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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

1.5 - TWO MUMS: With Two Sons in Afghanistan


26/7/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

Just to let you know that Mikey's dad called this morning to say that all being well a helicopter should be picking Dale, Alex and Mikey up this evening for transfer to Bastion. At the moment he is still hopeful they will be on a direct flight either Friday or Saturday. He was very knowledgeable about various things and I wish we had been in touch sooner. Tomorrow he is going to Dave Hart's funeral in York Minster. I have thought about the funerals of the young men lost recently, and wondered if other families would attend on their sons’ behalf.


He also said that Dale and Alex were first on the scene when Jonny Crookes was injured. He told me not to mention to Dale or Alex as he had to prise the information out of Mikey and didn't want to betray their confidence. He said that an American Marine had also been killed and that three other Marines were injured. I remember seeing the photograph of Alex and Dale practising first aid on each other but I didn't realise the three of them were 'medics' and that they had trained specifically for that role. Did you know?

I now know why Dale was so 'down' when I spoke to him a week last Sunday. He must have been thinking about what had happened and I suppose whether they could have done any more to save him. It must have been horrible for both of them.

I am hoping the 'group hug' won't take too long and that we can see them sooner rather than later. Will you be picking Alex up?

Kind regards

Kate



26/7/2010: to Kate

Hallo Kate,

Thanks for the info re flights, which confirms what Alex said last night - that Mikey is more communicative, having been on tour before.

I know you mentioned Dave Hart before, but I haven't seen his name in the news at all. Was he the one whose family never formally released his name? And was he also in C company. (Sorry about all these questions!)

Thanks for letting me know about Jonny Crookes; how terrible for both Dale and Alex. I do hope someone reassured them that they did all that was possible.  By the way, I did know that Alex was a medic - mainly because he helped that little Afghan boy. But I didn't know what being a medic really entails. Neither did I know Dale was one too. They must have impressed someone out there to have been given that responsibility so early on.

As far as the end of the week is concerned, Alex is hoping that if they arrive on Friday, on Saturday he'll be able to leave Norton Manor camp and come up to London by train to see us for 24 hours or so before going back down (probably me driving him in order to pick up his gear - and to extend my time with him!). However, I suspect this is probably wishful thinking on his part. So we'll just have to wait and see.

Do let me know when/ if you do come over here. I would so like to meet you, and Ian, after all we've shared.

All the best,

Anna



27/7/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

I thought all the chaps could administer basic first aid, but I hadn't realised that a medic was a specific role covered by volunteers.  Dale never mentioned it at all. 

Dave Hart was in C Company, below is the MOD news report.  It was a time when a number of chaps were lost and his moment on the MOD front page news was very short.  Other members of C Company lost are Mike Taylor, Paul Warren and Steve Curley (who was the nephew of my mother's neighbour).

We may be in London in October and it would be really good if we could catch up with you then.  I'll let you know as soon as I have more details.

I expect we will have a busy few weeks trying to help Dale get organised with a place to live in Nottingham.  Last time we drove up and bought him a double mattress at Costco.  We had an estate car with the seats down, and eventually, after much struggling, managed to get the mattress inside.  Unfortunately it sprung forwards as we were driving and Ian and I were crushed to the dashboard.  Then we couldn't get it out ..... we laughed until we were helpless.

Dale has kit all over the place. Goodness knows how he is going to gather all this up and get it back to Nottingham.  I don't think we will be able to do the same this time.

I am actually starting to feel a little less anxious and I slept most of the night, which was wonderful.  I think I was tired anyway as we cycled the long route home and then played volleyball on the beach until the sun went down. 

I hope the chaps were picked up last night and are safely in Bastion

Although we are hugely relieved, so many families have lost their sons in the last few months and my heart breaks for them.  We will celebrate Dale's return tinged with sadness that others will not share our joy.  I imagine the chaps will feel the same and that is another bridge they will have to cross.  I am so glad that we have had contact Anna, it has certainly been good for me, and Ian and I look forward to meeting you.

Kind regards

Kate



27/7/2010: to Kate

Hallo again,

Simon had a call from Alex earlier today to say that the guys are now all in Bastion, flying out tonight to Kandahar and then, if all goes to plan, from there to the UK on Friday. Alex said it was likely being in a huge American shopping mall (the size of Nottingham), so big that you have to take buses to get anywhere! Apparently he sounded in good form having had, probably for the first time in months, some good food and a proper night's sleep.

I'm just allowing myself to get a little excited at the thought of seeing him in a few days. But, like you, his homecoming is bound to be tinged with sadness about the men who haven't made it. And I know Alex won't be able properly to celebrate until everyone is back in October.

Let me know when you've talked to Dale and whether he's changed or not as a result of all this.

All the best

Anna



29/7/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

I hope I am not spoiling a surprise, but Dale's girlfriend has just emailed to say she thinks the chaps will be landing at Brize Norton at 9.30 a.m. tomorrow. She is getting up at the break of day to drive down to meet Dale.

Are you going? I probably won't see Dale until nearly the end of August so, in the meantime, any information you manage to extract from Alex would be so much appreciated. I know Dale has kept a diary and I may transcribe it for him at some point, and if he doesn't object, we will share it.

Kind regards

Kate



29/7/2010: to Kate

Hi Kate,

Surprises are something I've never wanted throughout these last few months! Having said that, Alex phoned this morning at 7 am to say he thought they would be taking off this afternoon, arriving back in Taunton tomorrow afternoon. So I hope his girlfriend has got more up-to-date info, or she'll have quite a long wait.

What a shame you won't see Dale for so long - although I guess it means you won't have to swelter in the summer heat cooking that roast dinner he said he wanted. We're certainly expecting to see Alex at some point this weekend, but where or when we're not sure yet. First he said he wanted to come up to London on Saturday, and then I'd drive him down again on Sunday a) to take him back and b) collect his stuff. But this morning he said he might be too tired, so if that is the case we'll probably drive down on Sunday, take him out to lunch, and pick up his things at the same time. Either way, this weekend or later, if I hear anything I think might be of interest to you, of course I'll pass it on.

If Dale doesn't mind, I'd love to read some or all of his diary once it's transcribed. I'm sure it will be fascinating, and will also be hugely helpful in understanding what he, and the others have been through. Even if it's upsetting in places, I think it's better to know what happened, rather than imagine it.

Talking of upsets, one thing Alex did say yesterday was that after each potentially disturbing incident, the guys involved would be called in for TRiM (Trauma Risk Assessment) sessions - the first after about 24 hours, the second a few days later, and then (I think) another maybe a month or so later.  (As you probably know, this is a system developed by mental health professionals specifically for the Marines.) So the 'group hug' has been going on throughout the 'tour', and isn't just a one-off after guys come home.  In fact, if a Marine thinks he needs help months, or even years after being 'in theatre' (I hate that euphemism!) he can go back for more TRiM. As far as Alex is concerned, he admitted, after a moment's hesitation, that he'd been to several sessions. Then he said, in typically laconic fashion, 'But it's just to check you aren't going nutty - and I'm not.' So I don't suppose he'll need to go back; at least I hope not.  

Enjoy chatting to Dale,

All the best

Anna 



29/7/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

Thank you for so much information.  Now I am confused but at least I have been able to pass this on to Milly (Dale’s girlfriend) so that she (hopefully) can check.

Dale kept a diary in Africa and it was so scary reading it afterwards but I guess this will be different.  He was arrested in Zimbabwe and ended up in jail.  He somehow managed to negotiate his own release for the price of $30, which also included the use of a stolen mobile!  After that and the mugging attempt (four guys with knives) I didn't think it could get any worse; we shall see. 

Thanks for everything.  Alex sounds pretty well adjusted.  I hope Dale is in the same frame of mind.

Kind regards

Kate



30/7/2012: from Kate

Hi Anna

I can't actually remember if I replied to your email from home last night, so apologies if I did.  I was up and down most of the night worrying if Milly had got my message and whether or not she would have a wasted journey.  Anyway, she did get my message, but and is still going as planned.  She says that she promised him whatever time of day or night he arrived, she would be there. 

It will be hugs all around for everyone today, so have a great time.

Kind regards

Kate



30/7/2010: to Kate

Hi Kate,

Spoke to Alex just now, and all three of them are back at camp. Apparently, Milly was at Brize to meet Dale, and was allowed to drive him back to base while the other two went in a minibus. So that must have been lovely for them both.

Alex's too busy/ tired to come up to London tomorrow, so my husband, Claire and I are driving down to Somerset to spend a few hours with him, and to pick up his gear. If I see Dale as well, I'll let you know - although I imagine you'll get an update on how he's looking/ feeling etc. from Milly.

Champagne tonight? We're certainly having some. Enjoy!

All the best,

Anna 



30/7/2010: to Kate

Hi Kate,

Just got back from round trip to Taunton to take Alex out to lunch. A long day - but worth it!

To my relief, he seems pretty much the same son as the one who left home nearly 5 months ago. Of course, much of the time was spent in public, having a pub lunch, but after that we went back to camp and he showed us photos and a couple of short videos of his time out there. And while doing that, he appeared grounded by all that had happened - even when showing us photos of Crooksey, just hours before he was killed. Having said that, when he mentioned Jonny and Matt, there was obviously emotion behind the words. So, who knows?

He was looking good, if thinner than before he left and apparently Dale is in good shape, too. As I'm sure you know, Dale and Mikey disappeared over the weekend so Alex had the rather surreal experience of spending two days in a deserted camp.  At the gates to the camp, people had left bunches of flowers in tribute to the fallen. I don't normally like that sort of thing, but I found this rather moving. Dale and Mikey are due back tonight and then I gather all three should be going up to Chilwell on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Alex told me that as the Americans are coming into Sangin it is possible/ probable that 40 Commando may spend the next two months moving all their stuff back to Bastion - which, I gather, they would all welcome. If Alex is anything to go by, they don't feel that 'winning over hearts and minds' is realistic - and it's certainly not worth losing their lives for. (Actually he was a lot harsher than that!)

He also let slip that when he said he was 'busy' in Pylae what he was actually doing was fighting off daily attacks by the Taleban. This was apropos of one photo showing him and three of the other guys laughing to the camera.  Apparently, they had just managed to subdue an attack - having thought they might not when all their guns jammed at the same moment. 

So glad I didn't know that at the time.

Finally, did you know that a photo of Dale (in the sheep market at Sangin) was featured in this Saturday's Telegraph? At least Alex assures me it's him, although I have it in front of me, and I can't be sure. Anyway, I expect Dale's told you about this, but just in case he hasn't you might want to look it up on line.  Or I could send it to you.

All the best

Anna 



2/8/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

Thank you for the information. Much appreciated as I didn't know when they were going to Chilwell.  I'm so pleased you managed to see Alex.  The guys were mean to leave him!  I did see a note on Facebook from Dale that said, 'go see your parents'.  I am sure Alex was thrilled that you went down to see him.

Dale did let us know on Saturday evening that his photograph was in the paper, so we spent two hours driving around the island trying to find a Telegraph!  In the end I texted him and told him to buy one for me.  He was rather relaxed about the whole thing and said he had been guarding sheep for five months.

I expect we should be prepared for more disturbing information to be shared in dribs and drabs.  I think they have all had some very dangerous times and I do worry what the long-term result will be.  I did get the impression that Pylae was tougher than Dale said, so thank goodness Alex and the others were all okay.  Oh dear.

I prefer not to see public displays of mourning, but it must offer some comfort to the families.  I don't know what the etiquette is regarding contacting other bereaved families, but I suspect if one of our chaps been killed or injured, we would have appreciated a note from other parents.  

When our neighbour lost her daughter (we are very close to them) I looked back over our photographs taken over many years and I scanned or copied them and gave them to her.  She was absolutely delighted, and although there were a few tears, she said it was the loveliest thing that anyone had done.  She made an album and it motivated her to ask for other photographs (to which the response was huge) and now she takes great comfort in flicking through and looking back.

I suspect that Alex, Dale and Mikey will all have photographs of Jonny and Matt.  Maybe when they are settled back here, we could ask them to find them out, and then contact the CO to see if Jonny and Matt's families would like them.  What do you think? 

I guess you will have seen the news, another Marine down, but no further details as yet.  I bet our chaps already know.  How terribly sad, I feel bad for thinking how happy I am that our boys are home when others are not yet able to relax.  Dale and Alex's experiences have touched all our lives and I now realise how difficult it must be for so many others. 

I'll keep you updated if I here from Dale, but nothing yet ....

Kind regards

Kate



3/8/2010: to Kate

Dear Kate,

I think your idea about sending photos of Jonny and Matt to their families is a brilliant one. As I said, Alex has certainly got at least half a dozen of Jonny splashing about in Helmand river; I'm not sure if he's got any of Matt. But I'll ask when he's back home.

Yes, it's awful that yet another Marine has been killed. Alex did know before the news was released, I think, and was also told that he was not from C Company. However he doesn't know the Marine's name.

One potentially heartening bit of information Alex also passed on was that it's thought possible that as the US are moving into Sangin, Fort Jackson will have to be 'moved' back to Bastion. There is a possibility, therefore, that 40 Commando will spend their last two months being removal men (as it were), and the Americans will deal with the Taleban. That must surely be so much safer than what they're doing now.

Glad Dale's bought you the Telegraph - but (if he's anything like Alex) just in case he didn't get round to it, I'm keeping the cutting and will send on to you if you'd like.  He looks very tough in the photo, not at all like a shepherd - and there isn't a sheep in sight!

Hope you hear from the man himself (I guess we have to call them men now) very soon,

All the best

Anna 



3/8/2010: to Kate

Hi Anna

I have the article from the Telegraph now as one of the ladies at work had kept her Saturday paper, but thank you very much for you kind offer. 

We made a plan last night.  Nathan and Dale will join us on 20 August for about six days.  We just need to get their flights sorted out now.  We are both going to take a day or so off work but will let the chaps do their own thing during the day as I am sure they won't want us hanging around!

I'll try to get a copy of all Dale's photographs for you at some point.

I do hope that the remainder of 40 Commando are shipped out soon.

Kind regards

Kate



6/8/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna

It was a very warm and emotional reunion and I couldn't wait to hold in my arms.  I really did think at times I was never going to see him again. 

Dale had just started to relax and was talking when he suddenly became quite intense.  He wasn't telling a story, more recounting events.  It was surreal. 

Dale said that there were eight Marines caught in a firefight and that Intelligence showed there were 29 insurgents all around them.  They had exhausted nearly all ammunition (he said down to one clip) and knew that they could not hold out much longer.  He said Intelligence (and I think he meant overhead helicopter) could offer no support, as they could not differentiate between Marines and insurgents as they were all so close.

Dale said the training just kicked in and they grouped together and somehow made it back to base knowing that they could not repel or survive further attack.  He said he hadn't told anyone else this, but that he was thinking of us and hoped that we would be spared the details of his end.  He didn't elaborate on exactly what part Alex or anyone else played in all of this, but said that Alex was probably the bravest man he knew.  He also said that the Marines’ motto is 'everyone goes home' and that each of them fought for the lives of others, as well as their own. I had tears in my eyes when he finished.

He did speak of other horrific events - one of which was after an IED had gone off, causing a 'high amputation'.  I assumed by that he meant the loss of a leg, but it turned out to be everything from the waist down and not survivable, despite a desperate attempt to save him. Dale was clearly very moved and trying to control his emotions. I was just so shocked. 

He also said that Alex had seen more action than most and that he had dealt with some pretty nasty casualties.  One thing he did mention was that the lads are always told the injured are all right.  Dale said as time went on, he knew that it was never all right, as a couple of times they had expected the injured guys to survive and then found out that they had died. 

He said that he wanted to go through his photographs and would I mind if he didn't give them to me at this time.  I told him of course I didn't mind but would he please keep them.  I wonder now why he didn't want to share them.  He didn't want to talk any more either, so we left it at that. 

How is Alex?  Is he still at home with you?  Has he spoken of other events?

Kind regards

Kate



7/8/2010: from Kate

Hi Anna
You and I are both so blessed to have our sons home.
Here, we have been sharing wine and eating roasted almonds – and life doesn't get much better. 
We wish the world peace in our lifetime.
Best regards
Kate


*****




© Anna L. & Kate W.  2012

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