A book published by a Solihull company exploring the plight of British soldiers during The Troubles might have re-opened some old wounds for some veterans, but it has also helped others come to terms with their military past. Chief Reporter Neil Connor reports.
Private Marcus Lapsa knew exactly how his 14-month tour of Northern Ireland was going to pan out from the moment he began his first city centre patrol in Belfast.
The 18-year-old, after spotting a pretty young local girl walking down the round, turned and said: “Good Morning”.
The reply he received contained enough swear words to leave him in no doubt that the British were not welcome in the province.
The Royal Regiment of Wales Private shared the traumatic experiences of some 300,000 British troops who were on the front line of The Troubles between 1969 and 1998.
These experiences range from the utterly horrific – finding a leg in the aftermath of a deadly Ulster Volunteer Force bomb – to the downright vicious – being goaded about the Birmingham Pub Bombings.
Private Lapsa also experienced the totally surreal nature of Ulster, namely playing air guitar with his rifle to Mud’s Tiger Feet when he was on one particular patrol.
When he left the army in 1978, he did not return to his home town of Nelson in South Wales, but instead set up home in Coventry.
He is now a Coventry city councillor and campaigner for the welfare of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Conservative member for Westwood, who recently organised the delivery of 100 donated parcels for British troops in the Middle East, experiences no pain talking about his experiences in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, he submitted recollections from his time in the province for a recent book on The Troubles published by Solihull-based Helion & Company.
A Long Long War: Voices from the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-1998 contains hundreds of accounts from soldiers who experienced the violence and turmoil in the province.
“It does a lot of people good to talk about what went on then,” said Coun Lapsa. “But I know there are others who just keep it all inside.
“But I think that giving soldiers a voice is a fantastic thing. Some of the stories we have are harrowing, some are hilarious. But it is good to have this account of what went no because the British forces did not have a voice during The Troubles. They were just made out to be the demons.
“I suppose a lot of the men and women who served in Northern Ireland would like to talk about the past. This type of experience changes people’s lives in every shape and form.”
Helion & Company managing director Duncan Rogers said that the book had a profound impact on many former soldiers’ lives.
Solihull-born Mr Rogers set up the publishers 11 years ago, when he decided that he didn’t want to be an accountant four months into training with KPMG. He said the author of A Long Long War, Ken Wharton, had been contacted by scores of veterans who were talking about their experiences for the first time.
He said: “The book began when Ken set up a website which allowed soldiers to contact him and talk about their experiences. He then compiled them all together and we published a collection of their stories.
“For many of the former soldiers, it is the first time they have ever spoken about that they did when they were in the Army.”
Released in April, the book is looking to go into its second print run soon and will also be released in soft back because of its popularity.
“The response has been amazing. We have had many more soldiers contact us with their stories since the book was published and we are not looking at doing another book on the same subject.”