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Anzac poppies help local serviceman to heal

Nick Tomlin, who took part in the Ironman challenge to raise funds to help former soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress injury. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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Money raised in Wairarapa was used last year to help a Masterton serviceman get on with his life after more than two decades witnessing war first-hand.

Masterton’s Nick Tomlin served 25 years in the British military where he saw numerous war zones including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The father of two brought his young family to New Zealand in 2012, where he served in the New Zealand Defence Force in a civilian post.

The Poppy Day street collection is held each year on the Friday before Anzac Day.

This year’s theme was “Not all wounds bleed,” focusing on the mental health of returned servicemen and women as they assimilate back into society.

Mr Tomlin has a post-traumatic stress injury – which psychologists describe as the most severe of all service-induced mental health injuries.

“It wasn’t until we got to New Zealand that it really started to hit home about everything that I’d done and I could reflect on what I had seen happen,” he said.

“I was trained to fight and be a strong man, so when I come home suffering I wouldn’t talk about it or ask for help.”

He noticed he was holding on to a lot of anger. Physical exercise was part of daily routine in the military, but now he had no drive to do anything.

“I had recognised in myself that I had something wrong.”

Mr Tomlin said he found it difficult to find help initially, but a close friend from his time in the military understood what he was going through.

They helped him to enrol in a programme designed to help veterans to cope with PTSI and similar injuries in life after service, called the SPARTA Project.

Mr Tomlin described it as “a course with people who have been through the same situations and suffered similar emotions”.

Funds raised in Masterton from the Poppy appeal enabled Mr Tomlin to travel to the programme in California.

He said the programme taught him to unleash the power within to overcome the traumatic experiences of war.

“The choice is simple, take control of the PTSI and courageously look for answers to resolve it or accept the experiences of war.

“Don’t spend years in suffering detached from love, joy, happiness and hope. Never give up. It may be hard at first, but as long as you want to live and move forward, it will get easier.”

Now Nick raises funds to support soldiers like him.

He took part in the Ironman challenge, to raise money but more importantly to raise awareness.

“When I did Ironman this year I used it as a fundraiser for SPARTA and to give some money to the RSA.

“I see it as my mission now.

“It is all right to say, ‘I have got an issue’ and there is help there and there’s people to support you through it all.”

He said he was overwhelmed by the support he got from people of Wairarapa, the UK and across the world who wanted to help him once he spoke out.

“It’s great to raise money and that support but hopefully it creates more awareness around these issues – these invisible wounds, as we say.”

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