Rifleman Jamie Davis – a tribute from Richard Streatfeild

by Maria on January 24, 2020

This piece is a guest-post from Major Richard Streatfeild (retd)

Rifleman Jamie Davis served with A Company 4Rifles in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan and 2009/10. In Afghanistan he lived for 5 months in a small patrol base with his platoon and members of the Afghan Army; initially under constant attack and thereafter never far from the threat of rockets, grenades or roadside bombs. He was, I think, the last Rifleman in A Company to be injured in Afghanistan, taking frag from a ricochet in the leg. Jamie was made for the front row of the scrum, and I suspect it was where he was most at home, both in stature and character. He was never the fastest mover, but he kept going, until now.

Jamie was at the point of the tip of the spear in Afghanistan in 2010; treating wounded children, witness and aid to his comrades rendered both limbless and lifeless, and in one case being on the casualty evacuation of his own section commander. I remember him as stalwart of his platoon, the Battalion Rugby team and the Naafi. Loyal, dogged, selfless, self-effacing, courageous, determined, hearty, reliable, brave, honest, and cheery, he served both in Iraq and Afghanistan at a time when those operations were at their most difficult and dangerous. He leaves behind a wife and two sons who are very much in our thoughts and we pray for some comfort in their grief.

On the weekend of 12 Jan 2020, Jamie took his own life. Ten years on I hope I can still just about speak for the company he served in. We still recognise and appreciate the fortitude and good humour with which Jamie faced the dangers of operations and the value of his service. We mourn his passing and remember that he was once amongst the bravest of the brave – once a true British Lion.

Jamie is now the fourth “Rifleman” from A Company from my two years in command ten years ago to have died at home, not abroad, in similar tragic circumstances. Almost as many as we lost there, a figure that is fast becoming a stain on post operational care. Our regiment, the army, the NHS, and our government; all seemingly at a loss to identify those at risk, treat them and ultimately to prevent these deaths. The limits of helplines; of instructions to ‘reach out’; of “ten tips to top mental health” have been cruelly exposed, once again. The system; and by that I mean the army – for those still serving – the department for Veterans affairs for those who have left, must dedicate time and manpower to find those who have been exposed to trauma, screen everyone on a routine basis and treat those who need it. Suicide has become when, not if. Not only could it happen to anyone, it will happen to someone. Jamie’s death is a tragedy amid a scandal.

In the midst of grief it is hard not to be angry. There is a part of me that would turn this into a polemic. A raging torrent of abuse for those who compare civilian with (ex) soldier suicide rates, and conveniently conceal causation through corrupt correlation. Soldiers who have fought on the front line are selected. They are trained for the job, and they are trained again for the task. Those who cannot get to the right standards of knowledge, of fitness, of physical and mental robustness, don’t go. Those that do are amongst our strongest characters on operations. Their character is tested and tempered in fire-fights and bonded with others in adversity.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, halfway through the tour after four hundred fire-fights and one hundred roadside bombs I invited a military community psychiatric nurse to assess how our band of brothers was fairing. He returned after two days of speaking to the small groups stationed in outposts saying that he had not seen a Company with such good morale or as willing to fight for each other and to look after each other. I was surprised, heartened and relieved.

So how and why does Jamie end up dead by his own hand? Some of this will be for a coroner to decide. (More on them below.) I’ll start with the exposure to trauma. This is not specific to Jamie. It is the experience of some men and women of A Company. Children were blown up by IEDs and brought to the camp. Colleagues treated colleagues with limbs hanging off, faces ripped open. Fire-fights every day. Grenades thrown into compounds. Just climbing over an eighteen-foot wall with 30Kg or 60lb +. Men, friends, brothers-in-arms shot and killed in an instant. The daily existence of six months on life’s precipice.

That stuff can give you guilt. It can give you intrusive memory by day and especially at night. It can elate or depress in equal measure. It can take you from somewhere safe back to imminent danger. It springs ambushes. Even when you know you are in the zone.

I am always in the zone on Remembrance Day. Ten years ago, I led a service three days after two of us had been killed and three severely wounded. Three years ago, after reading the names of the village fallen, one sound, one note on a bugle pumped my heart so hard I could only run or fight; except I was in church so neither was appropriate. Some get over this. Some regulate it. Some succumb. As the military meme says – you take the man out of the valley, but you never take the valley out of the man. Life does normalise. But that stuff is still there – reconciled or unreconciled. Some process it faster and better than others. Some have bits of it floating around – some take action – talk it through – get it sorted – know their triggers – work out how to ground themselves – control their drinking. Go to any cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) practitioner and this is all standard, but most days have a micro remembrance moment. On Remembrance Sunday you’ll now find me by the side of a road at eleven o’clock, a brief stop, on a ride from one significant memorial to another.

Unfortunately, the basic steps of CBT are not natural to the soldier or the veteran. Drinking to excess is pretty much an army SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). But the harm of alcohol is outweighed by the good when in the context of routine discipline, fitness, and weeks or months away from it on exercise or on tour. But what was fine in the army – it’s not so clever out of it. It becomes for many both a coping strategy and the driver of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). Excessive consumption of alcohol causes anxiety. When a soldier feels anxious, the feeling that is closest to is the imminence of battle. PTS can increase by insidious increment and the coming disorder can be completely hidden from view. Never completely, but outbursts are explained away. Anger controlled. Thoughts unspoken. There are plenty of examples of it lying dormant for years and then a trigger starts the process. Stages: drink to sooth – anxiety – drink to excess – lose job – end supportive relationships – and a finale in either death or recovery. It’s possible to plateau at any stage. But that is way, way, way too simplistic.

Finding a helpful analogy for exposure to trauma is tricky. The closest I have come so far is the Chernobyl effect. The battlefield like the reactor core. It can kill you. But there some who, when exposed to the radiation of trauma, don’t get the cancer of PTSD. Some who were exposed got burned immediately and obviously, but with other cancers you can’t tell until the patient is dead. Trauma is quite like that, affecting everyone differently. But we all know that the best way to beat cancer is to take out the risk factors where we can, and if we know there are risks across a certain population, we screen them on a regular basis and we treat. That is not happening with post-combat trauma.

The number of people who saw combat in Afghanistan is approximately seven years of combat tours from 2006 to 2014 with very roughly nine thousand on fourteen six-month tours – 126,000 personel. I could get all front-line about those that never left Camp Bastion, but I’m not saying those in Camp Bastion did not get traumatised; the field hospital, those who identified bodies, those who attended the endless repatriations. So, let’s leave it at 126,000 and maybe the same for Iraq. 250,000 total – the cohort exposed but not screened.

The Nelsonian Eye
Individuals cope until they don’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve told people it was “All good, thanks”, “Ticking along”, even when I was going through therapy. The wilful blindness to a coping strategy that is both a coping strategy and is also making the situation worse. If individuals are unwilling and unable to see it in themselves, then the institutions of government saying – “no problem to see here” makes it worse.

The MoD, the research department at Kings will happily trot out the line that suicide it is no more prevalent in the military community than in society. BULLSHIT. Double, triple and quadruple BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT on five different levels.

Every – every – ex-soldier in A Company who I have met has a trigger. The only difference between them and Jamie is luck; luck that they have a better support system, luck that they have learned and adopted techniques to keep themselves grounded, and luck that they were not subject to the same cocktail of trauma and fear and guilt and whatever else dislocated Jamie from his two sons; from a loving family; from his former comrades; from society; right to the point where he thought his best option was to end his life.

Every man and woman in our Company was graded red risk in the trauma risk management process (TRIM) at the end of the tour. So there, but for the grace of God, go we.

Just imagine, for a second; if you took one hundred and fifty untrained civilians and exposed them to the same levels of continuous threat and trauma. Killed one in twenty of them and injured half of them and made the rest watch. Then give them a mental health assessment. The fact soldiers do cope is testament to character and training, but we are not impervious to the effect. Soldier or civilian the effect needs therapy.

Now for the coroners. The UK does not keep a collective record of former soldiers who take their own lives. Indeed, coroners have concluded in some cases that these are “accidental deaths” or “death by misadventure.” The Beyond Today podcast did an excellent six-part series, Deadliest Day, sensitively highlighting this exact problem. The suicide correlation is doubly corrupted by coroners who do not seem to want to deliver verdicts of suicide or death by act of war. The state – ministers, politicians, civil servants, coroners and the chain of command – can turn its Nelsonian Eye to what it doesn’t want to see, but we who knew these men and go to their funerals. We know.

We come to the shame of it – and it is a shame in all the ways it can be – delivered in three doses:

The shame felt
There is guilt and then shame in survival. There is guilt and then shame in ordering an operation that goes wrong. These easy words to write hide complex, uncomfortable, insidious emotions. You can soothe them temporarily, but ultimately it is hard to reconcile these feelings that can deteriorate to the point of danger because of the sense of hopelessness in the face of them. There is something just in this small hopelessness; you can’t bring back the dead.

The shame brought
By the time an individual has full-blown PTSD, they are often behaving in a way that is extremely hurtful. Emotionally cauterised, randomly elated, depressed, angry or drunk and often in combination, or finally, in some cases, dead. Everyone feels the shame. The shame it is happening to them and not to others who also saw combat. The shame they were not able to help. A shame that, somehow, an irrefutable law of nature – honed by military training – the will to survive – has been broken.

The shame hidden
Generals, coroners, even extended family members can’t say the word. They can’t speak openly about shame because to admit shame is to admit failure. It’s a shame that dare not speak its name. Perhaps it is a cold calculation that there is no benefit – to careers, to institutions – in exposing this shame. This pernicious silence imposes shame and further suffering on others, on those who already bear the most. It masks the scale of the problem, denies resources and ultimately makes those on that rocky descent continue to feel alone.

Those in veterans’ groups on social media witness the daily calls to help find those gone-missing. Those in immediate peril from their own pain and shame. Most, thankfully, are found before it is too late, but some, like Jamie, are found dead.

Need it be so?

I have had one too many conversations with gifted amateurs and experts who think this is all too difficult. It is not.

We do it for cancer. We can do it for trauma. Identify the risk population. 250,000 people can be talked to.

That’s your job, MoD and Department for Veterans’ Affairs.

The data and the infrastructure exist. Set up meetings in regional centres or as reunions. We’ll ‘bring a buddy’, meet in pairs or as a group. Have a chat. Fill in a questionnaire. Get led through treatment if required. Normalise and standardise the test and the treatment. Call it a five, ten, fifteen, twenty, year TRIM. Save lives. Not every life, but many, many more. A structural approach is now, beyond doubt, what is required.

The British Legion raised £120 million in 2018. Help for Heroes raised £26 million. It should be spent on screening and prevention of acute PTSD, and not just on treating it.

So far, about one hundred and eighty veterans have ‘officially’ killed themselves since the end of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But because of coroners’ failure to record accurate verdicts, and the MoD’s wilful blindness, it is impossible to know the true figure.

Jamie is the latest, but he is not the last.



ph 01.25.20 at 7:26 am

Wars produce many casualties – some long after the guns go silent. The number of casualties suffered by the peoples of Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq, those on the receiving end of western benedictions, far outnumber those, like Jamie, who risked all, and gave their all, for their brothers in arms and the strangers they were trying to protect.

US veterans returning from Viet Nam returned home to an uneasy compromise of gratitude, respect, contempt, and disdain. The urgency of the mission evaporated for a bored public. Politicians still arguing today for the necessity of wars and occupations, past and present, go unpunished.

Defending others is a noble cause and that’s how Jamie should be remembered. The best way I can think of to honour his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of others is to look hard, and carefully, at politicians – liberal/or conservative – who argue for war. Western nations, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, France, and the US are far too willing to use war as a solution. That careful scrutiny, and some public admission of error and responsibility by politicians and media leaders who called for war also might help keep a few more vets alive.

To their credit, both the former HRH and “W” have the courage to at least face and mix with those who have lost limbs, or been internally damaged, in their nations’ wars. The rest of us, to our shame, too often look away, or pretend these veterans do not exist, until we read of the death of one, like Jamie.

Thank you for posting this.


Barry 01.25.20 at 1:22 pm

“The MoD, the research department at Kings will happily trot out the line that suicide it is no more prevalent in the military community than in society. BULLSHIT. Double, triple and quadruple BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT on five different levels.”

As you’ve pointed out, these are highly screened and trained people. Young, fit, high functioning. Their rate should be far below the population level.


Sophie Jane 01.25.20 at 2:27 pm

It’s not fair because I know this isn’t really a zero-sum game, but this makes me think about trans suicide rates and whose trauma gets to be ennobled. And it makes me think about toxic masculinity, and how useful it is for maintaining “good morale” and for hiding the damage afterwards and whose interests that serves. And what armies are actually for and what we say they’re for. And the status of mental health care in the UK, and why we’re having to argue about priorities for something that should be freely available to all in the first place. And the mass of assumptions and unspoken agreements that go into a piece like thus and how we’re expected to respond to it. And it all makes me angry, because there’s no adequate response that fits within the boundaries of what’s considered practical and what’s acceptably polite.


Chetan Murthy 01.25.20 at 10:19 pm

There’s been recent research on the possible causes of PTSD. It seems that the shock waves from nearby explosions are associated with PTSD symptoms. I can’t find the article now, but I remember reading one that discussed how the shape of the body, and its being mostly soft tissue, meant that a blast shock (a wave of pressure) that encountered the body, would be “focused” by the body as it traveled up towards the head, and eventually as it passed thru the neck would be much stronger than it had been in the torso and limbs. Hence the pressure transmitted thru the cerebral tissue was much stronger than elsewhere, which made those blast waves that much more traumatic.


Matt 01.26.20 at 12:04 am

Thanks for posting this, Maria – it’s very moving.

I have read either the same article that Chetan Murthy mentions, or a similar one. It was interesting to me for two reasons, at least. 1) It suggests that the old idea of “shell shock” had more going for it than was later thought – that at least a non-trivial part of the problem is in fact concussions/traumatic brain injury, rather than stress/emotional trauma related. If so, it may mean that many people in these cases are being treated wrongly, and that, perhaps, when psychological treatment doesn’t seem to help (because the problems are caused by a physical brain injury), this might make the people feel even more hopeless. 2) There is then perhaps a parallel with the sorts of problems found among NFL football players and others with traumatic brain injuries, where there have also been high rates of suicide and other significant problems. This isn’t to down-play the mental health issues – no doubt they are serious and real – but if a good deal of the problem is a physical one caused by traumatic brain injuries, perhaps especially repeated ones, then this needs to be address.


Chetan Murthy 01.26.20 at 7:29 am

Matt @ 5:
that at least a non-trivial part of the problem is in fact concussions/traumatic brain injury

Not to disagree with you, b/c you’re right, but the article I’d read was at pains to draw a distinction between the concussion injuries we get told about in so many areas, and the effect of *pressure waves*. That is, it isn’t that the brain is sloshed around in the skull (as in concussions); rather, a pressure wave compresses tissue as it passes thru the body. And in the manner of all pressure waves, as it passes thru the body the passage up the torso and thru the neck focuses the wave (think of a tidal bore in rapidly-narrowing channel). There’s no need for the skull to move for this to happen: the pressure wave is just like sound waves, only much more powerful, which is why people hadn’t identified this before as a source of TBI.

But yes, as you describe, the effect is still traumatic injury …. just delivered in a manner different from concussions.


Jim Buck 01.26.20 at 12:58 pm

Is this the article which you both read?



Matt 01.26.20 at 1:58 pm

I think that’s right, Chetan – I had just not remembered the details well.


Chetan Murthy 01.26.20 at 5:41 pm

Jim Buck @ 7:
I didn’t read a scientific article, but rather an article in the lay press that cited work and interviewed the investigators. It could have been based on these people — a quick scan of the first few pages makes that likely.


passer-by 01.27.20 at 1:44 pm

Comments on this entry are closed.