By Paul Thornton
Linda Wight, 59, welcomed home son Chris after the 28-year-old came back with B Company 1 Scots as part of the 3 Rifles Battle Group which has just endured the bloodiest losses since the start of the campaign.
Chris returned just before the last of the battle group arrived home last Wednesday, with the force suffering 30 losses during their six month tour.
It was the SIXTH time Linda has welcomed a son home, with Chris also completing two earlier tours of Iraq and older brother Neil having come back from three visits to the Gulf.
But –with uncertainty hanging over where Catterick based Corporal Neil, 33, will be posted next – Linda insists that it never becomes any easier to say goodbye to her boys.
Linda said: “A mother doesn’t see strapping soldiers walking away, you see your two boys like going to school for the first time.
“I am a bit of an old hand at waving goodbye to them but believe you me it does not get any easier.
“Over the months you go to bed and they are the last thing on your mind and when you wake in the morning you think ‘oh God, please let them be safe again’.
“And I was one of the fortunate ones because they have lost friends and the loss is 30 in the battle group.
“But when you hear it you wait for the phone and you think ‘please God no, don’t let it be mine’.
“But then it comes on the telly or you get a message from the barracks to let you know that the families have been informed and you think ‘I’m sitting here praying it is not mine, but it is another mother’.
“I remember one Christmas and the army put on a video link-up so that we could see Chris and he could see us and I just wanted to pull him right through the screen into the room with us.
“But obviously he only had so much time to speak and when he had to turn his back on me I found that very hard.”
She said: “I heard from the mother of another soldier that they were out of Afghanistan on my birthday, it was the best present I could ever have.
“My phone went and it was well after midnight a day later, I couldn’t sleep yet again, and I got a text. I thought who the hang is texting me and it came up Chris Wight and all the message said was ‘hi mum I’m absolutely grand, on my way to Cyprus’.”
Chris’ return journey was hit by the volcanic ash chaos which gripped Europe last month and Linda had to wait until April 18 to see her son home safe.
But she said:”It was fabulous to see him again. Chris was with me and Kenny the night he got back before going to his sisters. He had a long trip home because of the disruption with flights but he looks great with a lovely sun tan and was in good spirits.
“Unfortunately Neil couldn’t make it up to see Chris because of the delays in the flights.
“Chris told me the time went really quick over there, well it didn’t back here but he is back now and has a couple of days off.
“I’m just so proud and happy to have him home.”
“It was lovely to see him, very, very emotional. They tend to keep a stiff upper lip but I knew he was looking forward to seeing us.”
Experience tells Linda she will be saved the horrific details of the bloody tour, but insists her sons seem to recover quickly.
She said: “He will be able to speak to Neil about the detail. Chris will tell me nothing, he might tell me about the rotten food.
“But he won’t tell me anything that has happened out in Afghanistan and I have learned over the years that you cannot push these boys.
“Neil will know what he has been through and they have been on tour twice before.
“What I don’t know can’t do me any harm.”
Linda will now be among thousands of proud parents, wives, girlfriends, husbands and children who will join the public to watch members of the battle group parade in Edinburgh next month.
A civic reception has been organised for the heroes with Princess Alexandra set to meet them following a march down the Royal Mile.
Gran of five Linda said: “You feel like all the crowds are there for your boy and when they are cheering it is wonderful. “
And the bereaved families of the fallen troops will also be there, with several businesses stepping in to give them the VIP treatment during the difficult weekend on May 8.
Sainsbury’s, Lothian Busses and a luxury apartment group are laying on transport, accommodation and hampers for the families after a charity aimed at helping service people and their families managed to drum up support.
Bobby Wright set up the Mark Wright Project in memory of his son who was killed in Helmand Province on September 6, 2006.
He said the charity had worked to help give the families of other soldiers killed in action a little relief during their difficult times.
Bobby, 64, said: “The 3 Rifles welfare team were snowed under, there are 30 of them who have been killed.
“We were only glad to help in anyway we could and were dropping letters asking people and businesses for help and some companies have been very generous, we were very impressed.
“What we are trying to arrange doesn’t come cheap but these companies have really come up with the goods.”
And Bobby, who runs the Dalkeith based organisation with wife Jem, urged the people of Edinburgh and Scotland to support the homecoming heroes on May 8.
He said: “The battle group have lost that many laddies, they have given their lives and surely the public could give a couple hours at the parade to show their appreciation and supports.”
Bobby and Jem have managed to convince firms to stump-up around £10,000 worth of goods and services for the families of the fallen soldiers as part of their Welcome Home Heroes Day.
Serviced Apartments International Limited (SAIL) have provided 28 serviced apartments for two nights for the families, while Sainsbury’s are donating a hamper for each.
Lothian Busses have promised to lay on an 80-seater coach to transport the group.
Matt Hensen, a director at SAIL said: “The sad situation was explained to us, and we were asked if we could donate just two apartments for the upcoming ‘Welcome Home Heroes Day’.
“We are very fortunate to work with some wonderful serviced apartment providers, and are delighted to have arranged 28 serviced apartments for this weekend.
“Having an apartment means each bereaved family can spend quality time together over this tough weekend, enjoying the space, comfort and independence of a serviced apartment.
“At the end of the day, these families have been through hell and back and we feel very privileged to be able to treat them for the weekend.”
A Lothian Buses spokesman added: “Following our involvement with the ‘Treat Our Troops’ campaign before Christmas, we remain fully committed to playing our part in assisting the troops from 3 Rifles regiment. As part of this commitment, we’re providing transport to Redford barracks for families to meet up with their loved ones on their return from Afghanistan on May 8.”
Angela Allen, manager of Sainsbury’s Cameron Toll store, Edinburgh, added: “We want to give the regiment a great welcome home and to let them know how much their bravery and commitment mean to the people of our country. Sainsbury’s colleagues from all over Scotland have family members, friends and neighbours who are serving or have served in Afghanistan so this is an event that is very close to all our hearts.”
Linda said she was impressed by the work of the Mark Wright Project and hoped the families of those who did not return are able to take some comfort from it.
She added: “I don’t know how they feel, it is all too soon and it is too raw for them but my heart goes out to them.
“I don’t know what I would do, I suppose you would pick yourself up. I wouldn’t be bitter because they chose to do this.
“We have to support them and back them all the way, but it must be awful. It must be absolutely terrible.”
Now Linda faces an anxious wait to see what happens with her sons next, although she insists she is trying not to think about that at the moment.
She added that if and when they do again go away, she prefers them to be together.
Linda, from Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, said: “I think it was easier because they were together. I knew that one would look after the other.
“I don’t think they will be going far away too soon. There isn’t any point in worrying about, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
“It is going to happen anyway, so I just enjoy having them while I do.”