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Coping with traumatic memories: Second World War veterans' experiences of social support in relation to the narrative coherence of war memories


This paper reports a qualitative study that used narrative analysis to explore how social support helps many armed-services veterans cope with traumatic memories. The analysis was carried out on two levels, that of narrative form (level of narrative coherence), argued to be indicative of reconciliation, and narrative content (themes of social support), which allowed exploration of the types of social support experienced by veterans with coherent, reconciled and incoherent narratives. Ten British male Second World War veterans were interviewed regarding their war experiences, presence of traumatic memories, and experiences of social support from comrades, family and society. Different patterns of support were qualitatively related to coherent, reconciled and incoherent narratives. Veterans with coherent narratives were no less likely to have experienced traumatic events than those with reconciled or incoherent narratives, but they reported more positive perceptions of their war experience and of the war's outcomes, more positive experiences of communication with family in later life, and more positive perceptions of societal opinion. The results are discussed in relation to how veterans can be supported by family and friends to reconcile their traumatic memories, thus to lessen the burden in later life when vital support resources may be unavailable.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Karen Burnell, Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, 67–73 Riding House Street, 1st floor Charles Bell House, LondonW1W 7EJ, UK. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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