon for three years, has seen the difference CAIS and Change Step have made to Simon. She said: “I could see when it was coming over him, the anger. Sometimes you could see the hate in his eyes.
“He’s been on a 26-week counselling programme, and it totally revitalised him. Rather than get frustrated, he’d come back and be a different man.
“It was a relief for me and it’s taken a lot of pressure off our marriage.
“You don’t realise how much PTSD can affect you until it affects you personally.”
The couple were also impressed by the financial support offered by the Legion.
Jacqui said: “The Legion and the other charities helped us realise we were not the only two going through it, because it can feel that way, sometimes.
“We also knew we weren’t alone. We called the Legion up and within a few days we knew they were helping us.”
Simon was emphatic about the role the network of charities played.
He said: “I’ll say it again – without the Legion, we wouldn’t be in this place. They helped us so much with the move. I feel safe here.
“And without Change Step, I might have died, it’s all down to them.”