Unsung heroines: They”re the military wives you HAVEN”T seen on TV – but their awesome devotion, caring for husbands horribly wounded in war, is the untold story behind the No. 1 hit
Courage: Laura Gottelier and Cassidy Little, who lost his leg in an IED blast
was the year she became a wife, a mother and then a carer for her severely disabled husband within the space of seven months.
Still, she is not bitter. ‘When I met Nick he was in the Army,’ she says. ‘We met through his mother, who was a colleague of mine in Sainsbury’s, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was based in Germany and I got used to seeing him on occasional weekends and having long periods apart.
‘Friends asked me how I put up with it, but if you love someone you just do. It’s part of Army life.’
Charity: Gareth Malone with his Military wifes Choir. Some of the money they raise will go towards the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen And Families Association
Their parting on October 1 before he left for his first tour of duty in Afghanistan was awful, she remembers. Unable to face a final goodbye, they eventually decided to part at a service station in Kent, as Nick made his way to the Eurostar tunnel, and on to Germany, ready for the flight to Afghanistan.
Phone calls were sporadic and always one-way. As shown in the TV programme The Choir, military wives are always waiting nervously for their phones to ring, eager to hear their loved one’s voice.
‘My phone was always fully charged, in range, and at my side, night and day,’ says Shareen. ‘I’d even take it in the bathroom just so I didn’t miss a call.’
At the back of her mind, constantly, was the unspoken fear that each conversation could be their last.
‘Each conversation is finished with, “You do realise how much I love you, don’t you”,’ she says. ‘It’s always there, that fear.’
For Shareen, the anxiety of the unexpected lasted only a month before she was plunged into a different trauma. Strangely, she says she had an inkling something would happen that day, November 1.
‘I had a feeling something wasn’t right,’ she says. ‘It was a cold, creepy sensation, but my family just told me I was being silly.’
She was at Nick’s mother’s house with Jenson when her father called, summoning her home, where two strangers in uniform greeted her.
‘I just presumed Nick was dead,’ she remembers. ‘They were listing his injuries, detailing what had happened, the circumstances leading up to the blast, but not that he was actually still alive. It was only when I started screaming that they told me.’
Nick had been on patrol when, suspecting something was wrong on the road ahead and turning to move away, he stepped on an IED.
The blast blew his lower left leg off, broke his right hand and severely damaged his right leg. Had his comrade not applied a tourniquet and a helicopter rushed him to hospital in Camp Bastion, he may have bled to death.
Days later, Nick was flown home, and initially Shareen was forced to stay in a hospital wing which couldn’t accommodate Jenson.
‘I was being forced to choose between my husband and my son, who needed me the most,’ she says.
‘When I was told a room was available in the [SSAFA] house, it was such a relief. Nick’s first words when he opened his eyes were: “Where’s Jenson” Having Jenson around, playing with him and making him laugh, has helped Nick so much.’
Strong: Shareen and Nick Franklinand baby Jenson, who have all benefited from the support of Forces charities as Nick has recuperated from his horrific battlefield injuries
The house was also recently home, for two months, to 31-year-old Laura Gottelier, from Market Deeping in Lincolnshire, after her fiance Cassidy Little was caught up in an IED blast in Helmand Province in May — an explosion that claimed the lives of two of his comrades.
The 30-year-old Royal Marine lance corporal lost his right leg below the knee among other injuries, including a broken pelvis, heel and calf bones, and a detached retina.
This was Cassidy’s second tour of duty.
Laura identifies all too clearly with the military wives in The Choir because she waited by the phone for seven months in 2006.
‘Of course I had my reservations about Cassidy going away, but you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for until you are in it,’ says Laura.
‘Initially, you have to keep yourself busy to keep those thoughts from your head and to stay cheerful when he calls. I couldn’t have him worrying about me when he had his own safety to worry about.
‘You get used to your emotions and worries taking second place. Compared to those of Cassidy, they really didn’t matter at all.’ That was particularly true of the day, May 27, when her fiance was caught in an IED explosion while on an operation in Helmand.
The blast was so powerful that two fellow Marines were killed by their injuries, while Cassidy was barely clinging on to life when he was found with a missing lower right leg and catastrophic wounding.
After Cassidy was flown home, Laura spent two months at the SSAFA house until he was well enough to be transferred to Headley Court.
‘The house and the staff there gave me a home, support and lots of tea and hugs at what was a terrifying time’
‘The house and the staff there gave me a home, support and lots of tea and hugs at what was a terrifying time,’ she remembers. ‘I made some friends for life in there.’
Six months on, Cassidy is spending longer periods away from the rehabilitation unit, at the couple’s home. He is adapting well to his prosthetic limb, and has been assured by his surgeon that he will be able to walk down the aisle when the couple, who met in typical boy-meets-girl fashion in a local pub, marry next August.
‘Of course, he also has bad days,’ says Laura. ‘He’s an incredibly positive person, but gets frustrated by what he cannot do. He’s desperate to drive again, and to ski, which we’re told he will do eventually. He’s even signed up to do a triathlon.’
As for the future, Cassidy hopes to adapt his military career as a medic to that as a doctor, and plans to take his admissions test for a degree in medicine next year.
Shareen and Nick, however, are still living day to day. They cannot look beyond Christmas, as they anxiously await his transfer to Headley Court in January.
Hearing positive stories like that of Cassidy always helps, says Shareen. ‘Nick was a keen runner, and was very upset at the thought he wouldn’t do that again, but he was visited by an amputee who reassured him he would.’
But the biggest comfort for Shareen is that Nick will not be going back to the front line.
‘He’s home, he’s safe and he’s going to see his son grow up. For that I can only be grateful,’ she says.
It is stories such as hers that serve as a poignant reminder that military wives are every bit as courageous as the men who go into battle.