Murray (Charlie) Brown B.E.M.
Menin House, 2012
The first Gulf War occupies an awkward place in history; not enough time has yet passed for it to be studied and written about extensively, and it has been somewhat overshadowed by the more recent conflict in Iraq.
As a youngster growing up during the conflict I recall watching the news for the latest reports from the desert, images of burned out Iraqi tank and SCUD launchers filling the screen. I even had an ‘Operation Desert Storm’ sticker album, produced by Merlin, perhaps highlighting the different way that the conflict was viewed back then – I couldn’t imagine a similar product being sold now.
For the troops on the ground however, the danger was all too real. British troops were given a cocktails of drugs to protect them against the perceived threat of a biological or chemical attack. Many went on to experience symptoms of what has since been termed ‘Gulf War Syndrome’, although the Ministry of Defence until recently denied the existence of such a condition, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Murray ‘Charlie’ Brown served with the 40 Field Regiment Royal Artillery and was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his part in Operation Granby, the name given to the British contribution to the offensive. After taking the drugs he was given, he asserts that he felt different when he returned from the Gulf.
What followed was a descent into a personal hell that is alluded to but not really explained in much depth. Instead Brown used poetry as an outlet, and the poems reproduced in this volume have themes of struggle, suffering, and the real or perceived lies and deceit of those in authority. Most of all his anger comes through, anger that he had served his country but yet no real desire was shown to help him or deal with his condition.
The book almost poses more questions than answers, not quite providing the detail needed. Whether this is due to Brown’s reluctance to fully document the details of his time in the Gulf, or merely a poignant reflection of his unexpected death in 2010 (from causes linked to his war service), is not clear. Nevertheless this slim volume is a damning indictment of the support offered to troops post-Gulf War by the Ministry of Defence and the British Government.
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