Friday, April 10, 2009

Afghan mission for 'Heroes' son - BBC

Help for Heroes must be one of the most successful British charities of recent years.

Since it was set up it has raised, on average, £1m a month - and more than £19m so far - for wounded servicemen and women.

The couple behind the charity, Bryn and Emma Parry, founded it after meeting some injured soldiers, and feeling that more should be done to provide facilities for them.

What started off as one fund-raising bike ride has snowballed into something far beyond their expectations.

But now their concern for the military becomes very personal.

The Parrys are sending their son into the firing line. Tom, a 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant in the Rifles, flew out to Afghanistan on Thursday.

"I'm really dreading it," said Emma. "I thought I was quite prepared, but actually I don't think I am at all".

Emma Parry knows what it's like to wait for news of someone in the forces. Her husband, Bryn, was an officer in the Royal Greenjackets - now part of the Rifles - and was serving while they were engaged.

Even so, this time, she says, is different.

"I never thought I'd have to go through the same thing again. Lots of mothers have said it's a very different feeling".

Servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan often say they feel that those waiting at home almost have a harder time emotionally than they do themselves. Emma Parry wouldn't disagree with that.

"I think that's incredibly true. There must be thousands of mums out there who are worrying."

But at least it's relatively easy to keep in touch. Emma points out that the military have a system called "e-blueys" - e-mails which are delivered as letters to the forward operating bases.

There's also the hope of a 20-minute telephone call each week.

"I think it'll be easier when he's out there and we can send e-blueys and food parcels and feel I'm doing my bit," Emma said.

"I've e-mailed all my friends and family and said: 'You must get e-mailing to Tom, send him some food parcels and stuff like that'".

Charity challenges

And she has a further aim which, she hopes, will work for her and which could work for others.

Sitting amid the bustle of the Help for Heroes offices in Tidworth in Wiltshire - itself an Army town - she says she's "looking forward to being distracted" by the work of the charity.

"I have a very fulfilling job here at Help for Heroes and everyone is supporting Bryn, myself and the family while Tom is deployed. I'm lucky that we've got the charity to focus on".

She feels other mothers or partners could also get some relief from worry by doing work for the charity - as many already have.

"Perhaps we can persuade them to go and do some challenge and raise some money for us, and do some great stuff for their son or daughter as well.

"Anyone who's gone through this will back me up, I think - it's better to be busy and focus on the good things we're doing and show support and awareness for our troops out there.

"It can be literally anything. We're finding people are getting back to baking cakes or washing cars or selling wristbands. It doesn't really matter. It's just this feeling of participation".

Emma clearly believes in practising what she preaches. She was sitting in what she described as her "sweaty Lycra" having cycled to the offices from her home, as part of her preparation for a sponsored bike ride in May.

Another of their set-piece events is a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in October, and Emma has this promise: "I will be celebrating my 50th birthday on top of the mountain".

"Training to get fit is a good thing" she says, and she claims it will "definitely help" to take her mind off worrying about her son in Afghanistan.

At least, she hopes it will.

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