Families' Stories

Ashley’s Story

Mary is sharing the story of her son Ashley, who featured in the Panorama Documentary ‘Broken by Battle’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3csvf4t in 2013, along with Dan Collins’ Mum. Mary campaigned for better mental health provision for both serving and veteran’s alike until she had her own personal breakdown. She discusses how hard inquests are for the families, as they are literally fighting for their loved ones and how the symptoms of PTSD like alcohol are used as a way of victim blaming. Mary also shines a light on how the support for families and the siblings of those who have taken their life within the military community are given no support and this is our experience 7 years later. It seems that the families who have experienced suicide are almost irrelevant once they are no longer news worthy, once the year of the their loved ones death has turned into another year, but as you can see by Mary’s story, it isn’t something that ever leaves you and morally, as a community, this isn’t right. Something has to change.

 

My beautiful son Ashley was a caring young man, life and soul of a party, will go to any length to help anyone, loved his family and siblings, but he was tender person in my eyes to tender for the army, he had 2 sets of parents and 9 siblings whom he loved so much and very close to them. .

He always wanted to join the army so at the tender age of 16 he started his basic training, he loved his training but missed, by 1 point, to become a sniper, due to a broken wrist so logistics it was.
I was so proud of Ashley, but secretly I wanted him to fail because I knew of people who were suffering with Complex PTSD and the failings of lack of care from the M.O.D and, Ashley being so tender, would struggle with horrors of war.

But Ashley passed with flying colours so that was the start of his military career, he got posted to Germany, Queen Anne barracks where it all began , life in Germany for Ashley was amazing he loved it, the party atmosphere when off duty things he told me what he got up too, well a mother didn’t want to hear , he did make me laugh.

Then on leave he told me he was being deployed to Iraq Optelic 9 ..my anxiety was through the roof straight away thinking all sorts.
We had the big family and friends farewell party, and loaded Ashley with a family album , photos of the party and all the other things you load them with, sweets, toiletries etc.
I couldn’t watch the news at all, frightened to see what was happening in Iraq , my mind did enough imagining for anyone.
Ashley rang me half way through his tour at 4am , crying, really upset saying he couldn’t protect them, that he witnessed 2 young children pass away from horrific injuries then the line went dead.

On Ashley’s return from tour, we picked him up from Brize Norton , he walked through the door not as my bubbly son, it destroyed me.
On our way home I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, he just shut me down.
3 days later we were due to go on a family holiday to Greece, Ashley drank a lot , he went missing for 24 hours with a few locals on a drinking mission, I was so worried, but my husband said he’s just fought a war he’s blowing off steam and the next day, he came back to the hotel in a delicate state .
I knew deep down then things were not right with him. When we got home, I told Ashley to talk to his CO , he just laughed saying you can’t do that mum.

Ashley was then stationed at Preston Barracks and was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, he decided after consuming a lot of alcohol he needed to come home, so at 2am he drove on the motorway at 125mph to get home, but was pulled over by the police. At 3am, I got the phone call he’d been arrested.
We attended civilian court and Ashley was fined and banned for 2 years, I asked what possessed him to do that, he said because I can’t go to Afghanistan mum , they took my licence so now I can’t drive, even over there so Ashley didn’t go.
His career turn into a bit of a mess he told them he wanted out of the Army, and went on sick leave with depression .

His father and I got in touch with his Regiment and Ashley was given an appointment at Chilwell Barracks to be assessed with his mental health , his 1st appointment he was told to man up and never went back.

In 2009, they approved Ashley to leave the Army but he needed to attend military court for the drink driving offence and was sentenced to 21 days in Colchester Military prison, then he was discharged of his duties straight from there.

I was relieved thinking I’ve got my son back, I can help him and sort him out. To start with he was doing ok , he got a job with his step dad and met his beautiful girlfriend Chloe , but soon after the drinking started again, so Ashley missed a few days here and there at work, which caused a bit of tension in the household as his step dad was the manager.
A Few weeks later, Ashley decided he needed to sort himself out and wanted to find a place for him and Chloe, we helped with this so Ashley and Chloe moved into their new home. Within just 6 weeks in their new home, we lost my father, his Grandad, who he was very close to, so Ashley’s drinking got worse, his relationship ended and Chloe moved out.

Saturday 10th March 2012
Ashley came to work to see me at 8.30 am looking a bit worse for wear, he said he wanted to find his Grandad as he had not visited the Cemetery since laying my Dad to rest.
I was worried, so I rang my husband who was at work too. and his sister to tell them, they called and text Ashley through the morning with no answer, my daughter went around to his house, but no answer at the door.
Ashley rang me at work around 1pm saying he was going to come back home and stay with us, 45 mins later I had the most awful feeling and it sent me a bit wobbly… to this day I can’t describe how I felt, so the phone calls to my husband and daughter started again ..I told them somethings not right. My daughter rang Chloe to see if she still had a key , she said yes, I’ll call round… then at 2.55 pm I got the call that Ashley had hung himself.
I raced round and they were in the process of taking my son down, the image still gives me nightmares.
I can’t remember too much after that , just a blur, then I just felt really angry and picked the phone up and called his Regiment about Ashley, to be told he’s now a civilian and not their concern.

A Few months after laying Ashley to rest, with my dad, Panorama called to say they were doing a documentary regarding Veteran’s who take their own lives, and would I give my input which I said yes to. They advised me, because I was Ashley next of kin, to apply for his med file. A few months down the line, a big envelope dropped on my door ( med files) I didn’t really understand a lot, but PTSD was mentioned a lot, suicidal was mentioned numerous times too.
If I would have known this, there would have been no way Ashley would have moved out to be on his own.
The inquest was horrific, 20 strong military personnel attended and made out my son had alcohol problems ( isn’t that a symptom ?).
A few weeks after, his Captain came to my home to see me , saying that Ashley didn’t witness the children getting blown up by the IED.. he was on check point for the casualties and had to examine the injured to see basically if they would survive or not ..the father brought the young children to Ashley wrapped in something , he had to unwrap it to find 2 dead children with limbs missing. I was fuming with him, and asked him to leave, not once has the MOD asked to see if we was ok.

So then I campaigned with 2 other mums to get the M.O D to track Veterans and to be included in statistics.
Their was no follow up of care after Ashley left.
So campaigning took over my life , lots of interviews with numerous tv stations, because I didn’t want to grieve or accept my son wasn’t here.
2 years after I hit a brick wall and had a break down. I turned to alcohol myself, because I just couldn’t cope, nor sleep.
Watching my children suffer was so hard so I went for help , CBT therapy, 16 weeks intensive and got diagnosed with PTSD myself, started sertraline and zopiclone but still didn’t feel any better.
I decided I had to stop campaigning and concentrate on me and my family. That’s when it hit me , like a ton of bricks and I went into another melt down and started drinking again, my marriage broke down , how could I help my children when I couldn’t help myself? The guilt I felt, and still feel, will not leave me.
I’m a lot better now, and my children are coping ok , we all have our good days and bad but good days out way the bad now.
I’m terrible when I can’t get hold of any of my children, I think the worse straight away , always on guard where they are concerned .
With all the headlines that Ashley’s case made with the press, and the MOD knew about it, not 1 offer of help for my children or myself.
To end this, if I’d known the extent of Ashley’s mental health I would have kicked and screamed to get help.
This is something I will live with forever.