Death of a Soldier: A Mother’s Story by Margaret Evison.
Reviewed by Kenneth Wolfe
The number of fatalities in the Afghanistan conflict is now well above four hundred; more mothers will be lamenting, and asking why their sons chose to join the army knowing that these days, the fanatical terrorist is the enemy; and knowing that it’s all happening in a hostile desert terrain, access to which both for people and equipment is forbidding.
Margaret Evison writes precisely how her son Mark – Lieutenant in the Welsh Guards – came to join up, how he trained and finally found himself leading a platoon in Helmand. In May 2009 he was shot in the shoulder – and it was serious: blood was being lost at a rate. Where was the helicopter they asked? Delay and more delay. Mark was eventually dragged back from the danger point and taken to a plane and brought unconscious to Selly Oak. He never awoke and died with his mother at his bedside.
‘A Mother’s Story’ is a unique insight into the facts and into the mind of a highly analytical mother able to describe the aftermath of her son’s loss: the compassionate care given MoD personnel and the abject sadness. But more: her energetic endeavour to make sure that Mark did not die in vain. Margaret speaks for all four hundred and fifty or so mothers who come to mind every time the television pictures show a young chap in uniform with the words ‘his family has been informed’ - just another statistic or that lively chap from around the corner?
Mark had kept a diary that makes shocking reading not the least for its minute-by-minute account of being under fire in charge of a bunch of loyal comrades-in-arms as anxious as he to win this skirmish against the fanatics. He lost. Margaret wanted to know why and how; the precise details were not easy in those ghastly moments of panic and fear. They were short of batteries, the radios didn’t work; the heat, the flies, the sand and only one ‘medics’ pack. ‘We’re walking on a tightrope’ he wrote and will fall ‘unless drastic measures are undertaken.’ There was no helicopter to get him to desperately needed medical support. This story tells us how his mother trod a narrow path between irritation with officialdom and admiration for those on the ground. But above all it’s a story of terrible loss.
We have never been there among Afghans one hopes are friends; never taking every step for fear of a roadway bomb - even inside the compound with caution and often fear that a sniper or a rocket might at any moment come your way. Mark had seen his chum die and knew all about it. Margaret too now knows all about it. This is a sort of book-length obituary – about the talented boy, the handsome man and about a clash of cultures from which he suffered – as have his mother, father and sister. There’s no other book of its kind; Margaret narrates her journey into loss for all those other four hundred and more mothers who - months later - receive a large parcel from the MoD on their doorsteps: ‘your son’s effects’ – and there will be more. This book brings it all home.
Mark lived in Court Lane and is remembered on the seat in Dulwich Village around the tree outside Harold George.
Death of a Soldier is published by Biteback Publishers 2012