WHEN his father came home from the war, eight-year-old Frank Parkinson did not know who this strange man was.

The family had grown used to life without Robin Parkinson. While he was away fighting, a military policeman with the Durham Light Infantry, at the D-Day landings, in France, Holland and Belgium, into north-east Germany, his wife and her parents had taken over the running of the family butcher’s shop, and he was now an outsider.

With hindsight, Frank understands how hard it must have been for his father to have endured the horrors of war – and then return to a home where his son did not know who he was, and his wife was managing to run the business and make a living without him.

It was Frank’s first experience of trauma – and the beginning of a life-long quest for understanding he explores in his new book, A Short Journey Into Trauma.

“Later on, my father would talk about the war at the drop of a hat,” Frank said. “He would tell you about an incident, what the weather was like, where it was, the names of his colleagues – he could remember it all vividly. But his stories were all semi-humorous. He would never talk about anything bad or difficult.

“Once I asked him whether he had been into Belsen – but he refused to talk about it.”

Frank, now 80, also has a vivid memory and tells compelling stories of a father who was seething with anger, and prone to violent rages. His family lived in fear of his temper and he dealt harshly with his sons for any perceived failing or neglect of their duties.

His father ran a dairy farm after the war, near Durham. Frank was a teenage atheist though he went to church (because girls went there, he says) and he was educated at grammar school. He dreamed of being a pilot, joined the Air Training Corps at school, and when he was called up for National Service, aged 17 and a half, he applied to the RAF.

“All I wanted to do was to be a pilot,” he recalled. “But when I applied I found I had red/green blindness – so I couldn’t do it. My world turned upside down.”

Although his dream was over, Frank did work with the RAF during his National Service, collecting data about the servicing and performance of the planes. He also joined the station’s drama group and took the role of a priest in a farce called See How They Run.

Then one day, on a train journey, aged 19, when gazing out of the window, he experienced an extraordinary moment.

“I was in Northumberland, sitting on the train, looking out, and I heard a voice inside. It said – I want you to be a priest.”

A railway to Damascus moment? Frank said it took him a while to process what had happened.

“I wondered where this voice had come from, and if it were my imagination, but when I got home I went to see my local vicar.”

Following a three-day selection process and an interview with the Archdeacon of Durham, Frank was accepted for training at Birkenhead Theological College. He was ordained at Durham Cathedral in 1962.

He worked as a curate in Sunderland and Liverpool, and decided to join the army in 1967. For the next 25 years, he served as an army chaplain – including postings in Germany, Cypress and Northern Ireland. He had married Janice in 1962 and the couple had two sons, Jeremy and Ben.

In the 1980s, he began training as a Relate counsellor – a process he describes as one of the best things he has ever done – and one that fundamentally changed his view of his past and his father.

“It knocks the edges off you,” he explained. “You learn about yourself, and I began to understand my father and what had happened to him. I learnt a lot about communication, and listening and counselling skills.”

Another profound influence was his encounter with a book called Beyond Endurance, by Glin Bennet, which along with the counselling training, helped Frank begin to understand something about the effects of trauma.

“When the US soldiers came back from Vietnam, around 15 per cent of them had symptoms of post-traumatic stress – and they suffered symptoms similar to civilians who had been caught in disasters or serious traffic accidents.

“There were thousands of military personnel returning home, and having to get on with their lives, but these 15 per cent – many left home, left their families, or became drug addicts. The rate of suicide was high,” he said.

Frank continued to study the new research into post-traumatic stress, and in 1993 his first book was published – called Post Trauma Stress.

He sent a copy of the book to his father, and when he next visited him, asked for his thoughts about it.

“At first, he was very dismissive, and said we had no idea what war was like, and that there was none of this clap-trap around then. But I asked him specifically if he had ever done anything difficult, like seeing people killed, and he burst into tears.

“I had never seen him cry. He was in his late 70s then. He cried, then he pulled himself together and told me about an incident where some people he knew had been shelled and he and some colleagues had to go and clear up the area.

“My mother and Janice were in the kitchen, the next room, when this happened, and my mother, who had been married to him for nearly 60 years, said, ‘he never told me that’.

“I knew there was something more to his anger. I would not say he had PTSD, but it was traumatic stress.”

After he retired as Assistant Chaplain General in 1992, Frank went on the work as a consultant, university lecturer, trainer, psychological debriefer and counsellor. His new book is his fifth – and all his books have explored the topic of trauma.

This new work is his most personal, however. It takes the reader on a chronological journey through his own developing understanding of trauma and it includes updates on new research and thinking on the topic.

He describes theories and methods used for understanding traumatic stress and outlines the history of treatments offered. The coping strategies of professionals in the emergency and social services are included – as well as his own personal experience dealing with the aftermath of events such as prison riots, armed robberies, rape and hostage taking.

“People who deny their feelings will not cope as well as those who don’t do that, and who communicate with someone trained to help them,” he said.

Frank will be talking about his book, and his journey with trauma, at a talk in Swindon Central Library on November 1, at 7pm. Tickets are £2 from the Central Library or call 01793 566454.