War widows join forces to take on army bureaucracy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A new generation of young women widowed by the war in Iraq will join those who lost their husbands in earlier conflicts at the traditional Saturday dedication ceremony at the Cenotaph in London.

A new generation of young women widowed by the war in Iraq will join those who lost their husbands in earlier conflicts at the traditional Saturday dedication ceremony at the Cenotaph in London.

They will represent a young war widows' group, the Army Widows' Association, established to help the growing number of British women being confronted with the consequences of death in a war zone - including dealing with bereaved children and the trauma that comes with watching the conflict on television. This new group aims to help widows through the post-death investigations conducted by PS4, the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Casualty Cell, and Boards of Inquiry.

One of the founders is Samantha Roberts, the widow of the tank commander Steven Roberts, 33, who was the first British soldier to be killed in the conflict. Sgt Roberts' death in March 2003 precipitated a long struggle with the MoD for Mrs Roberts, who knew her husband had been ordered to give up his flak jacket but found the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, unwilling to admit it.

She is still mourning her husband. Pictures of Sgt Roberts dominate her home in Shipley, West Yorkshire.

Mrs Roberts had to endure a lot during the week of Sgt Roberts' funeral in Wadebridge, Cornwall, where he was from. It was there that she was handed a Jiffy bag containing many of his personal possessions, including his wedding ring, army flashes and taped messages he had recorded for her the evening before his death.

It took her two days to summon the courage to play the tapes, but it was these tapes that revealed the equipment inadequacies that had caused her husband's death. This evidence was later rejected by the Defence Secretary, plunging her into a struggle for information in which she says Mr Hoon left her feeling "like a silly, badgering woman".

Mrs Roberts' experiences are not unique. Lianne Seymour, the widow of the Royal Marine Ian Seymour, was still waiting for information about her husband's death in Iraq a year after the helicopter crash that killed him. She wrote to Tony Blair in search of answers. "I have to justify to my four-year-old why Ian was there in the first place," said Mrs Seymour.

When Mrs Roberts met five other young widows at a Army Widows' Association meeting in London, she discovered the problems she was experiencing were common. "There had been so many cock-ups, even among the five. There was also a real sense when Steve died that there was nobody else in my position. There's a war going on - it's on TV and in the newspapers, but you are totally and utterly alone," she said.

The association, for widows of men who have died in active service since the Falklands conflict, aims to prevent other women facing the same bureaucratic struggle for information. It also helps with issues such as how to deal with the return of remains, bereavement counselling and pensions. The War Widows' Association continues to operate alongside this new group.

Comments