‘Our children will never meet their uncle Aaron and it breaks my heart’
THE Soldiers’ Charity is set to celebrate its 75th birthday next year with a special D-Day 75 concert in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. This special event on June 1, 2019, is being staged to commemorate the Army’s role in Operation Overlord.
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during the Second World War.
The operation was launched on June 6, 1944, with the Normandy landing on June 1.
The Soldiers’ Charity, formerly the Army Benevolent Fund, raises around £8m nationally and shares it between soldiers, veterans and Army families as well as smaller charities that support the wider Army family.
Among those who have benefited in Northern Ireland in the past year was an Army widow whose kitchen roof was in danger of collapse. The charity was able to give her a grant to facilitate repairs and allow her to con-
It was Remembrance Sunday eight years ago when a very close-knit Co Londonderry family got a knock on the door from Army officials delivering news that would shatter their lives. Royal Irish Regiment soldier Aaron McCormick (22) had been helping to clear an area of improvised explosive devices while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was killed in an explosion on November 14, 2010.
His father Lesley (58) and late mother Margaret were on holiday in Tunisia and it was his youngest sister Callie (29) who was home alone in Macosquin when the news was delivered.
Older sister Tammy arrived at the family home a short time later and what followed were frantic hours of trying to reach her parents in Tunisia with the devastating news. The heartbroken women also had to tell older brother Michael (35).
Even now, it is emotional for Tammy to recall that day. Speaking for the first time about the shattering loss of her popular, intelligent and fun-loving younger brother, Tammy says her family still struggles to accept he will never be coming home.
She says: “There really are no words to describe it. There were four of us and now there are only three and we feel robbed. It really is a nightmare.
“Callie and Aaron were very close in age and they grew up together. She lost her best friend as well as her brother. And I have three children now who will never get to meet their uncle Aaron and that breaks my heart.
“Aaron was close to Callie’s oldest daughter Tamara and took her shopping and spoiled her. Even though she was only three when he died, she still has memories of her uncle Aaron. Callie now has three other children who also didn’t get to meet Aaron.” tinue to cook in a safer and healthier environment. And an elderly veteran with mobility problems who was badly affected when his wife suffered a stroke was grateful that The Soldiers’ Charity acted quickly and gave him a grant towards an electric wheelchair.
Younger veterans also benefited from grants, as did serving soldiers.
One veteran whose relationship had broken down had managed to find very basic alternative accommodation, but was unable to afford any new furnishings. The charity
The fact that Aaron died on Remembrance Sunday when millions were gathering at services across the country to pay tribute to servicemen and women for their sacrifices, made his death even more poignant in the public’s eye.
For the family there was more sorrow when, five years after Aaron’s death, his mum Margaret passed away from breast cancer aged just 52.
Margaret had thrown herself into supporting local soldiers’ charities and also campaigned hard to get her son’s name on the war memorial in their home town of Coleraine.
It is there that the family now gather every Remembrance Day to lay wreaths in Aaron’s memory.
Tammy believes her mum’s way of coping was to devote herself to helping other soldiers and their families, something which assisted by providing bedding and white goods.
Two local soldiers, both in the process of leaving the Army, were unable to afford to retrain for a new career. A grant was given to get one of the soldiers through a training regime while the second soldier was helped with the cost of buying tools to allow him to set up his own business.
To support the good work of the charity or for more information go to www.soldierscharity.org she too now takes some comfort from doing herself, by supporting The Soldiers’ Charity annual street collection in her local town.
Tammy (33), who works parttime as a support worker for adults with special needs, is mum to Lacey (6) Cami (4) and one-year-old Emmy. “Mum never got over losing Aaron. She never came to terms with it,” she says.
“She became really involved in charity, filling shoeboxes to send out to other soldiers and collecting for the soldiers’ charities. All of her focus seemed to be on helping other soldiers, it was her way of coping.
“I help The Soldiers’ Charity by carrying their buckets during their collections in Coleraine and Ballymoney every year.
“It helps me to think that I am giving something back to other soldiers and their families at their time of need. That was us eight years ago and the help and support we got was amazing. I just want to be able to do something to ensure that support continues for other families.”
Aaron’s late mum and his dad had paid heartfelt tributes to their “perfect son”.
Tammy, too, has only fond memories of her younger brother, who she says had wanted to be a soldier ever since he was a small child.
He was just 18 when he joined the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment and was on his second tour of Afghanistan when he was killed in the Helmand region.
The MoD paid an especially moving tribute to Aaron after his death. In it he was described as “a quality soldier” who was “always ready with a smile”.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir MBE, the regiment’s commanding officer, said he was “the epit-
Quality soldier: Aaron McCormickand (right) Aaron (second right) in a family snapshot with parents Lesley and Margaret, brother Michael and sisters Tammyand Callie. Inset below: Aaron and Callie as children
Heroes all: American troops on way to the Normandy beaches for D-Day landings in 1944