South East Wales

Animated adventure helps veterans struggling to adapt

Simon Weston Image copyright Pierre Cornlouer
Image caption Falklands veteran Simon Weston and Mr Cornlouer (centre) voicing the animation being put together by media company Cymru Creations

A book explaining to children how the armed forces "don't just kill people" is now being used to help veterans suffering from issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Pierre Cornlouer from Tredegar spent 30 years in the Navy, serving in the Falklands, the Gulf and Bosnia.

He wrote The Adventures of Mrs Orangeleaf to explain to his daughter what life was like for servicemen.

An animation of it is narrated by Simon Weston and voiced by 40 other veterans.

They are all aged 20 to 85, with many of them people Mr Cornlouer has met in his role as chaplain for the Alabare charity - which helps those struggling to cope with life outside the military.

The Armed Forces Covenant funded the animation and radio play adaptations and they will be premiered in Portsmouth to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the Falklands conflict later this year.

Mr Cornlouer said recording them helped many veterans "feel part of something" for the first time since leaving the forces.

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Media captionMrs Orangeleaf animation helps 'healing process' for veterans
Image copyright Pierre Cornlouer
Image caption Rather than describing fighting, Mr Cornlouer has focused his story on the Falklands conflict on penguins he saw

"My daughter asked 'what are you doing daddy?' when I spoke to her [while away]. I replied 'giving Benjamin [HMS] Illustrious his breakfast'," he said.

"I described oil sandwiches, Norman the Harrier taking off from it and lights on the Hormuz strait between Iraq and Iran being pirates."

Trying to explain to a child what he was experiencing was the inspiration behind him putting pen to paper.

He was an assistant steward on the QE2 after it was commandeered to take soldiers to the Falklands when the conflict over the South Atlantic British colony broke out with Argentina in 1982.

"We got to know many of them and gave them a can of beer [as they got off] and wished them luck," he said.

"But then we had to pick up survivors from the Coventry and Antelope [British boats that had been bombed] and realised the Galahad [another ship] had also been hit.

"We lost some of them. That is when we realised the nature of the war."

While flashbacks of what he saw, such as the badly injured servicemen he helped, can be triggered any time such as through television shows, his books give a different perspective of the conflict.

Instead of the horrors, details on the Falklands War are limited to a story about "two penguins, a seal and a ship stuck on ice".

Image copyright Pierre Cornlouer
Image caption Mr Cornlouer, on South Georgia Island during the Falklands conflict, joked he won a Bosnia medal by "hiding behind a skip as bullets pinged off it"

Mrs Orangeleaf and the Pirates has sold 10,000 copies, while he has written two others, including Mrs Orangeleaf Goes to Santa's rescue - based loosely on the Army helping out after floods hit England over Christmas 2013.

"The idea is to let children and adults know that the Army, Navy and air force don't go around killing people," he said.

"You see on the news stories about places like Syria and some things are very graphic.

"There are messages in the book, like don't bully people, with a liar on the ship getting the worst jobs and details of the humanitarian work."

Through his chaplaincy work, he runs coffee mornings for veterans around south Wales.

He said being able to joke and make light of things they had experienced was part of the "healing process" for many ex-servicemen, with the project being an extension of that.

Mr Cornlouer added: "A lot of people come out of the forces and find life difficult. Their children can just see daddy has been in a war and is not very happy.

"But a soldier is a human being and they are just valleys guys. This [Mrs Orangeleaf] can hopefully mean they can explain things better and are film stars instead."

Image copyright Pierre Cornlouer

Veterans taking part include Alice Robinson, who was in the Women's Royal Army Corps, who is the voice of Mrs Orangeleaf.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston, whom Mr Cornlouer met on the QE2, agreed to narrate the animation.

"It is nice for all veterans to get together. One thing they miss is the camaraderie," he said.

"This works tremendously well - when they stop acting, they have a laugh."

His words were echoed by Barry Edwards, a former corporal in the Royal Regiment of Wales, who met Mr Cornlouer at Alabare's Pontypridd's accommodation for veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

He believes involvement in Mrs Orangeleaf has been "inspiring" for many who served in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This has shown that the teamwork and comradeship still exists now as it did then," Mr Edwards said.

"It has allowed teamwork to flourish and banter to prevail, it has allowed the veterans to have a sense of belonging."

Image copyright Pierre Cornlouer
Image caption Mr Cornlouer at a cemetery on the Falklands Islands

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