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The Great Escaper: A film portraying PTSD and Moral Injury

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The Great Escaper, released today (6 October 2023, is based on the true story from the summer of 2014, where World War II veteran Bernard ‘Bernie’ Jordan sneaks out of his care home to attend the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

There were clear undertones of PTSD from several of the characters, as well as clear indicators of Moral Injury (, and we were impressed with how accurately this was portrayed.

Our Medical Director, Professor Catherine Kinane, provides her thoughts on the film:

“It’s not until Bernie finds himself on the ferry on his way to France, that we see an indication of underlying mental health trauma. As they set sail, Bernie very quickly becomes subdued, sits and begins to shake. Before long, and particularly when France comes into view he begins to have flashbacks to the D-day landings in Normandy.

“Veterans may physically be ‘at home’ but psychologically can be trapped in the past, reliving their trauma on the battlefield through flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety.

“Although it often feels like PTSD symptoms come like a bolt from the blue, it is much more likely that they have been ‘triggered’ by a thought, feeling, or something in our environment. In Bernie’s case, the motion of the boat on the waves and the sight of the Normandy beach appear to cause his flashbacks.

“The RAF veteran he meets, Arthur, is also struggling with his mental health, particularly suggested through his alcohol misuse which he revealed was causing serious physical health consequences, but he was unable to stop. He appears to attribute this to his mental health injuries from service. 

“On top of this, we also identified both Bernie and Arthur as having clear indicators of Moral Injury, which is where psychological distress arises from being forced into actions or decisions that clashed with their moral or ethical code, and can cause profound feelings of guilt, anger, worthlessness and shame. Bernie, due to encouraging a young soldier to enter the tank and leave the landing craft moments before he was blown up, and Arthur who was mistakenly ordered to bomb a village his brother was holed up in with the French resistance.   

“Those with Moral Injury can find it particularly hard to talk about their difficulties, which is a real barrier to recovery, and, as things come to a head around Bernie and Arthur’s visit to the Bayeux War Cemetery, it is apparent they have bottled up these feelings for quite some time.

“At Combat Stress we are currently conducting trials into a newly developed clinical treatment, for veterans with Moral Injury, with the ultimate aim for it to be rolled out to treat veterans across the UK.

“Also incredibly important, was how the film acknowledged that any veteran could develop trauma related mental health problems regardless of age, service or conflict. Scott, the young Afghanistan veteran who volunteered to help with the proceedings, was shown to have undiagnosed PTSD. First, he is seen to switch quickly into a state of anger and aggression when denied a beer, before later breaking down to Bernie and exclaiming that ‘things never leave you’.

“It’s a sad and poignant scene. You can see how difficult it is for Scott to open up about his struggles, and many of the veterans we treat tell us that the first request for help was the hardest step to take, but that it changed their lives.

“Things particularly resonated with us when Bernie tells him that he needs to ‘’Get help’’, a suggestion I would fully endorse for anyone with mental health distress.  . Veterans, who have serious mental health problems related to military operations and combat, need specialist care from services with expertise in treating complex mental health conditions, and it’s vital that they seek help as soon as possible. However, on average they wait 13 years before reaching out to us, by which time mental health problems may have become complex and severe.

“Finally, the film showcased how the strength of relationship, and the support of loved ones, can have a positive effect in helping deal with trauma. Bernie’s wife, Irene, is shown to have a calming and reassuring influence on Bernie when he opens up on his struggles upon his return to the care home. Indeed, our own research has shown that outcomes for the veteran’s recovery are better when their partner is involved, and as such we look to involve them as much as possible in the treatment pathway. We help families understand veterans’ mental health symptoms, the treatment Combat Stress is providing, the best ways they can help their loved one cope and recover.

“Irene is shown to have had her own struggles as a result of Bernie’s mental health upon returning from the war, and we know that partners of veterans with PTSD can can be negatively impacted and even at risk of developing a mental health condition themselves, without the proper tools to know how they can support their own mental health.

“In summary, The Great Escaper is a lovely film that accurately and impressively tackles some heavy themes. I am confident that the film will provide people with an insight into military trauma, and just how vital our work is in supporting those in their hour of need, who were there for us in ours. I hope this also encourages anyone struggling with their mental health to reach out for help. You are not alone”.

The Great Escaper contains depictions of combat and talk of traumatic events which some people may find upsetting, as well as themes of PTSD and other mental health problems. We encourage anyone affected by the film to please call our 24-hour helpline (0800 138 1619) for confidential advice and support.