Tuesday, 2 October 2012

If at first you don’t succeed...

Staying power and focus are admirable qualities. Unfortunately in my working life and housework I don’t see myself as having either trait in vast quantities, but when it comes to my children I produce a will of iron from somewhere deep inside me and refuse to take no for an answer. I have been likened to a dog with a bone, or even less (?) flatteringly an Exocet, (for those who don’t know this was an anti aircraft missile used extensively in the Falklands war. It could be launched from almost anywhere and lock onto its target regardless of anything in its way).
I suppose I would have felt better if I was likened to a lioness protecting her cubs. This, in my mind is far more noble and positive...and then I think of the documentary footage of a lioness bringing down a tiny deer or a strayed baby wildebeest and the whole thing becomes slightly confused and a tad awkward, but I digress...
 I have been a single mum since the children were very small. I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to put them on the right path; a path that would see them safe and happy. So when Ash told me aged 15 that he wanted to join the Army it was the determination in his eyes and his resolute and unshakeable faith that this was his path in life which made me feel that I had a responsibility to make it happen.

It wasn’t easy, I was wary about my baby boy joining up. He seemed too young and yet there was a knowingness about him, he was so sure, and through that I became sure. There were interviews and paperwork, tests and more tests, mostly involving me taking Ash to the Army Recruitment Centre in Blackheath and waiting. There was a lot of waiting. 

The path through the recruitment stage was long and arduous and I learned that only 1 out of every 10 young men who walk through the Army Recruitment Centres doors actually make it to basic training.
The morning the letter arrived Ash was at school, so I opened the letter and read that he had been turned down on medical reasons. I stared at the letter and reread its contents. It was because he had had asthma. Thoughts raced through my head and I instantly remember the bad attacks Ash had when he was small, being hospitalised once when I will never forget his tear stained faced begging me not to leave him...but that was years ago and he hadn’t had an asthma attack since he was about 6 and had been off the inhalers now for years. I scratched my head and read the letter again....my eyes darted over the page until I saw the words “Appeal against the decision”, so there was hope.
I found myself checking the clock at regular intervals during the day, waiting to hear the key in the lock and Ash to come home from school. He sat down as I told him the news. His eyes got wider and wider and then started to glisten,
“But Mum” he said “What do I do? What do I do now? It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
And I looked at him, this young man with eyes the colour of conkers, and I knew that I had to make this happen. I had no choice because I was his Mum and that my job, regardless of how I felt, because it was about him, and not about me.

So I wrote the letter, and fought the decision. After a few weeks the decision was over turned and Ash was cleared to go to basic training and to join up. He was going into Army.
It was on August 28th 2007 in the Army Recruitment Centre in Blackheath, in front of Major M Norris, (a man you had joined as a 16 year old raw recruit), that Ash swore his allegiance to the Queen, I cried, he was not just mine anymore. He was 16 years old and agreeing to serve, to defend, and potentially lay down his life in order to protect others.

“ I Ashley Thomas Wiles swear by almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors in Person, Crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors and of the Generals and Officers set over me."

 I was humbled and immensely proud of this young warrior, my son. And through the tears I laughed. A silent inward laugh as he pronounced the words Heirs as Hairs, and it made me want to hug him as I realised just how young, how vulnerable and how very unworldly he actually was.
It was a few years later that I was to remember that it was my decision to send the appeal letter and to fight for his right to join up. It was my actions that would eventually result in my son, my baby boy, going to Afghanistan and to war...

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