Hero's widow: 'He never failed. Everything had to be the best'

Christina Schmid talks to Terri Judd about her husband – the man and the soldier
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid loved to stand in the garden during thunderstorms, savouring one of his mint-tipped, liquorice-paper cigarettes as the lightning crackled above him.

Yesterday, his wife Christina received the 30-year-old soldier's George Cross citation. She will receive the medal at a royal investiture at a later date.

For the last six months Mrs Schmid has battled the intense grief of losing her soul mate. Mirroring the terminology of the bomb disposal experts, she says that she now faces her own lonely walk. But she still roars with laughter when she speaks of his madcap ways.

Oz, as his friends called him, was a joker but had a stern sense of integrity and duty. He played rugby and the flute at school. Although a perfectionist at work, he was desperately untidy at home. He was a party animal as a young man but aged 24 he enthusiastically took on the responsibility of raising a baby stepson. He prided himself on the quality of his work gear, yet always had rips and cigarette burns in his everyday casual clothes.

Photographs in Christina Schmid's living room show a warrior in uniform. Yet in her favourite picture, her husband lies on his stomach in the garden with an empty glass of wine after a long lunch. Laird, the son he brought up as his own from a baby, is sprawled on his back staring at the sky, man and boy lost in quiet contemplation.

Devoted to his job, he nevertheless talked often of the day he could escape to a quiet life in Cornwall.

"He was undentable, consistent, fiercely loyal, protective, a strong character," his 34-year-old widow said. "He had real integrity, not in an old-school army way but in a fresh, young, positive, passionate way."

The son of a German mother, Barbara, and Swedish father, Dan, he developed a strong work ethic in his youth – while still at school helping out his parents in the Cornish hotel they ran. He was an all-rounder, bright, sporty and musical, ending up as head chorister at Truro Cathedral, where his funeral was held.

"He has always been a grafter," said Mrs Schmid. "He never failed. Everything had to be hard, the best."

Initially working with the Royal Marines, he served much of his career with the Commando Logistic Regiment before transferring to 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps. Early last year he passed a course which had the highest failure rate in the Army to qualify as a High Threat Operator – placing him at the pinnacle of his profession.

As he prepared for Afghanistan, he was candid with his wife about the dangers ahead, knowing the odds were stacked against him and his fellow bomb disposal experts because of the number of improvised explosive devices they had to deal with now. Despite a cancer scare that offered him an alternative, he refused to duck out of the tour.

It would prove as unrelenting as he had expected. In one 24-hour period in Helmand he defused 31 bombs.

Within days of arriving, he wrote home about how another bomb disposal team had suffered multiple injuries, including a double amputation. "Staying alive is like a lottery. Patrolling the Afghan badlands is playing Russian roulette with your feet."

S/Sgt Schmid was the third of four experts from his bomb disposal regiment to die in just 16 months in Helmand.

He helped to carry the coffin of Warrant Officer Class 2 Gaz O'Donnell in September 2008. Ten months later his friend, Captain Dan Shepherd, was killed. To his wife he wrote from Helmand: "Why did Dan go and I didn't? I had two identical jobs on the same day and I have just gone past the crater where Dan died."

While colleagues remember him as a man who was endlessly cheerful in the face of adversity, his wife heard the toll the tour was taking from exhausted phone calls home. On 30 October 2009 he rang, having had just a few hours' sleep in four days, and begged her almost deliriously to come and get him in Afghanistan. She reminded him that he had just one day left on the ground before returning on leave where his "mad family" would be waiting to collect him at the airport. As always, she told him, they would play their usual game and pretend to refuse to stop the car for him. He would be forced, like an escaping robber, to jump into the passenger seat of the moving vehicle as a laughing Laird pulled him through the door and the family bull terrier Bo barked madly in the back.

Oz Schmid died the following day.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Thomson, commanding officer of 2 Rifles, with whom S/Sgt Schmid had worked, wrote to Mrs Schmid: "Rarely have I seen such a coincide [sic] of professional brilliance, attractiveness of character and physical ebullience."