In the spring of 2009, the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles deployed to Afghanistan. Halfway through the battalion's tour, it has lost nine soldiers, with dozens injured.
Of those to have given their lives, four were teenagers. Here Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher, who was 19 when he was killed by an explosion near Gereshk seven weeks ago, tells his own story, through letters home and the last letter he left behind to bid farewell to his family – his mother Helena, father Robin and brothers Zac, 21, and Steely, 17.
Following are the words of a proud soldier described by his officers as possessing "a rucksack full of potential", and by his friends as a rascal always cracking jokes and helping to keep morale high. Most of all, they are the words of a young son to his mum, dad and brothers.
27 April 2009
I've just got your bluey [letter] (the 1st one) yea you are right it does get fucking hot, I can't work out wether I'm tanned or just burnt to fuck!! I've spoke to you on the phone so you no what I've been doing. I'm well proud of you loosing all that weight. Suppose you've got a pretty good insentive. We'v had the same shit maybe a month now. Everyday a Monday out here. You kind of loose track of days. I cant quite work out if its going fast or slow. This pen is shit its doing my head in!!
Iv been thinking of loads of things and places to do, go and see. Me and Elliott are gonna go to Amsterdam after this. THINK WE MAY HAVE DESERVED IT!! It should be a good day (November 5th) [their homecoming parade]. On the 6th we can go Belfast Iv'e got loads of sad things I wanna buy ie Sky+ Big TV. Get the old man to help me rearange my room and help me fix my shelves. Im not the DIY type normally resort to celler tape or blue tack. HA HA HA. Hope everyones safe at home. Complete detox out here – water no drink. So my dance moves might involve a bit of stumbling when I return! Im coming home 2 weeks earlier now so that's kinda good, it might be worth Zac picking me up give me a bit of chill out time so I don't try stab a gobby civvi plus he's a good listener, sumtimes I wonder if he's listening or thinking of sumthing completely irrelivant.
Well pass this round the family so they can all admire my extream spelling (infantry eh!). Lots of love to all the nearest and dearest. Love Ya!! Xxxx
1 May 2009
Hey Mum + family
Ill always address my letters to you cuz I no your probley the only one who gets to the mail!! You'll have to let me no how quick these are getting you ill keep writing the date?? Everything is good up this way getting hotter, still moving at a million miles per hour (HA HA HA) I think Iv'e stopped burning Im slowly going brown and my hair is getting ridiculous just wait till I come home ill look like a fucking wooky?! I was gonna write to granny + grandad but to be honest with the few spare hours I get Id'e rather write home ey? BTW send my regards to Daphne, Joan, Brian etc. Let em no how Im doing?
Every so often we get old people and churches send us little gifts like baby wipes, razors, sweets and stuff so its quite a good bit of moral. Got some really good photos ill have to bring my camera back so we can get that Kosovo collage on the go, to bring back on the 5th of November. If you saw what and where Ive been sleeping you would be shocked!! So pictures will back me up!
Unfortunately 3 blokes died 2 days ago in an IED explosion in one of the FOBs [Forward Operating Bases] bout 2 kilometers away – we visited that FOB 2 days before the attack – fucking mental quite scary actually! We'v had a rest day so Im doing a bit of hand washing and fitness! God you'd be so proud Ha! Ha! Ha! We've still had spam, rice, beans and unflavoured noodles every day – promise me actually I promise you if I see spam in the house ill fucking destroy it!! Im getting pretty good at making flat bread and we bout a goat of a local for 200 dollars and we slaughtered it. I got a good video. Its either catch it, kill it, or make it out here or else you go hungry LOL!! The showers are also freezing whilst Im on the subject of moaning?? Id'e best go again BUT ill keep writing when I get the time + ill be home in a couple of months. Love you'zzz all don't worry bout me to much. Theres only 3 things that kill people over hear BULLETS, BOMBS + EGOS so I might go down with a bad case of swollen head!! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Love ya xxxxx
12 May 2009
Yesterday was a massive day for moral an american chopper came in yesterday. I got 5 blueys one from Zac, Daphne, I think Sharpie sent one and Dad?? With some pictures that was great. I stared at them for about an hour I cant explain how good it is to get pictures and stuff you get grown men close to tears at the sight of there kid or a good night out its really strange how this place fucks with your head and emotions. A BIG ONE that I NEED you to try do (get started ill help when I get back) is appeal to local charitys, churches, major companys ie Zoo, Cadburys, boots you name it. Write to them and explain my whereabouts and they do send gifts, chocolate, sweets, magazines you name it trust me a lot of the lads parents did it and they've got clothes, the lot. Trust me Red bull, lucazade, fags AND SWEETS are wicked just keep sending them and URGE people to send photos they keep the moral SKY HIGH. I thought Steely and Zacs [poses] in the garden were quality. I can only prove how much a letter or small parcel means by finding time to right back – that's probley the most precious thing I have and Id'e trade hours for a letter.
On some much sadder news one of our rifleman died a few days back, we had a parade and a few minutes silence its so strange how many emotions you go through living in these conditions its like everything wants to beat you and rewin your day. Its about not letting it get to you and don't worry nothing fucking gets to me. Well Im off I love you all loads thanks for my parcels and letters. Lots of love xxx
14 May 2009
Its just gone 10 in the morning here Im on a stag rotation for the next 7 days guarding the FOB. Its 6 hours on 3 hours off so not much sleep. (Im already an hour in). If you could see what Im looking at now you'd be pretty shocked. Its pretty stunning to be honest. I could probley sling shot a stone from where we were last contacted [shot at] from Ha! Ha! Ha! Pretty fucking crazy huh? I shouldn't really tell you this but its safer than on the phone – were leaving this place. Its gonna be a fucking massive operation moving this lot + a lot of helicopter rides. So when I come back after R&R [leave] ill fly to [the main British camp] bastion then out to our new FOB. You don't really do much on stag. Swetting my tits of its gonna hit 50 degrees today. AAAAH Shit my grenade just fell out of my [body armour] – we wont mention that to any higherarcy will we now.
I think you said you were going to a weight loss thing a few days ago hope that well? (Just keep going) 37 days ill be home – not that Im counting or anything??? THINK there's a bird coming in today at 13.30 so this bluey will probley arrive with the others – well as always gotta go ill try ring when I get a top-up of minuets on Monday. FUCK knows what day it is I thought it was Sunday today. Ha! Ha! Well lots of love to you all!
Anja Niedringhaus: The most amazing images by a photographer who was killed in Afghanistan
Anja Niedringhaus: The most amazing images by a photographer who was killed in Afghanistan
A U.S. Marine of the 1st Division carries a mascot for good luck in his backpack as his unit pushed further into the western part of Fallujah on 14 November 2004
Hundreds of U.S. Marines gather at Camp Commando in the Kuwait desert during a Christmas eve visit by Santa Claus on 24 December 2002
Local Iraqis flee from Basra in southern Iraq as smoke looming over the city can be seen in the distance on 29 March 2003
President George W. Bush carry a platter of turkey and fixings as he visits U.S. troops for Thanksgiving in Baghdad on 27 November 2003
Iraqi woman Rahab Ali al-Musawi (18) looks on while her three month old son Ali Mohammed cries during his treatment for diarrhea in the General Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdadon 3 June 2004
An Afghan boy holds a toy gun as he enjoys a ride with others on a merry-go-round to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival in Kabul on 20 September 2009
A Libyan rebel urges people to leave as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Sirte, central Libya on 29 March 2011
Injured United States Marine Cpl. Burness Britt reacts after being lifted onto a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment on 4 June 2011
A German soldier lifts weights at his combat outpost in Char Darah, outside Kunduz on 17 September 2011
Hundreds of Afghans wait to see the holy flag at the Kart-e Sakhi mosque in Kabul on 21 March 2013
An Afghan woman waits in a changing room to try out a new Burqa, in a shop at in the old city of Kabul on 11 April 2013
An Afghan National Police officer mans a checkpoint in the outskirts of Maidan Shahr, Wardak province on 15 May 2013
Pakistani bank notes covered in blood are displayed on the body of a dead suicide bomber after police found them in his pocket after an attack on the former Afghan intelligence headquarters, in the center of Kandahar on 12 March 2014
A giant election poster of an Afghan woman showing with her ink finger that she voted and holding up a picture of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in the center of Kabul on 17 March 2014
Afghan men play cards under a huge election poster showing Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's former defense minister, shaking hands with soldiers in Kabul on 17 March 2014
An Afghan special forces soldier (L) is kissed by an Afghan man after the commandos took over control of an election office after the Taliban launched an assault with a suicide bomber detonating his vehicle outside an election office in Kabul on 25 March 2014
Afghan President Hamid Karzai hangs on a wall in the main room of the district municipality in eastern Kabul on 29 March 2014
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (R) is displayed next to Afghanistan's late King Amanullah Khan on the parade ground of the Ministry of Defense in Kabul on 29 March 2014
An Afghan carpet seller holds up a framed carpet depicting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his store in Kabul on 30 March 2014
An Afghan soldier (L) and a police man peek through a window as they queue with others to get their registration card on the last day of voter registration for the upcoming presidential elections outside a school in Kabul on 1 April 2014
Cyrus Thatcher was killed on 2 June 2009. This is the letter he wrote to be delivered to his family if he died:
Hello its me, this is gonna be hard for you to read but I write this knowing every time you thinks shits got to much for you to handle (so don't cry on it MUM!!) you can read this and hopefully it will help you all get through.
For a start SHIT I got hit!! Now Iv got that out the way I can say the things Iv hopefully made clear, or if I havent this should clear it all up for me. My hole life you'v all been there for me through thick and thin bit like a wedding through good and bad. Without you I believe I wouldn't have made it as far as I have. I died doing what I was born to do I was happy and felt great about myself although the army was sadly the ending of me it was also the making of me so please don't feel any hate toward it. One thing I no I never made clear to you all was I make jokes about my life starting in the Army. That's wrong VERY wrong my life began a LONG time before that (Obviously) but you get what I mean. All the times Iv tried to neglect the family get angry when you try teach me right from wrong wot I mean to say is I only realised that you were trying to help when I joined the army and without YOUR help I would have never had the BALLS, the GRIT and the damn right determination to crack on and do it. If I could have a wish in life it would to be able to say Iv gone and done things many would never try to do. And going to Afghan has fulfilled my dream ie my goal. Yes I am young wich as a parent must brake you heart but you must all somehow find the strength that I found to do something no matter how big the challenge. As Im writing this letter I can see you all crying and mornin my death but if I could have one wish in an "after life" it would be to stop your crying and continueing your dreams (as I did) because if I were watching only that would brake my heart. So dry your tears and put on a brave face for the rest of your friends and family who need you.
I want each and everyone of you to forfill a dream and at the end of it look at what you have done (completed) and feel the accomplishment and achievement I did only then will you understand how I felt when I passed away.
[To his brothers:] You are both amazing men and will continue to be throughout your lives you both deserve to be happy and fofill all of your dreams.
Dad – my idol, my friend, my best friend, my teacher, my coach, everything I ever succeeded in my life I owe to you and maybe a little bit of me! You are a great man and the perfect role model and the past two years of being in the army I noticed that and me and you have been on the best level we have ever been. I thank you for nothing because I no all you have given to me is not there to be thanked for its there because you did it cause you love me and that is my most proudest thing I could ever say.
Mum, where do I start with you!! For a start your perfect, your smell, your hugs, the way your life was dedicated to us boys and especially the way you cared each and every step us boys took. I love you, you were the reason I made it as far as I did you were the reason I was loved more than any child I no and that made me feel special.
Your all such great individuals and I hope somehow this letter will help you get through this shit time!! Just remember do NOT mourn my death as hard as this will seem, celebrate a great life that has had its ups and downs. I love you all more than you would ever no and in your own individual ways helped me get through it all. I wish you all the best with your dreams.
Remember chin up head down. With love Cyrus xxxx