Mother of Sheffield military hero speaks of her loss on anniversary of end of Afghanistan conflict

Corporal Liam Riley who was killed by a roadside bomb. ''
Corporal Liam Riley who was killed by a roadside bomb. ''
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The mum of a Sheffield soldier has spoken of the heartbreaking moment she was told her son had been killed in Afghanistan.

Cheryl Routledge always felt her son Liam Riley would not return from war and instinctively knew he was dead when two men arrived at her Killamarsh home in February 2010.

Cheryl and Olivia Routledge

Cheryl and Olivia Routledge

Corporal Riley was 21 years old when he died.

Liam, of the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, was killed stepping on a roadside bomb as he bravely tried to save Lance Corporal Graham Shaw, 27, who had stepped on a similar device just moments before.

He had served with Prince Harry when they trained together in Canada and the royal paid tribute to him following his death.

Cheryl, 51, speaking on the first anniversary of British combat ending in Afghanistan, said she had just returned from food shopping when she was approached by two men in suits wearing Yorkshire regimental ties.

Corporal Liam Riley served with Prince Harry at a military training unit in Canada in 2007.

Corporal Liam Riley served with Prince Harry at a military training unit in Canada in 2007.

She said: “I was unpacking the bags and heard a knock at the door, I turned around and saw two men standing in the hallway.

“My whole being screamed ‘No! no! no! no! Not my boy’.

“I wanted to be told it was a mistake, or that Liam had just been injured, but I instinctively knew he was dead.

“The breathtaking pain of those initial seconds when your brain is struggling to comprehend your worst fear is indescribable.

“When Liam went to war I always felt that he wouldn’t come back. I know it sounds silly but as soon as he set off for Afghanistan I felt like I wouldn’t see him again.

“I still miss so much about him, Friday teatimes I still listen for his car pulling up, music blaring and hearing his kitbag being thrown on the kitchen floor full of dirty washing.

“Five years have passed and I still can’t go shopping on a Monday, I don’t think I will ever be able to.

“It was such a blow for the family, my mum collapsed when we told her the news and we had to call an ambulance.”

Cheryl said it was devastating having to tell Liam’s sister, Olivia, who was just five, and close to her brother.

She added: “It was heartbreaking telling Olivia. Where do you begin trying to explain to a five year old what had happened?

“She and Liam were so close and telling her that she’ll never see her brother again is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

Olivia, now 12, said: “I used to love jumping in the car with Liam and just driving off to the seaside for the day. We had so much fun together and it is still so difficult knowing we never will again.

“I’ve been going to SSAFA support groups to meet other people who have been through the same thing as me and talking about our experiences has helped a lot. I’m so proud of Liam and I will always miss him.”

To mark the one year anniversary of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Armed Forces charity SSAFA has launched its Left Behind campaign to draw attention to the plight of grieving families.

There were 454 British forces personnel or MoD civilians killed during the 13-year conflict.

SSAFA statistics reveal it takes an average of four years for a family member to come forward and seek bereavement support. They often take considerably longer to come to terms with their loss.

Liz Price, director of client services at SSAFA, said: “It is a year since Britain withdrew combat troops from Afghanistan, but for the families whose loved ones didn’t return from Afghanistan, the battle still goes on.

“The circumstances surrounding military deaths are often hugely complex. The families experience an all-embracing level of support from the Armed Forces in the immediate aftermath of the death but that can act as a double edged sword. It can create a suspension of disbelief which often sees the grieving process put on hold.”

“Another reason the families we support can struggle to gain closure is because they may be unaware of exactly where and how their loved one died.”

n To help SSAFA to continue to support the families text LEFT44 £3 to 70070.