The Poetry of Charcoal and the Fear of Bananas

The VC Gallery launches its new project, The Art of Memories

Some of us had the opportunity recently to hear Barry John launch the VC’s Gallery’s new project, The Art of Memories, sharing some of his own experiences of life in the services.

The project aims to encourage veterans and families to talk to each other and to keep memories alive that might otherwise disappear. The stories will also serve as inspiration for artists and poets and writers through workshops and events.

Joining the project, Helen Grant, writer, and poet will be facilitating the creation of poetry with veterans and other interested people, which will be published later in a book. There are also other artworks already in process with the Art Group and there are hopes of a film at some point.

Talking to a group of artists and creatives, Barry described the experiences his grandfather had been through at the Battle of the Somme and of the strategies he developed to cope with what was called shellshock then but which we now know as PTSD.

He had been inspired on hearing the trauma suffered by a young man’s great-great-grandfather who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. The young man had been told that upon his return home  his grandfather had suffered terrible nightmares and had ended his own life aged only 41.

Barry, who is the founder of the VC Gallery, understands the value of creativity in dealing with stress and intends that The Art of Memories will also help reduce isolation by giving veterans and their families and friends a voice.

Talking about his life in the services, he explained that he found first-hand that making art served him through some challenging times.

Travelling with the army also presented opportunities to experience art from around the world and allowed him to indulge his love of street art in places as far apart as South Korea and Ireland when stationed in those places.

“Through art,” he explained, “I saw how even when people are on opposite sides, they are not hugely different from one another in their hopes and plans.”

Keen to develop his skills while serving in Kosovo, he told us that he had been eager to try watercolours. He had watched artists in the market of Honk Kong and decided to have a go.

“I realised I was too impatient for the watercolours,” he laughed, “Though I live in hope that I will one day get to grips with the medium.”

Stressing the importance of trying out different media to find what works best for you, he said: “You can’t beat good pencils and spray paint, but I want instant results and charcoal is the best for me – the medium I am most at home with.”

Helen likened charcoal to poetry as a medium that inspired him most and allowed him to create more freely.

Barry began exhibiting his work in 2001 and since then he has learned a great deal. That willingness to be open to new experiences has been the key for him and joining a debriefing course on mental health issues allowed him to see a path to working compassionately and creatively with a wide range of people.

At the launch of this new and exciting project, The Art of Memories, we heard an entertaining collection of reminiscences, some tragic and some that caused the Zoom group to laugh uproariously. Barry described some survival training in the jungles of Jamaica where he and his colleagues were denied rations and instructed to fend for themselves armed only with a knife. He said he could not bear to kill the chickens that were plentifully available and lived on cocoa beans and wild bananas for the duration of the exercise.

“I couldn’t eat chocolate for a year after,” he said, “and I still have a fear of bananas.”

The VC Gallery is asking for your stories that relate to life in the military. Talk to family and friends to find out what it was like and consider sharing those stories with the charity. A different veteran will tell their own stories on Zoom each week. You can go to the website to get involved: Art of Memories | Veterans & The Community (

The VC Gallery was set up with the intention of combating loneliness and social isolation for veterans and the wider community through involvement with a variety of art projects. It passionately believes that art and culture can improve health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life.

30 High Street, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire SA61 2DA

01437 765873

Kitty Parsons

Kitty knows that she will always be an incomer, but this is to be her sixth summers. The wet and grey days of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire, but she is always grateful for the golden light of spring and summer. Her love of the sea sustains her even through the darkest of days and she can often be found at high tide bobbing about in Fishguard harbour at high tide, often with seals in attendance. When not freezing in water she is usually at her computer. She says" has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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