Ahead of winning 7 prizes last night at the BAFTAs, 1917 Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay and director Sir Sam Mendes spoke with former soldiers and Help for Heroes ambassadors Barrie Griffiths and Paul Colling.

The two Veterans, who were both medically discharged from the British Army, are now ambassadors for the military charity Help for Heroes – who were given the unique opportunity to ask the stars of the film about their experiences on-set and compare stories.

Sam Mendes told the Help for Heroes ambassadors that the film stems from a story Mendes’ grandfather told him he said:

“It’s the first time I’ve ever told a story so personal.”

When the veterans asked if his grandad often spoke of his experiences of serving in World War 1, Mendes replied

“He spoke about his experiences of the war but the most articulate thing for me was that he never spoke about it until he was in his 70’s and that itself told me something – he wasn’t ready to and it was too difficult for whatever reason. That’s a common thread through war experiences.”

Royal Air Force veteran Barrie told the director how poignant he found the film:

“Certainly from my own perspective, particularly In terms of the casualty handling, it resonated an awful lot in terms of our own experience of being on a battlefield and then surviving. There was no Help for Heroes in those days to be able to pick up the mantel.”

Barrie was injured in 2003 while carrying heavy gear on a loaded march, he felt something shift in his back. Barrie suffered a spinal prolapse which compressed his spinal cord. It triggered many symptoms relating to spinal cord injuries and resulted in a loss of all functionality from the waist down.

Barrie continued:

“I had some fairly significant physical injuries which impacted on my ability to be able to do my job and I was working much harder to compensate for that. The loss of a lot of your bodily functions has a major impact, and my self-esteem really suffered. I went to some very dark places mentally. I now have a fair degree of functionality physically, but the mental health issues never really go away.”

Barrie continued serving, but after 12 years was medically discharged from the British Armed Forces in 2015.

Barrie told George Mackay and Dean Charles Chapman that the film was moving as on operational tour – he had to go from conflict zones to caring for civilians, something that is also depicted in the film.

George Mackay told the veterans the mind frame he had to be in to play this. He said:

“The same hands that can take such care can also be a part of such violence for whatever reason in either direction – it’s perhaps true of life the way that you are the middle point between actions or experiences.”

Joining Barrie, was Help for Heroes ambassador Paul Colling – Paul served as a physical trainer in the Signals, but an injury sustained early on in his career was to have enduring consequences; Paul sustained a traumatic ankle injury, damaging the ligaments, tendons and cartilage during a training exercise.

Despite his injury causing him frequent bouts of pain, Paul went on to have a successful career. But in 2017 his career came to a sudden end; another training exercise had caused more damage.

Paul said:

“They scanned my leg, and I was told I had to leave. It was like my world ended. Who you are, everything you’ve worked for, everything you wanted to achieve just gone.

“I think that was the first time I’ve ever been mentally broken. It snapped me.”

Both Paul and Barrie spoke of the support from charities like Help for Heroes having a huge impact on theirs and their families lives – something that wouldn’t have existed in 1917.

Dean Charles Chapman said: 

“That’s why I think that charities are so brilliant because the help it gives people. It’s not only about the soldiers it’s about people outside the war back in normal life, it’s their family members that are also struggling.”

Both Barrie and Paul are two of the almost 40,000 men and women who have had to leave the British Armed Forces in the past 20 years due to injury and illness. Help for Heroes is calling for an independent review into the medical discharge process to help all wounded veterans stand strong.

You can find out more about their 40,000 Strong campaign at www.helpforheroes.org.uk/40thousandstrong