Mum of slain paratrooper presented with Elizabeth Cross


By Paul Thornton

THE MUM of a fallen Scots paratrooper spoke of her overwhelming pride at being presented with an Elizabeth Cross in his memory on Friday night.

Jem Wright, 58, told how helping comfort other soldiers through the post-traumatic stress of war has helped keep her son Mark alive in their hearts.

Hero Mark, 27, of 3 Para, was killed while trying to save the lives of his fellow soldiers on September 6, 2006, when they were trapped in an Afghan minefield.

The Dalkeith man was posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry after trying to divert a Chinook helicopter away from the site, dying in an explosion triggered by the downdraft of the massive aerial machine.

Now his memory lives on through the Mark Wright Project – set up by his mum Jem and dad Bobby – who together have become something of surrogate parents for scores of shattered squaddies struggling to adapt back to Civvy street.

The new award – first announced last year – was struck for the families of men and women who die serving their countries to recognise the loss that they too have suffered.

Although it will never replace those who have died, for many it can help the healing process begin.

And on Friday night it was Mark’s family presented with the cross at the UK Reserve Forces Association’s annual ball at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh – this year being held to raise funds for the Mark Wright Project which has been running in the soldier’s Midlothian home town.

Jem said: “It is an honour in a way that I am being presented with it but under the circumstances it is really sad.

“We want to make everyone aware of what we are doing in the project.

“I think it honours the memory of Mark.”

“It was a complete surprise to hear that we would be given it as I thought with Mark being awarded the George Cross that would be it.”

Brigadier John Thomson presented the Elizabeth Cross and said the charity was chosen because of the tragic losses in Afghanistan in the last year – as well as the remarkable work of Bobby and Jem.

Brigadier Thomson said: “Each year we try to focus on a group of smaller charities where anything we can do will make a real difference.

“In the past we have supported Riding for the Disabled and Chas as well as the Erskine Hospital and Combat Stress.

“We call them the unsung heroes – they are the people that are left behind.

“This year in particular because of the emphasis on Afghanistan and because of those who have given their lives and we were particularly keen to support the wider community.

“We have been very impressed with the work Bobby and Jem and the Mark Wirght Project are doing and that Jem is having the Elizabeth Cross presented to her at the ball is all the more reason to choose the charity.

“As parents they are recognising their son’s life by helping others and we thought that was an honourable thing and a really deserving charity to go to.”

The Mark Wright Project centre was set up in Dalkeith in November, and sees a small staff of volunteers organizing post-traumatic stress workshops and one-to-one counseling for families and soliders.

And Mark’s dad Bobby said that he was in the centre “from the crack of dawn” from Monday to Saturday simply welcoming those who want to drop-in and keeping them topped-up with tea.

64-year-old retired painter and decorator Bobby said: “The project is to help either the soldiers or the veterans and their families because Mark was a caring guy and he went in there to help the lads.

“I like to think that he still helping now.

“They are toiling to fill in forms, things like that, and this is what gets them all going, because they feel like they are going round in circles.

“We get them from the Falklands, the Gulf, there was a couple who had been in Bosnia and all these places.

“They seem to enjoy coming here and we have had people from Peterbourgh, Leeds, Aberdeen and Glasgow getting in touch to see what we are doing and expressing interest in setting up similar centres.

“We must be doing something right.”

Mum Jem added: “99 per cent of the lads join the army because they want to join – Mark wanted to join because he thought he was doing good.

“His ambition from a little boy was to go into the army and he liked it.

“When I hear of someone being killed my heart goes out to them because we know how devastating it is.”