‘Our chil­dren will never meet their un­cle Aaron and it breaks my heart’

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

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

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