A soldier's tragic suicide
Was the tragic suicide of a British soldier his final protest against an unjust war?
By Jonathan Brown
Independent News, UK
13 August 2004
Peter Mahoney found it hard to settle into normal life after returning
from the war in Iraq. Last week, he put on his Territorial Army uniform
for one last time, his head freshly shaved, and returned to the home
that he had, until five weeks earlier, shared with his wife and four
Attaching a hosepipe to the exhaust of the family car, parked in the
garage of their home in Botcherby, a small estate on the outskirts of
Carlisle, he started the engine.
His experiences as a soldier attached to the Royal Logistics Corps,
ferrying medical supplies and injured soldiers between the front line
and British Army field hospitals near the Kuwaiti border, had left him
deeply scarred and suffering from depression.
He had never believed in the war and had been a vocal critic within his
local community of the British Government's decision to invade Iraq. He
had publicly accused Tony Blair of being George Bush's "puppet". Like
many who opposed the invasion, he thought weapons of mass destruction
were a "smokescreen". The real issue, he contested, was seizing
He was discovered by Donna, his childhood sweetheart to whom he had
been married for almost 21 years. Even though the couple had been recently
separated, they were trying for a reconciliation, hoping to go on a
family canal boat holiday.
Emergency services however were unable to resuscitate him. He was 45
During the war, Donna, a staff nurse at the Cumberland Infirmary, had
set up a support group for other wives facing the worry and isolation
of being left at home while their partners fought in Iraq.
She also kept a diary revealing the distress the conflict was causing
their children -- Matthew, 18, Ashley, 16, Ben, eight, and Vicky, five.
Soon after his return, Mr Mahoney gave an interview to his local
newspaper revealing the deep-rooted concern among many of those he
served alongside in the Territorial Army in the Gulf. The Iraqi military, far from
being well-equipped with the latest weaponry, were firing "sticks and
stones", little match for the might of the Allies.
"The consensus among the troops was we were in Iraq so George Bush
could seize control of the oil fields. All this talk of weapons of mass
destruction was simply a smokescreen as far as we were concerned. There
was certainly no evidence they existed," he said.
"I think Tony Blair was just following whatever Bush said. He was
simply his puppet. He got in too deep and couldn't back out. From what
we saw Saddam's regime did not have advanced weapons. Iraqi troops were
using ancient Russian machines. They were firing sticks and stones.
They might as well have had catapults."
Mr Mahoney was not afraid of military conflict. He had volunteered to
serve in the conflict in Bosnia. But this time it had been different
and he had been on the verge of quitting the Territorial Army when his call-up papers
At the time, Donna had urged the Government to rethink the war. It was
"somebody else's battle," she said. None the less, in March 2003, the
family travelled to a military centre at Salisbury Barracks to say
farewell to Mr Mahoney before he flew to Kuwait.
He had spent three weeks in training, receiving a cocktail of
anti-biological warfare injections. But despite the niggling doubts,
his curiosity and sense of adventure prevailed.
"He joined the Territorial Army because he wanted to experience Army life and do
something useful for his country,'' said Donna, whose own father had
served in the Army for 24 years.
Startled by the ferocity of the fighting, she watched the war unfold on
television. The family prayed at the local cathedral and met others for
support at a local library. There was a candle-lit vigil at the town
hall. But the children bore the brunt of the separation.
At the time, she said: "The kids had to cope with nasty comments at
school about their father being killed. Watching the TV while the war
was on was difficult as there was coverage on every channel.
"My little girl clings on when we go to school -- she knows he's gone to
war.'' Some of the children developed sleeping problems and the family
ended up sharing a bedroom.
Communication was difficult. The flow of letters and parcels was one
way. Telephone calls, when they came, were brief.
Mr Mahoney eventually returned on Vicky's birthday in July 2003. It was
a special day for the family. Donna said: "Not only was it Vicky's best
birthday present so far but it probably won't ever be beaten. We were
all ecstatic to see Peter again."
Concluding that he had done his bit for his country, Mr Mahoney
prepared to return to work at a local poultry plant. But all was not
well. Despite leaving the Territorial Army in September to give his family "peace of
mind" he could not shake the memories of the Middle East and was unable
to share his feelings.
"Iraq changed him. I don't know what happened because I wasn't in his
head but it changed him. He was a broken man. I really don't know what
happened out there," said Donna. He became depressed but did not
His decline is recorded by two photographs. In one, taken before Iraq,
he is happy and smiling. On his return his demeanour has transformed.
"You can see how he was and you can see how he changed. He was so
lively before he went, so happy. Then when he came back - I don't know
-- he'd lost his character." The relationship deteriorated, but neither
gave up hope. Mr Mahoney took a new job working in recycling for the
But, on 3 August, he took his own life. The reason why he put on his
old uniform and shaved his head in military style is unclear. It may have
been a final protest against the war, Donna will not speculate. The
cause of death given at his inquest was carbon monoxide poisoning.
On Tuesday, more than 150 mourners gathered at St Aidan's Church --
where the couple were married, and two of their children baptised.
There were members of the Territorial Army and friends from the couple's life
together in this close-knit and friendly community.
A classic motorbike led the procession, and his coffin was draped in a
Canon David Baxter who had officiated at both wedding and baptisms, led
the service. He said: "Peter was a good friend of my son Andrew, who
committed suicide himself in 1986 when he was 23. I know what the
family must be going through."
He said: "On his return from Iraq, I hear his personality changed quite
dramatically and -- if that is the case the war in Iraq has done him a
As for Donna, she is left to pick up the pieces.
She said: "I loved Peter and I have always loved him. We were like
chalk and cheese but we were so in love.
"We are all so sad that this has happened. The whole family love him,
his friends love him. They can't believe what has happened. The
children are absolutely devastated."
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