The Mail on Sunday

of heroes ... and how they inspired me to raise £45m for Britain’s bravest

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One might expect the woman whose determinat­ion has driven this remarkable achievemen­t to be a bit fearsome. But Emma’s contributi­on to their latest fund-raising push – a batch of lemon-drizzle cakes – proves that H4H owes its success more to flap-jacks and fun-runs than flipcharts and five-year plans.

‘My mother mobilised the women of Hampshire into a colossal cake-bake,’ Emma explains, ‘and raised £6,000. We call the response the “tsunami of support”. It has been incredible. It has taken over our lives.’

Shaking her head, Emma admits: ‘I was brought up on stories of wartime heroism. My father was at Normandy and my 85-year-old mother was in the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War, transmitti­ng and receiving messages for the French Resistance.

‘When I was a girl she would take me to the Special Forces Club in London and show me pictures of these incredible women who had risked their lives as spies. I was fascinated by all of that. Then, of course, Bryn was in the Army when we met.

‘But something changed when it came to Tom going to Sandhurst. However much you love your husband, when it’s your flesh and blood, your own son or daughter, it’s a much more profound feeling. We knew pretty much from the beginning that he would be going to Afghanista­n.’

In August 2008, Emma, Bryn, Sophie and Louisa watched Tom’s passing-out parade. He was 23, a lieutenant with 2 Rifles, and would soon be in one of the most dangerous places on earth, leading a platoon of men older and more experience­d than himself. ‘I remember wonder- ing how it felt for him to know that some of the people there that day, his friends and comrades, would be wounded and some would be killed,’ says Emma.

Six months later, Tom told his parents he had made a will. He joked that it wasn’t very long because he didn’t have much. Emma doesn’t know if he wrote the letters that soldiers are encouraged to pen before going on a tour – letters for loved ones in the event of the writer’s death.

‘If he did we never spoke about it,’ she says. ‘He went to Afghanista­n in April 2009. I would send food parcels, just like I had when Bryn was in Northern Ireland. Only, when you’re sending them somewhere hot like Afghanista­n, chocolate is out and so are jelly babies, as I discovered.

‘I sent a packet and they were a sticky mess by the time they arrived. Tom likes Pringles and I put in things like high-energy drinks and sweets. They did really need them at times. Once, when they were very close to having gone through all their rations, Tom had to kill a goat to keep them going for a few days.

‘Then Tom lost a rifleman in June and other guys were wounded. It was the first time he had experience­d that first-hand.

‘From then on the tour, the whole summer, was just awful. He wasn’t due home until October.’

Emma considered stepping back from H4H that summer. Its wristbands were being worn by celebritie­s and Royalty – Prince William and Prince Harry are both supporters.

But Emma says: ‘I felt I could never get away from it. And every time I heard about someone being injured or killed, it hit hard.

‘But I decided that keeping involved and busy was better than the alternativ­e – sitting worrying.’

In July 2009, two of Tom’s close friends received devastatin­g injuries. Emma says: ‘Alex was first. He and Tom were at Exeter University together before Sandhurst. He came to this house for Tom’s 21st birthday. It happened on a weekend when five were killed in a daisy chain IED [improvised explosive device].

‘He lost a leg and most of one hand. His arm was so badly shattered that they’re having to build a cage around it because it just breaks before the bones get a chance to knit.

‘Then it was James. He was blown up by an IED. He didn’t lose a limb but almost every bone in his body was broken. He’s lost sight in one eye and is deaf in one ear. He has horrendous scarring and his left hand doesn’t work very well. Tom was nearby when that happened.’

Emma pauses. ‘It probably sounds rather strange,’ she says, ‘but when you see these young men today and the progress they’ve made, it provides a sense of optimism and hope. Tom’s even managed to be matchmaker for both of his sisters thanks to the Army.’

Sophie, who works for an events company in Brighton, is due to marry her fiance Jon this summer. He attended Sandhurst with Tom, though a knee injury prevented him from pursuing an Army career.

Louisa had met James, the IED casualty, briefly before the day last November when he, along with Tom, received his medal for his tour in Afghanista­n.

For James, four months after being blown up, just being there that day was a significan­t achievemen­t. He faces a long recovery and rehabil- itation. Emma admits that at one time she might have felt a flicker of concern to see her younger daughter embark on a romance with a man who had suffered such serious injuries. But H4H has changed all that. Instead she just smiles and says coyly that it is ‘early days’ and that Louisa and James are very happy.

Her family, says Emma, are together this Easter for the first time in years. ‘Having all three children at home is such a treat, especially as this time last year Tom was in Afghanista­n,’ she says. ‘It’s hard to take my H4H hat off for four whole days, but I just want to be Mum, back in the kitchen cooking for my family.’

Emma and Bryn are still in touch with the soldier on whose bed she sat at Selly Oak in 2007 – a young Fijian called Derek. She says: ‘He’s already the fourth-best shot-putter in the world and is going to take part in the Paralympic­s. He has running blades and has had a kickabout at Twickenham with Lawrence Dallaglio. He is confident and strong. It’s amazing. It’s humbling. For us he’s a symbol of how people can change and enhance these guys’ lives.’

Tom is just back from an exercise in Belize. ‘ He hasn’t been in a war zone lately and I’m just glad about that,’ says Emma. ‘But that’s what he signed up for and no one knows what is going to happen down the line.

‘Derek was a fit young guy like Tom and then something happened. How could I let him be forgotten?’

For more informatio­n or to donate go to www.helpforher­oes.org.uk

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