A dad has given a vivid snapshot of the traumatic events that followed his serviceman son’s death, to raise awareness of the lack of support for grief-stricken parents.
Bill Stewardson, of Broomhill, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when he received a telephone call to say his son, Kingsman Alex Green, had been killed in Iraq at the age of 21.
But the devastated dad was then dealt a series of further blows when he was allowed just a single day off work, so he could attend the funeral of his son, and experienced a huge lack of support in the dark days that followed.
The 54-year-old threw himself into a campaign to give bereaved parents of servicemen killed in action a legal right to compassionate leave. It was discussed in Parliament but disappointingly brought about no change.
To reflect his painful experiences, Bill has now recorded his disturbing accounts in words, in a book entitled Fear of a Blank Mind.
“The book is not a rant about my son going to war and getting killed,” said Bill. “I know that when someone signs on the dotted line they take that risk. But it aims to make people aware that not enough is being done to support the people left behind.
“Since we don’t get the clips of people throwing roses at hearses in Wootton Bassett people forget, but the problem hasn’t gone away and I’m sure in Yorkshire we will have more casualties.
“This is where the title of the book comes in - I had a blank mind up until it was my son, and then it hit home.
“People are unaware of what goes on when someone loses a relative in the forces, people think you’re looked after, but it is not the case. I wanted to go back to day one and give an honest account of what does happen.”
Within his book, which is described as ‘a warts and all offering’, Bill touches on his own struggles and the poor treatment he experienced following Alex’s death while discussing topical subjects, such as the reasons young people are currently signing up to join the Army.
“Nothing has changed,” said Bill. “A parent in this position should be given time to grieve and get help without worrying about pay or if they will be sacked for not attending work. But there is still no minimum leave for grieving parents. When you ring your GP you’re not treated any differently to someone wanting an appointment for banging their knee, and when you’re really on the edge and think, ‘Why are they dead?’ and that maybe you should join them, you reach for the phone to be told you can have an appointment with a counsellor in seven weeks.
“Remembrance Day is coming and everyone will rush out to buy poppies and will stand still for two minutes and think it is enough - but it’s not.”
Bill’s son Alex, from 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was fatally shot when escorting a convoy in Basra in January 2007.
n Fear of a Blank Mind is available at www.amazon.co.uk