How a traffic cone and wheelie bin triggered ‘horrific nightmares’ and PTSD for top Sussex Army officer

Lt Col (retired) Chris Parker (right) in Iraq.
Lt Col (retired) Chris Parker (right) in Iraq.

A wheelie bin and traffic cone would have been an innocuous sight for those passing Lieutenant Colonel Chris Parker’s driveway.

But when he laid eyes on it one morning, the sight transported his mind back to when he was wrestling with life-or-death decisions on the streets of Northern Ireland.

He explained how bombs were often concealed in the objects, and the decision whether to walk down a street littered with the potential hazards rested on his shoulders.

“The mental visual trigger was enough to make sure I had five nights of consecutive, horrific nightmares,” he said.

“I went to the doctor and they helped me very quickly.”

Lt Col Parker had a distinguished Army career, in which he was once Chief of Staff for the famed Desert Rats brigade in the Middle East. He has spoken of his own experience of PTSD as part of our nationwide investigation into military suicides – click here for the full story.

Born in Chichester, he has now retired from active duty, but now supports thousands of veterans across Sussex and the South East as chairman of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment Association.

The experience on his driveway, which led him to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), came some 22 years after his Northern Ireland duties.

“You don’t have to be blown up to suffer PTSD,” he said.

“The stress can be literally walking past those cones and bins with an absolutely never-ending sense of fear that they could blow up at any moment.”

He described his counselling experience as ‘exceptional’,

But he said the ‘biggest problem’ was men – and particularly military men – often felt speaking out was a sign of weakness.

Last week, a counsellor working across Sussex suggested those leaving the military should undergo mandatory psychological help. Read the full story here

Lt Col Parker said the point was ‘well made’ but questioned if there would be a human rights issue in compelling those who insisted they were fine to talk to someone.

He advocated education, sharing stories and getting veterans together as an effective way of supporting them.

Click here for an extensive interview with Lt Col Parker here