A FORMER soldier has told how a new veterans group changed his life and gave him a purpose – as he considered ending it all.

Owen Dykes was just 15-and-a-half when he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1990 as a 'boy soldier'.

In 1993, he served in Northern Ireland, then three years later, with the United Nations in Cyprus.

He fought during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, returning in 2006, as well as in military operations in Afghan between 2009 and 2010, Bosnia, Kosovo, and more, reaching the rank of Sergeant.

When he was discharged in July 2014, Mr Dykes suffered from social isolation and suicidal thoughts, even going as far as to plan how he would kill himself.

The married dad-of-two said: "I would not even go into the town centre. I stopped attending social functions. I weighed over 21 stone. I didn't feel like a good husband or father.

"I felt lonely. I really struggled. We had put our bodies through so much trauma. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was incredibly low for two years. It was something I would not wish on anyone."

He added: "People in the military do not want to be seen as weak. But I had reached a place where I had to do something."

Mr Dykes went to his GP and was referred to the Bury branch of the Military Veterans Service, where he heard about the newly established Bury Veterans Breakfast Club and the Borough of Bury Veterans Association, of which he is now the Army secretary.

The 43-year-old, who has two daughters, eight-year-old Zayna, and six-year-old Tarryn, with wife Joanne, first attended the breakfast club in December last year.

"When I came to the breakfast club, I was home", he said. "It was a huge weight off my shoulders. I felt like I was back with friends, my military family.

"The breakfast club and the veterans association have given me purpose. I feel better as a person, as a father and husband.

"With our association, irrespective of time served or your rank, you have an equal voice."

He added: "Sometimes I still find myself in a dark place but I have the tools and mechanisms to bring myself out of that."

Mr Dykes now works as a traffic planner at a waste and recycle firm in Salford.

Every week he attends the Minden Family Practice where he receives support.

He has previously completed a suicide awareness course, and has just finished the seven-week Helping Yourself to Wellbeing Course, which has increased his confidence as well as helped him to deal with stress and behaviour change.

Mr Dykes added: "I feel like I'm back on the straight and narrow. I'm around 70 per cent of the way there.

"I would urged others to join us at the breakfast club - it really has brought me out of myself and helped me get back on track."

Bury Veterans Breakfast Club meets every Friday morning, between 9.30 and 11am at the Mosses Centre, in Cecil Street.

For information, visit their Facebook group, Bury Veterans Breakfast.

Information about the Association can be found on the Borough of Bury Veterans Association Facebook group. Alternatively, email boroughofburyveterans@gmail.com.