March 28, 2011
My name is Ken Ray Welburn and I am the Clinical Director of the Ottawa Anxiety & Trauma Clinic. I have been treating soldiers and veterans for trauma related psychological difficulties for more than two decades. I have also helped to chair the annual Trauma Conference in Ottawa for more than twenty years. We have had many military related speakers at our trauma conferences, including (Retired) General Romeo Dallaire. It has been gratifying to see an increase in the awareness and treatment of trauma and related mental health issues over the years, hopefully in some small part due to our persistent efforts in fostering education around trauma and it’s effects.
I am also the nephew (and namesake) of Ray Lane, the author of “In Chariots of Iron,” which vividly details his experiences as a tanker in World War II.
In the early 1980’s I had lunch with my mother and my Uncle Ray in Edmonton, Alberta. My Mom had often remarked that “Your Uncle Ray was a tanker in the Second World War, but he never talks about it.” During our meal I asked Ray why he never talks about his war experiences. He scoffed and said something to the effect of: “Those who talk about it, weren’t really there.” Fortunately, Ray subsequently did start to record that history in a series of six paintings depicting some of the wartime events in which he had participated. Then he went on to write a remarkable and absorbing book on his experiences living through years of chaos in the front lines of WWII.
I have prints of my Uncle’s paintings in my office and they become a rich source for dialogue when I do assessments of WWII and other vets. Typically, they too have “never talked about it,” and I am often the first person that these aging soldiers have ever opened up to around their war experiences. These soldiers often manifest a sense of excitement and familiarity with the scenes that my Uncle has portrayed in his paintings and the artwork becomes a vehicle to give voice to their own wartime experiences for the first time.
In fact, “don’t talk about it” was the position of the army at the end of the war. On return from overseas, soldiers were told: “Look, you’ve been through hell and yet we won – so go home, put this behind you, forget about it and get on with having families and living your life.” That probably seemed like very good advice at the time.
I believe that “In Chariots of Iron” is an extremely important book as it finally gives voice to the experiences of the soldiers on the front lines during the horrific years of WWII. Many of those experiences have been unspoken and silent for nearly seventy years. In spite of being unspoken, the effects of those experiences have been felt by the families of WWII vets: nightmares, irritability, withdrawal and disconnection from others are frequent results of wartime trauma.
Someone is finally talking about it and I believe that Canadians will want to hear.
Dr. Ken Welburn (C Psych)
Ottawa Anxiety & Trauma Clinic