This is Melanie Bassett recording for the War Widows Stories Project. It’s 9th May 2019, I’m here with Romana Morton. Romana, can you tell me your full name and age, please?
I’m Romana Morton and I’ve just turned 51.
Can you tell me about your current life?
My current life is basically being a mum to my 15-year-old son and occasionally I do supply teaching, but that’s not very forthcoming at the moment. So I’m just enjoying myself doing some arty things and some ‘housey’ things and some decorating-y things in Edinburgh, which is lovely.
Did you say you’ve just become an ambassador?
Yes, this last week, the RAF Benevolent Fund made me an ambassador for them, which I think is going to involve doing public speaking, but I’m not quite sure where and how. So, basically, my story was so horrific because I lost my husband and I got breast cancer and then I moved cities, and it’s just been an upward struggle. And they think that because I’ve managed to turn it around and keep my sanity and keep smiling that it might inspire other people, especially younger ladies who have just got young babies in arms and can’t see a way forward. So I think that’s the logic behind it. Hopefully, it will inspire kids and young women, and slightly older wome,n that actually there is a way out of this that you can forge yourself if you keep yourself looking forward, not constantly backwards. So that’s what I’m hoping I’m going to be doing because I can do that! [Laughs]. Other stuff, I’m not so sure. [Laughs].
Would you like to tell me about your run that you’re doing?
Yes. It occurred to me this year; because in July it will be a decade that my husband was killed, so I really thought I should mark it in some way that was a positive then sort of draw a line under it, because ten years of constantly being reminded that you are a widow is really not the best way to live your life. So my husband was 43 years old. He was serving on 43 Squadron “Tremblers” at Leuchars. He was killed at 11:43 with 943 hours on the F3, so I sort of figured that maybe 43 was a number that I should do something with. So my trainer at the gym, which I joined in October, kept nib, nib, nib, nib, “You should do an event. You should do an event. You should do an event.” So finally, to shut him up, I signed up for the Edinburgh 5K, which is the 25th/26th May. Then it occurred to me in March that I’d have to run further than 5K to be able to achieve said race, so I thought, ‘well I should do it for charity then. So I am running 43K for my late husband, but not in a ‘oner’, because I can’t do that, so I am doing it in 5K stints. So I’m doing the Edinburgh 5K, the Chariots of Fire race, which Eric Liddell did on St Andrew’s beach, which is appropriate because Leuchars overlooks the beach. Then my son and I are going to run the Royal Mile to finish on 26th June, because my son was christened at the Castle and I went to Holyrood Palace with the Queen for the War Widows’ Garden Party, so it seemed a nice, fitting way to mark the ten years, meet up with friends I’ve not seen in donkeys’ years and raise lots of money for charity.
I am doing it for Scotty‘s Little Soldiers; they’re the charity that Harry and Megan put on their wedding list because they support bereaved military kids. The lady that founded that charity, Nicky Scott, her husband was killed the day after my husband, in Afghanistan, and she realised that her kids weren’t smiling, they weren’t laughing, they weren’t being kids when their dad was killed. So she set up a charity which is fundamentally designed to make kids smile. So they get holidays, they get days out, they get a birthday present, a Christmas present, and on the anniversary of the death they get tokens to go to Pizza Hut or something like that to cheer them up and make them remember their dad – or mum, mainly dads but it can be mum – in a positive way, that actually is remembered by somebody else other than the mum or dad in the immediate family. So I am running for them and I am running for the RAF Benevolent Fund, obviously, RAF person. And I am running for breast cancer because after four years, I got breast cancer, which was really not the positive moving forward out of the hideous killed–in–action scenario that I was planning. So I thought ‘okay, I’ll pick three charities that are really close to my heart and hopefully raise lots of money for them’. So yeah, that’s what I’m attempting to do.
Brilliant. Can you tell me about your childhood and early life, where you grew up, and your family?
Okay. So I was born in Nottingham. I lived in Nottingham until I was about 5. My dad was teaching at the University there, teaching Fine Art, and we moved across to Sleaford in Lincolnshire, which ironically is 4 miles RAF Cranwell where they do the initial officer training. So we had friends in the RAF; we would occasionally go to lunch at Cranwell. Then I went to school there; I did my O-levels, A-levels and then I went to university. And I met a man from Kent so I thought ‘fantastic, I’m leaving Lincolnshire’ and then he decided he wants to join the RAF and come straight back to RAF Cranwell, ironically. So it’s just been a bit of a … It was a bit of a crazy loop. I thought I’d escaped and I came straight back.
What did you study at university?
I studied ‘Visual Communication’, which is Photography, because at the time I wanted to do fashion, but my dad told me I wasn’t good enough. He was teaching Fine Art. I didn’t want to be with all his mates in that department – not going to happen – so we agreed that Photography could be quite good. Because at that time, television was really taking off and I figured that that was a burgeoning industry; I’d get a job, I’d enjoy it, it would be fun and I’d meet lots of people. So, there was a logic to it. And it kept me being creative and doing things I was obviously good at but it was separate from what my dad knew all about. So it was logical but also great fun.
Did you have any prior military connections in your family before?
No, we didn’t have anybody in the military in this sort of generation. I’ve been doing the family tree and, ironically, one of my cousins, her whatever, great–great–great–great grandfather was Captain Hardy, so that’s hilarious. Then when I did the family tree, I could find that all the men were missing in about 1812, so they were obviously at the Battle of Waterloo but I can’t link up which regiment they were in. But no, in the recent history there is nobody that had anything to do with the military, so no.
Okay. So if we move on to your relationship, how you met your husband? Can you tell me about your first meeting?
Yes. I was at university, like I said. I used to go home at weekends to fund my degree, so I had a part-time job in Sleaford. One weekend, it snowed so heavily that the trains weren’t working so I had to stay in the city, which was: “What a shame. I can’t work. I’ve got to stay in the city with my mates.” So we had snowball fights and all the rest of it, as you do as students, went sledging down hills at midnight, as you do. Great! On the Sunday I went to church, because we were members of the Christian Union, and then as a group of like 60 of us, we all got together afterwards and had a good laugh, and I met my husband through that. I didn’t fancy him initially because he was far too skinny, far too hyper. I was like ‘oh, this guy is far too high maintenance, I can’t be doing with this’. Then we just kept talking and just eventually hit it off. So we did start going out, but yeah, I met him through church.
And he was at the same university?
He was at the same university but he was doing Mechanical Engineering. So the hilarious thing was, he’d say, “How on earth can your parents justify you doing a Mickey Mouse degree like photography?” I was like, “Okay, yes, well my dad teaches Fine Art here.” So he had to get his shovel and start to dig himself out of that great big hole quite quickly. So that was hilarious. Because my dad used to lecture at the university and the polytechnic, so my dad was quite high up. It wasn’t that he was some sort of lower lecturer, he was up there. So he was like, “Oh no, I’ve really put my foot in it.” So yeah, it was good.
So how did the relationship develop? At what point did he join the RAF?
Okay. So I met him in my first year at uni and mine was a three-year degree, he was in his second year; he had a four-year degree, so that was fine, that worked. So we graduated at the same time. He’d always wanted to join the RAF and he was sponsored by Vickers, because that was near where he lived in Kent. When he got sponsored by them, they still made tanks. So he was like, “Fantastic, military. I can do something with this. I don’t really know what. “He always wanted to fly but tanks were still pretty cool so that was okay. Then they got bought out by the part of Vickers that made filing cabinets, so he was like, “Oh no, I’m sponsored by a company that make filing cabinets. That’s really not what I want to do.” So he then asked if he could be relieved of his sponsorship in his final year, and they said, “Yes, clearly it has changed. You can do what you like now.” But they still paid him so he was quite happy.
Then he applied to London Underground as an Engineer, then to the RAF as a Pilot, and something else I think he was looking at. And at that time, because I had done photography, I thought ‘oh well, he knows all about planes, why don’t I be a photographic interpreter?’ Because on my degree you had to do all your own printing, so I was quite used to looking at print and going, “That’s a blob of dust on it; that’s not a real item, that’s a piece of string, that’s not a real item.” And of course, if you’re looking at reconnaissance photos taken in very dodgy circumstances, you’re going to get a lot of dust on the actual pictures. So I thought, ‘I can do all of that,’ but the trouble was, when we both went to Biggin Hill for our assessments, pre- whatever you call it assessments, I couldn’t tell the planes apart. It was hilarious. I kept going, “I don’t know what that is.” And even thought I really tried to cram it, I just couldn’t learn the planes. So he finished ahead of me, because he was at the start of the week and I was … We overlapped like one day, but I was at the end of the week, and after two days, I just phoned him up and said, “Come and get me.” He said, “What, you’ve failed the tests?” I said, “No, I haven’t failed any of the tests but I can’t the planes apart, as you well know. You better come and get me because I’m just leaving it. I’m not enjoying this.” He went, “Okay, fair enough.” So he came and fetched me. So I was, “dishonourably discharged” probably is the term. [Laughs].
Can you tell me about your first date as well? Where did you go?
Right, yes. The first date was really romantic. So yeah, as students, you’d go to the cinema quite a lot. It was a pound on whichever day of the week it was – Wednesday, probably. And this particular week in February, it was When the Wind Blows which is about a nuclear bomb being dropped. He said, “Do you want to go and see that?” I thought ‘that’s a really odd idea for a first date, but okay, fair enough; we’ll go and see that’. It was a great movie but I wouldn’t say it was a romantic one. But, yes, we had a good laugh. He was a nice guy, so it carried on from there, really. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?
At what point did you get married? Was it quite soon after you started seeing each other or did you have a long engagement?
He asked me to marry him when I was 24. So we graduated – how old was I when we graduated? I was 21 when I graduated; he was 23. Is that right? Possibly. Then we got married in 1992 because at that point, he’d not got the job at London Underground; the RAF had accepted him for a Navigator – much to his disgust – but it was far better than being an Engineer, because he desperately wanted to fly, and he wanted to make sure that I was happy with the lifestyle. Because he just thought ‘there is no point you marrying me if you really hate it’. So all through his training, every time he had somebody who was young, of a similar age to us, that was married, he would make sure that the wife would explain to me what the job entailed, which I thought was really sweet. So when he was at Chivenor, there wasn’t anybody married there so that didn’t happen. But when he was at Finningley, which is now Doncaster Airport, the people there were not much older than us and they spent a lot of time telling me what the RAF life involved. So when he asked me to marry him eventually, it was a case of, “Yes, I do know what it entails in every shape or form.” Because that guy was not much older than us and he’d done the Falklands. He hadn’t done a degree; he’d just come through the ranks as an officer. So yes, he asked me and we got married when I was 24. We had a six-month engagement; 24 when I got married and it was … Yes, I knew what it was going to entail, which was quite nice of him, really.
Were you living together at this point?
At which point did you move in?
No, you can’t in the RAF. [Jokes] You can’t do that, darling, that’s unacceptable! So no, we got a married quarter agreed, so he lived there for the month when we got the house, and then we got married in the May. It was a case of, “When do you want to get married?” And it was a case of, “When do you start your next training course?” and he went, “May.” So I said, “Well, May is half–term.” “When do you finish?” “October.” I said, “Ah, I know these RAF courses, they always run late. If you’ve got a definite starting date for 28th May, if we get married at the start of May, the mid-May, I know that when you finish, you’ve got a 2-week window to get married then, and that’s going to happen. If we say the end of your training, the chances are it will run a week late.”
So yes. So he had the married quarter and he was there for about a month before, which was great because at that point the mortgage rates were 10%, so who could afford a house? Nobody. As an officer you got a three–bedroomed house. Bargain. So he had the house, then we got married in May. We got married before he started his training at Leuchars, for the fast jet, which was really good. So we actually had the date set and it wasn’t going to change. So we had a four-day honeymoon in Paris, which actually was a heatwave, so that was absolutely fantastic. We came back and then I started looking for jobs, because I was working in Peterborough at the time. So Peterborough to Lincolnshire was another hour and a half commute. So we got married in the May; I had to finish the term to July and then I started looking for work in Lincolnshire because there were loads of schools but I just had to finish my commitments, so yes, it worked a treat.
Can you tell me about your wedding day?
Wedding day? Yes. Again, we were really lucky with the weather. So it was May 23rd 1992. He decided he wanted get married in uniform. I hadn’t got a problem with that; he was proud of it; I was proud of him doing the job that he did, so that was great. Me being so realistically stingy I made the bridesmaids’ dresses. So I made these gorgeous little … My friend who I had been teaching with had two little daughters; one was 3 and one was 8 or 9. Anyway, I made little dresses for them. So he got married in his blue uniform; I found some beautiful blue and white fabric for them, and because I’m so pale in my colouring, I had a full-length white dress, which didn’t make look ill or pallid, so that was really good. And we lucked in with the weather, so we had the most beautiful day. It was a week where it was dull till about 11am, and at 11am every day, the sun came out and got hotter and hotter. So on the day of the wedding I was like, “Please can this follow the same trend?” Of course, at 11:15am it was still a bit … I was like, “Oh, this is going to be bad.” My cousin had to give me away because my dad was seriously ill at the time, but he was working on the Fisheries Patrol boat so he was in uniform, so that was actually quite nice. And because he had two boys who were either side of my age, he was never going to give anybody away, so he was dead chuffed to do that. That was my mum’s side of the family, so that was actually quite nice. All on my dad’s side of the family were pretty much dead because he was older than my mum, so that worked.
So we had a nice car to take us to church; somebody was moving house in the village that day so I was late because there was a removals van in the way. Everybody in the church was going, “Well, she’s slightly late but we know she really loves him and she is going to turn up,” so that was quite hilarious. The wedding itself was beautiful. Friends of ours are very, very musical; so Nige had picked the music – he wanted me to walk into The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and leave to Zadok the Priest. He’d just said that to these mates and they said, “Yes, fine.” Because they were his friends from school. Little beknown to us that Zadok the Priest doesn’t exist on the organ, so they literally got the music and because they were such good musicians, they worked it out and they played over each other on the organ this beautiful piece of music. And one of my friends in the congregation was musical and said to us afterwards, “That was amazing, how did you manage that?” Both of us went, “How did we manage what?” We had no idea that it had never been played on the organ; it was never designed to be played on the organ.
So a little country church, beautiful little setting, really friendly, hardly any family so the church being small. It was fantastic. We had photographs in the gardens afterwards as it got hotter and hotter as the day went on. We had the reception sort of ten miles down the road in a little country pub in Lincolnshire; the location was just very pretty – everything was blue and white. Ironically, at the church, there was another wedding the same day, so I think we were either 12 o’clock or half twelve or something and there was another wedding at 3 o’clock, and the girl in question, I’d done Jury Service with. She’d wanted everything to be peach, so we shared the flowers, because of course, blue, white cream and peach look pretty nice together. So the church was all decked out with all these very pretty flower arrangements, so both of us got a good deal and the day was just lovely. Very memorable, very relaxed, very nice, very lovely. Happy memories, yes, it was good.
So did you carry on working when you moved up to … Was it Leuchars?
Coningsby. So once you moved into the quarter?
Yes, once I’d moved up to Coningsby. So I finished the term in July, had the summer holiday off, being a teacher, then I started looking for work but there weren’t any vacancies, so I just thought ‘okay, I’ll do Supply’. I’d only just qualified the year before so I’d finished my probationary year in Peterborough, so I was qualified to do it now and nobody had to check up on me. So there were lots of schools in the area that had vacancies that they couldn’t fill so I ended up doing a term’s Special Needs cover for somebody, lots of supply work. So basically, I worked the full year, near enough every day, on supply, which was not great for not knowing the kids but it kept me current and I got my pay rise because I’d worked enough that year. Then two jobs came up in the area; the first one I really wanted, the second one not so much. Typically the one I wanted came up first but I got the job so that was actually perfect. So I got the job, which was in Horncastle; that was a selective grammar school, which is very much like the school I went to when I was a kid. So, lovely.
I got a job teaching full-time Techie, and because the school was quite small, I also got to teach Art as well, so I was using both of my skills. Because my grandfather was an engineer and my dad was a fine artist, so that’s one of those weird anomalies whereby I can teach Art and Design and Design Technology. So it suited me down to the ground. They said, “Oh, you’re really unusual, you can teach both.” I went, “Yes, I can. I really can teach both.” I got on well with both heads of department and I got the job, so that was perfect. I worked there for nine years, I think. Yes, nine years before we got posted to Leuchars.
Can you tell me about the adjustment to military life? Were you living on the base? How did you get on with the other families?
Okay, yes. We had the married quarters at RAF Coningsby. We had the one right at the back, which was perfect because we’d just got a dog in the first year we were married, so lived backing onto the woods, so that was really lovely. So you tended to meet the dog–walking fraternity. I remember one guy who always walked his dog in the morning, in his flying suit, with a cup of coffee in his hand, in the days before it wasn’t really cool to have a cup, walking along. You’d see him every morning with his dog, and the dog would be doing ‘dog stuff’ and he’d be trying to drink his coffee and enjoy it.
So some people, we got on really well with, because we were the Flight Lieutenant and his wife, so we were like the lowest of the low, rank-wise. So some people were the same as us and we got on really well, like our neighbours, and some people were just: “Oh, you’re too low a rank; I’m not going to mix with you,” so that was quite hilarious. Across the street from us, we had John Nichol, who’d just come back from being a prisoner of war. I remember that vividly, because he had a number plate saying “POW” whatever. We didn’t really speak to him but would sort of wave in the morning if he was out. Who else did we have? We had lots of exchange officers. Se we had an Australian exchange officer, a Canadian exchange officer and an American exchange officer, and they were brilliant because they always had the best parties. So we’d always get invited round; and you knew when a party was due because this great big truck would come and download all these pallets of alcohol, which they could have on their ‘entertaining budget.’ So that was always great. The trouble being that Canada Day follows Independence Day, so you had a heavy weekend some years. But it was lovely. You know, when you had to go to the officers wives’ coffee mornings; they were a bit painful as I didn’t know anybody because I was working full-time so I couldn’t always do that. And some of the ‘wifey’ do’s were a little bit formal for my liking, because, again, I was the lowest of the low as I didn’t know anybody – they weren’t going to mix with me because I was the lowest rank, really. So they were a little bit awkward. Not nasty, but they were … Yeah, you felt like you were the bottom of the pile, and you had to sort of progress up. So basically, I turned up, did what I was supposed to do and kept my mouth shut – if you can believe that, listening to me now. I tried, I tried hard.
It’s that odd situation, isn’t it, where you …?
A very odd situation, yes.
You come in as a civilian and then you have to make sense of the hierarchy, which actually isn’t your own.
Exactly. But teaching is very similar; you have to be there on time, you have to do as the headmaster or your boss says. So in that respect, it was quite a similar ethos, and I haven’t got a problem with that. I can follow orders. If that’s what you want me to do, so be it. I can argue with people that I’m allowed to argue with; “Can we change this?” and sometimes you’re allowed to, but the military, you’re not. But in teaching you can say, “Actually, can we not swap that class over so that works?” But yes, some bits were a bit tricky to get used to, and certainly, the first year we were married, he had to go and do Bosnia, and then the second year we were married, which was literally straight after, he swapped squadrons, and they had to do Bosnia again. So my husband was away three months, changed squadrons, away another three months, and the bloke who’d swapped jobs with him didn’t have to go at all. So it was like, “Oh, how does that work? That really doesn’t seem fair.” So we had things like that which were just odd, and it’s just the military; “Well, he’s on that squadron, so he has to go.” “But he’s just come back.” So yeah, it’s like, “Okay, whatever.” It is the way it is.
And the postings? Did you move country or did you stay pretty much in the UK?
We tried to get exchanges abroad. We were second on the list for Seattle, which was really galling because he was clearly good enough, and we got the “no, we’re not going” the week before I had to do Ofsted at school so I was really, really grumpy that week with the inspectors in. That would have been perfect, because of course Seattle is a nice place; it was going to be … Is it Whitby Island? I’m sure it’s Whitby Island, and that’s like an artists’ colony. I was like, “Oh, I could have been there every other day doing arty, fun, nice stuff,” because you don’t work when you’re abroad, because you haven’t got the permits. So I was quite cheesed off and so was he that we didn’t get that one. He didn’t bother with Germany, I don’t know why. I don’t remember why he didn’t want to do that. He certainly didn’t want to do the Middle East because he’d done the Initial Officer Training with lots of the Arabs and he just found them … They just didn’t want to listen to him. He just said, “Why do I want to work with people who just don’t listen?” So that was a bit awkward. So we never wanted to do that. It didn’t bother me; I didn’t want to do that particularly either. I loved visiting, but visiting as a tourist is different to having to work with people. So I thought ‘if you don’t want to do it, I don’t care’. He did detachments, certainly, but didn’t have any other job offers, because navigators have less options than pilots.
Okay. So at what point did you start a family, if you wouldn’t mind talking about that part of your life?
Yes. Well, like I just said, he was hardly ever here, so that made life a bit tricky – you can’t have kids if your husband is not in the same country. We wanted to have a millennium child because we’d got married in ’92; we did lots of travelling, which we really enjoyed. My rationale being, “Well, if you’re away three times a year going somewhere nice and I’m stuck in the UK, you’ve got to take me somewhere nice for my summer holiday when I’m off for six weeks.” So we did lots of travelling, did Australia twice, Far East, America lots of times. So we did lots of travelling then thought ‘maybe we should have kids’, so that was like the millennium. That didn’t happen, so eventually, I got pregnant in 2002, which would have been perfect but we’d just been posted to Leuchars, which was the time when it was all kicking off in Iraq.
So we were in a married quarter on RAF Leuchars, which was fine, the neighbours were lovely, house was lovely, and St Andrews, of course, is beautiful. Not a problem. But you could tell it was hotting up. Not great. So when I had my first scan appointment, which was in mid-February, they were told they were going to Iraq, and of course, if you’re going to war, you don’t have a return date, which was compounded by the fact that we’d actually found a plot of land to build a house on. So when he went to war in mid-February 2003, I was left site-managing the house-build, pregnant, had to walk the dog every day, and I was working in Dunfermline, which from St Andrews is an hour and something travel every day. So I was up at six every day to walk the dog, get back to the house. And thankfully, there was a lovely girl who lived two miles down the road who also commuted every day, so I gave her petrol money and she drove me, because I could never have functioned, being pregnant and stressed without her help. So that was really, really good.
So, yes. So the boys came back about my birthday – I can’t remember the exact date – and we moved into the house on Friday 11th or something, and that was the date that we were told the boys might be coming home; they were going to be the first ones back from Iraq as they’d managed to topple Saddam Hussein. So they made the news, so we were told: “Get yourself to Leuchars; the world’s press want to see these jets land.” So my in-laws came up with my brother-in-law to help me move house. My brother-in-law, being my age, was told; “Your brother might be back today; keep the parents away from knowing this fact.” So about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, having packed the house all day, me six-months pregnant, we got the house just about done and I collected the keys for the house. Then I got a phone call to say, “Yes, they’re definitely on the way.” They’d left wherever they’d refuelled, Cyprus I think, and they’d be back by 5 o’clock. We had to go to Leuchars to meet them, so we were set up in the control tower and round the edge of the pan for the airfield was every single news agency in the world, waiting for these boys to land. It was literally – I’ve never seen so many press in my life. So we were in the control tower; we watched them fly in. Some of the girls had been very proactive and had got champagne, but me being pregnant, I hadn’t thought of that. I was like, “Oh blast, I forgot about that.” So the boys all landed. One lady, her husband was delayed so she took a bottle of champagne to another single guy, because we obviously knew each other. She was like, “Have some of this champagne.” He was like, “Thank you very much. That’s fab.” So they all landed; the guy who was late turned up safely, like half an hour later. And the world’s press were like, “Can we get to them yet?” so they were allowed to see us. It was obviously like 400 people then packed in to meet us. It was, “Do you want to give an interview to CNN?” My husband was like, “No, I’ve just got back from Iraq. I want to see my wife. Get lost.” [Laughs]. But some people did.
I was pregnant and I thought I was going to be a target, but one guy, his wife had just had a baby when he was away, so he was front page news. We made the newspapers, don’t get me wrong, but he was the front page picture on every newspaper. And then, of course, I was able to take him home to the new house, and his parents were like, “How did you get home?” And of course, there was news at night, all the family could see him land and they had pictures, only six jets. Five jets? Six jets. So everybody was on the news, everybody could see everybody had come home safely, so that was actually quite nice.
But yeah, I got the house keys on my own, which was a bit miserable, but it was good because I knew he was actually turning up that day.
Can I ask you about your assessment of risk? Did you know what was going on with your husband’s job and what did it feel like when you knew that he was going to a war zone, or that he was on an action which would be quite dangerous?
It’s a tricky one that, because you would have, you sign your name, or the men sign their name knowing full well what they’re signing up for, and of course the wives have to follow. And he’d always been really good at trying to explain what it would involve. But yeah, sending your husband off to war, you cannot explain how that feels because you just don’t know if they are going to come back. And that was horrific, it really was horrific. So that was … It was a case of, you know, I’m religious and, for me, it was like, “Say your prayers and just go with your gut instinct.” And over the years my gut instinct has been pretty accurate on what I think and what I feel.
But we had one weekend where some jet went down and they didn’t say, because they were allowed 24 hours’ grace, they didn’t say what kind it was. So one of my friends and I were panicking all weekend not knowing if it was GR or an F3: that was down. And on the Monday morning some of our friends were like, “Well, of course it wasn’t you, we’d have told you.” “You didn’t tell us that was the scenario, we’re the youngest wives, we don’t know how it works on the old telephone trail. We don’t know how we’re going to find out.” But it was like, “Don’t be so stupid.” “No, we’re paranoid here, we don’t know how it works.” So there was a little bit of that, which didn’t really help. It would have been nice if they’d given you a list, “If the worst happens ‘X’ will telephone you.” But we never got the information, so both this lady and I had the whole weekend thinking it could be our husband that was dead. Nice!
So risk, yeah, I mean, everything’s risky. He’d come back some days and he’d go, “Oh, I ‘took the cable’ at work today.” Which basically meant something wasn’t functioning and you take the cable if you can’t stop. So you land your aircraft at whatever speed it’s stuck at, and the cable then stops them from going over the end of the runway. So we had that three times one year. It got to the stage where the boss’s wife actually phoned me and said, “He’s alright, Romana, but he’s taken the cable for the third time this week.” It just was one of those jobs, and he’d come in and go, “Bloomin’ jets,” yet again. But my husband was lovely because he always spoke to the engineers, probably because he was an engineer by training. And it got to be a joke, the lads would say, “You broken it again, Sir?” And he’d be like, “Yeah, but I think it’s this.” And because he was an engineer, they’d be like, “Yeah, okay, he might well know what’s broken then.” And it was quite funny in a way.
But yeah, risk, he loved his job, he adored his job. If he didn’t fly he’d be like a bear with a sore head. It was horrendous. Whereas, for me, I hate aeroplanes, always have, so it was like, “Ohh, have I got to get on that thing?” Whereas, he was like, “Yeah, I flew today for like ‘x’ hours.” And I’m, “Oh, okay, yeah, whatever.” He loved it.
Can you tell me, was he around for the birth of your son? And can you tell me a bit about your son being born?
Yeah. Thankfully, as I said, he got back from Iraq in the April. We were on the same squadron? Yeah, probably, I can’t remember now when we swapped. He was around for that, which was good. He wasn’t actually away that weekend – even better. It was a really hot spell, which was miserable for me because I was, like, nine months’ pregnant, the child was late and it was that really hot summer of 2003. So it was like, “Oh, this is just miserable.” But yeah, that was fine.
I had a really long labour, which wasn’t so fine. Nothing hideous just really, really long, like 48 hours long. Turned up at the hospital, they went, “Oh, yes, you can go straight to delivery suite.” And I went, “Oh, thanks, you sent me home on Friday.” “Oh well, oh yeah, this is what babies do.” Thanks. So the birth was okay but it was long. The child was alright, nice, heavy little blighter, he was 8lbs 12oz, which was a bit bigger than I was expecting, because I’m not particularly large. But no complications, cute baby, heat spell, so it wasn’t cold in the house – bonus for Scotland. It was a really nice summer because he was around most of the summer. He was here for the first six weeks, thankfully I didn’t have a Caesarean, and then he had to go to the Falklands for six weeks. So a six-week-old baby, husband’s in the Falklands. But as I hadn’t had any operation, I could lift the pram in and out the car. So, best of a bad job, he was okay, you know. There’s worse depths to go on in the Falklands.
What was Nigel like as a father?
My husband was a great father, which is why it’s so galling that he couldn’t carry on with that role. Whenever we went on holiday he would always make sure that we had, like, the bike, whatever age my son was he’d always make sure we’d book somewhere that was child-friendly. He’d put, like, a child gate in the house, could potentially be a bit dodgy like that. We always had the dog with us for the first three years, so we’d go on holiday in the UK, child plus dog. And he was just lovely. We always did a holiday that was suitable for Rowan as well as us.
We would do something in the morning that was much more our choice, like a castle, a National Trust-type place, walking, which meant the dog was happy. And in the afternoon there’d be something that my son would enjoy. Because my son was just like his dad, always hyper, always on the go. And people would say, “Oh, your husband is so active, how do you cope with him?” And I said, “Well, he’s not in the house, he’s much more relaxed.” And they went, “Really?” and I went, “Yeah, yeah, he’s fine.” “Well, he’s not like that at work, he’s always hyper.” I said, “Well, he likes his job, who knows?”
So when my son was born they went, “What’s he like?” and I said, “Oh, Nige on Speed.” And they went, “Oh my giddy aunt, I can’t imagine that!” So it was just hilarious. Whenever there were parties on the married patch it’d be like, “Are you bringing your son?” “Yeah.” “Ohh.” They’d have to find something for him to do because he would be ‘doing’ something the whole time the party was happening. Like, trampolining for four hours, just would not stop. So it was just hilarious.
So holidays were always like that. And in 2002 the pound against the dollar was really, really good – no, he was born 2002 so 2008, the pound against the dollar was really, really good. So I said to my husband, “Why don’t we do America?” Because Orlando for a kid age 4½ going on 5, his birthday is in the summer, would be absolutely perfect. You get the wow factor with Orlando when you’re that age. And we just thought, “Yeah, let’s just book it.” So we went to Orlando, which was phenomenal, as you can imagine. All the Disney parks, little 5-year-old was going, “Wow!” Every ride, “I want to do that ride.” “No, you’re not tall enough.” “But I want to.” “Yeah, I know you want to but you’re in the wrong height restriction.” And that was just the best ever holiday; it was really, really good.
The thing was, I came back and I was so annoyed because, of course, as a photographer, when there’s only three of us on holiday, I took all the pictures. So all the pictures I had were my husband and my son. Very rarely was it me and my son. And then the following year, when he was killed, it was like, “Actually, that’s alright then,” because I had hundreds of photographs of the two of them together doing all the things you want to do as a family. And it’s actually really, really nice. But that year, I was really galled that I hadn’t got more than, like, four pictures of me in those pictures. Because you couldn’t do selfies at that point, there weren’t selfie sticks, and I wasn’t paying the £10 a photo for Disney to take them. So it was like, got one that they took.
So yeah, he was a brilliant dad, he was always thinking about ‘what would my son want to do’? Whenever he went on attachment he always came back with a present for him, a present for me. Always. So we had a, like a camel from when he did Iraq, and he wasn’t even born yet. We had various cuddly toys from all the fancy shops in America whenever he went somewhere. It was always a present each and it was always well thought-out, because he loved to shop. So everybody knew this, so whenever they went shopping they’d be like, “What’s Nige buying? Because if he’s buying that for Romana or for the son it’s going to be worth buying.” So the boys would just say, “Can you get me one when you go to the shops?” Because they normally hated shopping.
I do remember once when they went to India, I had this really random phone call from some fashion shop: “How many metres would I need in pure silk to make a ball gown?” And I had all the boys in rotation asking me how much fabric to buy, because they were in this fantastic brocade shop in the middle of India where, of course, the language was zero. But they could do the numbers. So I said, “Who are we talking to now?” So-and-so. “Okay, your wife is six foot, you’re going to need …” And it was hilarious, about twenty minutes on this phone call, telling the boys how much to buy for each particular wife. (Laughs).
But yeah, he was a great dad. Everything he could do, he would do, which was why it’s like, grrrrrrrr, that he couldn’t continue that.
If we go on to talking about when he died and after then as well, your journey since then. Could you tell me about the circumstances and when you found out and what happened?
Okay. The Squadron was closing, which we knew, so when a squadron’s closing you actually get the three-months warning that it’s going to happen. Whereas, normally, on a posting, you see the Posting Officer and you say which jobs you want. And sometimes you can get, like, a weekend’s notice, “Actually, there’s a vacancy now, you can go and start on Monday.” And you’re like, “Right, okay.” So the husband goes on the Monday for his new job and the wife’s left wherever they are to pack up the house and move, and be with him maybe two weeks later, maybe three months if she’s working.
So the Squadron was closing and we had, like, whatever, three months’ notice maybe. I don’t know, I can’t remember. My husband had decided he wanted to do an MA in Aeronautical Engineering, I think. Which would have been very sensible because then he could have got a job with Aerospace and all the other people, back to his engineering. He’d had enough of flying by that point, so that was very logical.
So he went down to Dorset, is it Dorset? That part of the country, anyway. And looked at the MA course, got his place. So he had on the board a piece of paper saying start date was like the, I don’t know, I can’t remember what it is now, 9th of September or something. And then all these weird things started to happen, and I was really getting quite freaked out by it. And because we’d had five years – I’m not in the house so I haven’t got the picture to tell me the date. When 29 Squadron had closed, the week before that had closed, we’d lost our best friend and his navigator in a plane crash. And my husband was the other jet. And it was becoming like that year where I was getting this sixth sense of ‘something bad is going to happen’. And it got to the stage whereby the car was playing up. I would listen to music, I’d just got the new U2 album which was ‘No Line on the Horizon’, and the whole album made me think of my life story. And it was just really weird; I cried through about the first four tracks, or no, the first track was alright the next four tracks. It just sounded like our life. And he was like, “Oh woman, get a grip,” and I’m like, “I can’t get a grip, this song just sounds like us.”
So yeah, we had weird things though. I was finding weird things that made no sense. And I’d just said to him, probably about May time, “Well, this is it, you’re going to die, there’s something horrible going to happen, I know it’s going to be you.” And he was like, “Don’t be so stupid.” But he knew that my sixth sense was generally pretty accurate, so he gave me that look of ‘yeah, she’s lost it’, you know.
And so, the week of the closing of the squadron was all planned out. The dining-in night was the Friday, so that was going to be a fancy five-star dinner at the Fairmont Hotel. Saturday morning, like 5:00 am, we were leaving to go on holiday, and two weeks away. And it was the last day of school on the Thursday. So it was like, end of term, fancy dinner, holiday. All booked, suitcases packed. Because, of course, end of the squadron it’s a bit awkward, they don’t really know what they’re going to do every day. So everything was packed and ready, booked, passports in a box, you know; everything was ready to go.
And then I went to work because I worked part-time for my friend, because I wasn’t teaching. I turned up for work and it was just the weirdest day. So, she had two shops at the time and she turned up mid-morning, and I said to her, “What are you doing here?” And she went, “I don’t know, I just felt like I was meant to be here.” And I went, “But you’re supposed to be in Perth.” And she went, “Yeah, I know.” So she picked up all the post and she said, “Right, okay, I’m going to Perth,” and I went, “Okay, bye.” So she left me in charge of the shop.
And then about, I can’t quite remember, maybe half-past eleven, I got a phone call from one of my friends, saying, “There’s been an accident, Romana is Nige flying.” And because he’d had breakfast with us that morning, I said, “No, don’t be stupid, he had breakfast.” Because the Met Brief, which is your Meteorological Brief, you have to have that when you’re flying to know what the weather’s like, to be able to plan your diversions, is eight o’clock. So if he had breakfast with us about eight o’clock, there was no way he was flying, because he’d have missed the brief. So I went, “No, of course he didn’t, he had breakfast.” And they went, “Okay, but are you sure?” And I went, “No, but he shouldn’t be flying.”
At that point, I got the really weirdest feeling, and it was one of those feelings that you couldn’t describe, it was just, ‘I am not meant to be here now.’ So my friend was coming, the friend that called me, and was supposed to be taking over from me, because it was the last day of term and the kids finished at half-past twelve. So she was meant to meet me at about quarter-past twelve, give the keys over and I was going to go. And I couldn’t do it, I just had to lock up, put a note on the door and say, ‘Shut. Opening again at,’ whatever time she was coming. And I literally ran through St Andrews, and it was just the most horrible, weird feeling of ‘something’s happened and I don’t know what it is.’
I got back to the house, and my husband was the Deputy Flight Commander for the Flying Programme, so I got on the computer and I pulled up the Flying Programme. And there was his name, ‘Flying.’ And I went, “You’re joking me.” It said who the pilots were and the navs were for this particular trip, and I went, “You’re joking me, he’s flying. I didn’t know he was flying.”
And then, a few other friends were phoning me, like, “Are you alright?” I’m like, “What do you mean, are you alright?” “There’s been a crash.” And I’m like, “Don’t tell me that.” And they went, “Yeah, there’s been a crash.” And I went, “Oh, that’s not good.” And at that point I really felt physically sick, as you can imagine. So I phoned up the Squadron and I actually got through, which you’re not meant to do. Because, of course, it shuts down when there’s a problem. And they said, “Who’s this?” and I said, “It’s Romana,” and they went, “Ohh, Nige’s wife.” And the wobble in the voice made me think, ‘Oh, it’s my husband, then.’ So I said, “Okay, that’s all I needed to know. Bye.” Because when the previous crash had happened, my husband was in the other jet and he’d texted me the minute he’d landed with, ‘I’m alright, there’s been a crash, don’t worry.’ And because I hadn’t had a text, I knew full well that it had to be him. Because if that had happened like an hour prior, by the time he’d landed he’d have been straight there, ‘It’s not me, it’s alright, it’s so-and-so. Go round and see them.’
So then, I’m like, “Oh no.” I had to go and get my son, who was with a neighbour because I wasn’t going to be home until after they’d finished school. So I went to get my son, thinking, “I think my husband’s just been killed. Not great.” And then, nobody turned up on my doorstep so I’m thinking, “Is it me? Because nobody’s here.” Because the RAF machine means that you were told formally, you’d get the vicar to come round, you know, the padre. The whole military machine kicks in. And I’m like, ‘Nobody’s here. But Nigel was in the flying programme and I’ve spoken to the squadron. It has to be him.’
So this horrible hour, hour and a half, where I’m like, “Oh, the house is a pit because I’m leaving tomorrow.” So I had to put all the rubbish in the bin. And I remember seeing somebody park their car in my little cul-de-sac and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen them before, what’s their car doing here?’ And they purposely didn’t make eye contact with me and I thought, ‘That’s really odd.’ So I put the rubbish in the bin and I went back in the house, and then my neighbour came round. Presumably, she’d seen the news and I said, “I’m sure it’s Nige, would you mind sitting with Rowan?” Because he was upstairs in his room, playing – age 5, what else do you do? And she was like, “No, that’s fine, no problem.” So she stayed with him and then the military machine kicked in.
I heard the doorbell ring, “We’re really sorry, Romana.” And I went, “You’re going to have to come in because I know, I just know.” And they went, “How do you know?” I said, “I know.” And then after that it all kicked in with the hideousness of, you know. And I think I said in the first ten minutes, “Why did you wait so long?” And the poor guy who was sent to tell me said, “I had to go and get changed.” And I said, “Do you think I care that you’re in your blues? If you were flying in your greens, I don’t care that you tell me dressed in greens.” It’s this weird, ‘You have to be smart to tell somebody their husband’s died.’ I’d rather I knew the minute it happened, not an hour and a half after.
And after that, it’s just hellish, because they were all, you know, they’d crashed into a hillside. So my immediate reaction was, “What, all two, both jets?” “No, only that jet.” “Okay.” I’d seen who he was flying with, he was a young lad with no family, so I said, “Have they contacted his parents?” “No, they haven’t found them yet.” “Okay. Who was in the other jet?” And they went, “They’re okay, yeah, they’re okay. They only just made it.” “Mmm, that’s not good. Okay, fair enough, at least they’re alright.” Because they both had partners; one had a young family, one didn’t, he had a girlfriend. “Okay, glad they’re alright, then.”
And what really galled me was the fact that the BBC had it on the news seconds later. So the live news feed was this plane crash with all the smoke coming off, seconds after it had happened. But nobody told me for 90 minutes. And to this day that really, really gets my goat. So when Lee Rigby was killed I was straight on the news website, “How dare you have that as live telly? The family will be watching that.” And I got a very polite email back with, ‘Yes, Mrs Morton, we’re very sorry but it’s newsworthy.’ And I’m like, “I don’t care. That is unacceptable.” Because if the men were in Afghanistan, which they were at that time, they were allowed 24 hours’ grace because the families had to be told. If it happened in the UK you’re live news, you’re newsworthy, it’s instant. It’s on social media, it’s everywhere within seconds. But nobody thinks that the family might actually like to know first. So yeah, the BBC have me as a black mark, ‘This widow woman will be onto us if something like this happens.’
So a fortnight ago when that journalist got killed they said, “We’re not going to broadcast that, please don’t put it on social media.” I was straight on the email, “How dare you? A journalist gets killed, she gets an hour’s grace; my husband gets killed, I don’t even get 30 seconds. Unacceptable.”
So, after that it was all the, “Well how do you want the funeral?” I said, “I’ve never been to a military funeral. What can I have?” “Well, what do you want?” I said, “I don’t know what they do.” Because when the other jet went down with our best friend, they never found his body. So it was a memorial service, which is quite different to a full military funeral. I’d never been to one. “Well, what do you want?” “What do you have?” “Oh, you can have anything, Ma’am.” “I don’t know what ‘anything’ is.” And it was just this, “Come on, please tell me what a normal funeral would look like. Because I’ve never, ever been to one!”
This was the 2nd July 2009. My son’s birthday was […], and they said, “It’ll have to be next week.” And I said, “No, it’s not going to be next week.” And they said, “Well, Ma’am, we can’t possibly plan a funeral in a week.” I said, “My son’s birthday is the week after next. He’s not having his dad’s funeral the following day of his birthday party, which he’ll have something to cheer him up, poor kid. It’s not happening. You’ve got a week.” “Oh, Ma’am, we can’t possibly do that.” And then the devilment in me said, “Well, you’re not doing anything else for a week because all the admin staff won’t have a job for a week. They’ll be sitting there twiddling their thumbs. Get them working on this.” And they went, “Alright, Ma’am, we’ll see what we can do.” I said, “It’s not happening the week after, so get on with it.” And funnily enough, they managed it. So yeah, I got what I wanted.
They said, “It’s going to have to be in a hangar on camp, and I went, “Fine, I don’t care where it is.” “And there’s going to be a Tornado in the hangar.” I said, “Well, you can put a curtain over that.” And they said a couple of days later, “There’s not going to be enough people coming because you’re only giving us a week to do it.” And I said, “Fine, I don’t care, where are you going to hold it?” “Oh, we’ll hold it in the church.” And Leuchars Church is beautiful because it’s twinned with Rosslyn Chapel, it’s like a 12th century church, it’s a really tiny, beautiful, absolutely beautiful church. I went, “Fine, I love that church, it’s brilliant.” They went, “Okay, that’s fine.” So they moved it to the chapel, and I’d got what I wanted. I got the paperwork through to have the funeral in the cemetery, which is actually in Leuchars itself. I hadn’t realised there is a military cemetery there. So it was perfect. He had the funeral in the church, drive a mile up the road and there’s all the military war graves. There again, we actually got back to the Mess before the people that were walking did! And we’d done all the official, you know, internment with the service. It was fantastic.
It was just one of those nightmarish situations where, ‘You have what’, ‘I don’t know what I can have’. ‘Do you want guns over the coffin?’ And I went, “No, my son’s never seen a gun, why do I want that?” It was all these other things you could do and I’m like, “No, I’m not fussed about that.” But the trouble is, because the funeral itself was good, the publicity was not dealt with so well, so I said, “No publicity.” I had a 5-year-old in tow, which meant they couldn’t take photographs of me, but everybody else was fair game. Well, that suited me, I didn’t want to be on the newspaper front pages. So I remember driving down the hill to the church and, because of the fact that it was a military funeral, the coffin was going to be in the church before us, which was perfect. So the coffin didn’t have to come to the house, we just had the car going down the hill, which was a beautiful view. And it was the most beautiful day. So because I’d been playing U2, I had my U2 Bono shades on, because I wasn’t looking my best, nice black outfit my friend had helped me cobble together from TK Maxx.
So going down to the church, and I’ll never forget this, the whole of Leuchars village was turning out, the whole place was just people, back to back. And I said to the family in the car, “Oh, no-one’s going to turn up then?” And the whole village was there with everybody else from my village coming to the funeral. And it was just the weirdest thing. So we walked up to the church, had the sermon. My son had four options – if you sit with me, that’s fine; if you want to go in the Vesper’s room or the, whatever room, you can do that; you can go and play in the cemetery if you want to; you can do anything. And I had a minder for him who I trusted and who he loved, and I had her geed up to do any of the options that he wanted to do. But poor little kid just wanted to limpet, like, grab me for the whole service. Fine, that wasn’t a problem, but it was when I went to do my reading. So my friend had found this beautiful poem about wild geese, it was a very short poem, and of course, because we only had a week to plan the funeral, I’d planned what I wanted. I’d got the readings I wanted, I’d got the hymns I wanted, the people who wanted to be involved were involved. Fine. But I hadn’t seen the Order of Service, because we hadn’t had time.
So I sat down, there it was, opened it, I was first. I went, “Okay, good, get it over and done with.” So I said to my son, “Look, I’m reading this first.” “Okay, Mum, whatever.” So my friend who’d lost her husband ten years previous, she’d come up to support me, so we were on the front row. So it was Judith, me, Rowan, Charlotte who was looking after my son. I can’t remember who else, very small pew and there might have been somebody else. So we were on the front row and the padre said, “Romana would like to give …” So I went up and did my poem, which was, thankfully, pretty short. And I looked up at the congregation and I remember thinking, “Oh, church is standing room only, they told me nobody was going to come.”
And the trouble with the military is, they video and photograph everything. So you literally get “What do you want?” “Well, I don’t really want the video.” “Okay, we’ll photograph it, then.” “If you must.” But the trouble was, for me, the Press Officer hadn’t told them, “No Press,” so the Press were trying to get into the church. So there actually is no picture of me reading my poem, because I was first, because they were trying to lock the doors to keep the Press out. Because nobody had said, “She doesn’t want the Press, funny old thing. You’ve just stitched her up, why would she want you lot in the church?” So everybody else got a photograph taken of them, but I didn’t, which is a bit annoying. But it’s in the Order of Service that I did it, so I felt quite … And afterwards, my other friend who read the poem as well, they went, “You did that,” stoic was the word they described me as, they went, “Don’t know how you managed that, and there was no pressure to follow you when you didn’t cry!” Because all the boys were equally as upset. And the bit at the end, because it was a formal, military funeral was; we went out after the coffin. The coffin then goes out, gets taken to the hearse, hearse, car, whatever it is, and they had the flag over it. And the boys then had to fold the flag, and that gets marched back to me.
Of course, the congregation being 80% non-military had no idea why we were wasting ten minutes with nothing happening. So we were in the vestibule and the Station Commander was there, and Rowan at that point was like, “Can we go yet, Mum?” And I’m like, “No, we’ve got to wait for the flag.” “What do you mean, wait for the flag?” You know, 5-year-olds don’t do ten minutes very well. And the station commander, who we’d known because he was on the squadron when the other guy was killed ten years prior, which helped him because people said, “What do we do, Sir?” And he said, “We do this.” “Why are we doing that, Sir?” “Because it worked before. Do as I say.” So it was actually like a dry run for him, he could just repeat what he remembered having to do ten years prior.
So Rowan was getting really twitchy at this point, and he said, “Oh, do you want to stand on my toes, or jump up and down or something?” And Rowan went, “Oh yeah, cool!” So he literally went up to the Station Commander and went, shwoo, stamped on his feet! And he went, “Oh, okay Rowan.” And I remember thinking, “Whoever has to clean your shoes after this is going to have to just spend hours cleaning them because you’ve just crunched his best Parade Shoes to oblivion.” And then the flag came back in and then we could leave the church. And at that point my little boy was just overwhelmed by still the whole village, and the other villages, standing there. So he literally jumped into my arms, so I’m walking out there with nobody with me. Because that’s the protocol, I had to go out on my own with this child giving me a bear hug. I had to walk down the whole blooming path in sort of high heels, trying to keep it together, with this kid just hugging me, thinking, ‘Well, I can’t be on the front page of the newspaper, but it’s a jolly good job that I can’t be because I look such a disaster area.’ I was like, “Oh, this poor kid.”
And then we went up to the cemetery and did the service, and that was actually really lovely because it was just us. I’d invited the boss and his wife, and the Visiting Officer, his wife had kids so she didn’t come, that was fine. And Rowan just went to play, and I thought, ‘I don’t care at this point. It’s a beautiful cemetery, it overlooks the golf course, my husband loved to play golf with the RNA.’ So I thought, ‘I’ll pick him somewhere where he can watch the jets and listen to the golf playing their ping-ping at the golf club.’ It was the perfect place for him to be buried. So that was a very nice little service. The Padre knew that I was religious so that helped her plan the service for me. That was great. So the family friends, sort of like eight of us, whatever. Then we got back in the car and went to the Mess. And people were still walking back because it was such a close-knit distance; it was perfect. And I had a book that somebody had given me, or I’d found, and I wanted people to sign it. So that was quite good.
And then, I’d put pictures up, I’d asked the guys to make me two pictures, because the boys on the Squadron wanted to do something useful. So I gave them some information and then said, “Can you put down every detachment and every crew person he flew with?” So they did the chronological list of who he flew with and when he did it, and round the edge were all the pictures of him in his jet with the various visits. That was really, really nice. And the other picture I used, because I’m a photographer, he’d done the Queen’s Birthday Flypast over Buckingham Palace. And when he was flying, being the navigator, when he had a bit of spare time, he’d looked up and seen a Reuters Blimp. And he went that night, came home and he found they’d taken a picture looking down. So I have a picture which is the two RAF Tornadoes either side of a Hercules on the way up to ‘Buck Palace’. And it’s such a beautiful picture.
That was the positive. The positive was, these are the good things you can do with the military, and they blew it up for me, like, A2 and framed it, had it on an easel outside the church for me. And the other side was all the people he’d flown with and the silly pictures of them doing daft stuff. One of the good pictures that I had, and nobody else knew I had this, was when he was at the Air Warfare Centre, he’d had to go to the States. And he’d actually flown a B52! So there’s a picture of him in the B52. And the boss had actually said, in the eulogy, “And of course, Nige did things that I never did,” and he said, “he flew a B52!” Which, of course, he does get to do that as a nav, but because my husband was a frustrated pilot, when they changed the rules, “Oh, you can now do crossover and become a pilot,” he was straight in there. So he’d gone down and flown with people that he knew and got a certain amount of powers. So he had done some piloting!
So when he went to the States, and they said, “Do you want to fly it?” he was like, “Do I ever?!” So we had the pictures of him flying the B52 which, of course, is the most enormous jet in the world, over Monument Valley! How cool is that? So for my boy, it was a case of, “Your dad had a really cool job and he got to do really cool things.” So there were positives that came out of it but the photographs were just amazing. And the boys on the squadron wanted to do something positive for him, so they spent a lot of time making the pictures really good, doing the layouts beautifully. Then of course, everybody who turned up at the funeral, they were able to see their name and the dates that they flew with him. It was a really nice thing to do, and for my son as well, it was such a nice … You know, because the log books aren’t very user-friendly, and they’re all different colours for different jobs. Whereas, the list of just chronological this detachment, this nav, this pilot, was actually much, much easier to see and read. So yeah, it was actually, a good thing came out of that, I think.
Can you tell me the support you received from family and friends first of all? And then we’ll go onto other organisations. But family and friends first.
Okay. Family, I haven’t got any family really. The parents were in Lincolnshire, all three of them that were remaining, because my dad died six weeks after our wedding. So they were too old to be of any help. My brother-in-law was not really any help, so that didn’t help either. I had no siblings, had no cousins, so actually family, being in their 80s, weren’t any help.
Friends were amazing. So friends took the boy when he didn’t want to be with me because, poor kid, he wanted to be with his mum, having just lost his dad. But there were some days where I had hideous amounts of admin to do, so he couldn’t be with me. He didn’t want to hear about, “You’re going to have to see the Procurator Fiscal,” you know, “I can’t take him to that meeting, I don’t want him to hear what we’re going to talk about in that meeting, age 6.” So there were days where he had to go and play with friends. And luckily, in a small village, in a small class, there were enough people that were more than willing to take him and make a lovely day out with him and his buddies. But yeah, the poor kid just wanted to stay with me, which made it really difficult. Not that I didn’t want to be with him but …
So the girl who’d given me a lift to Dunfermline when I was working and pregnant, she’s his godmother, so she’d came and helped us for half the summer as well. So I had lots of really good people who I really trusted, but it did make it incredibly awkward.
What support was offered from the Forces themselves?
The Forces did their own thing, as they always do. So they offered me SSAFA to give me counselling. I asked for my son and they said, “No, he won’t get anything because if you’re alright, he’s alright, by default.” And I said, “My son was 5 years old when he lost his dad, surely he’s going to get some support?” “No, he doesn’t need it.” I said, “I beg to differ. You have psychology services and psychologists and psychiatrists on camp, can’t we access those?” “No, you don’t need it.”
So I went to SSAFA because everybody said, “You should do counselling, Romana, that would be really good.” And I thought, ‘SSAFA know what they’re doing.’ After I’d been to the sixth session and come home absolutely drained, one day I happened to meet up with one of my friends and they said, “How’s it going?” And I said, “Well, these two-hour sessions are killing me.” And they went, “What do you mean, two-hour sessions?” And I said, “Well, that’s what they last.” And they said, “No, no, no. An hour is the maximum you’re supposed to do.” And I went, “You’re joking me.” I’d never had counselling, my friend wasn’t living near me when she had counselling; I had no idea what the rules were.
This woman, of course, because she was the head person at SSAFA, I thought, ‘Well, she’s not going to stitch me up, she’s very empathetic, she’s very nice, she is helping me. She is helping me.’ But I was having two two-and-a-half hour sessions at a time, which clearly were not actually helping me long-term. Because I just came home and was an emotional wreck for the rest of the day. So that wasn’t maybe the best. So no, I didn’t get any help for my son at all. The English Charity suggested Winston’s Wish; they don’t work in Scotland. Barnardo’s are only in Dundee; they don’t work in Fife. So my son never had any counselling. And as much as I tried I couldn’t find anybody who would do it for him.
I found myself, a couple of years later, a great counsellor who actually, when 9/11 happened, just jumped on a plane and went straight out there to help, not bothering whether he was going to get paid or not. So I thought, ‘Well, you sound like the right counsellor for me.” And he was brilliant but he wasn’t happy doing my son, he just said, “I’m really not qualified enough to do kids.” So it helped me that even he couldn’t find anybody to help me with my son. So my poor kid is now 16 nearly and never had counselling. I couldn’t find him anybody. So I don’t know. That was it. The Forces gave me a visiting officer, which obviously I needed to do the admin, but that only lasted until the summer. Then that was finished and I had to carry on on my own.
Friends, I had one friend who was a barrister, which was brilliant because when I had to go to the Procurator Fiscal he was happy to read all the reports and help me with the argument with them. Because the RAF sent their person, we had our plan, what we wanted to know of what happened, because the black box was found. And the Procurator Fiscal, I do remember half-way through, saying, “Is this line of enquiry actually relevant?” And we both said, “Yes, it is, we want to find out all about the crash and how it …” You know, it was quite involved what actually happened. And it was a typical accident, so many, like, six or seven things that, each one on their own wouldn’t have caused the accident. But if you have the sixth thing one after the other, the combination is that it [the jet] won’t actually be able to fly. And the RAF had got the black box, so they had the flight path, they had the height, they had the speed, they had the pilot input. And they actually modelled it on the computer, and it never would work. So it was a true accident; it was never going to function. And the other jet only just managed to pull up and save themselves.
So the Procurator Fiscal was like, “Anything else you want to add?” and I said, “Yes.” The maps, the RAF maps are reprinted every so many weeks, and on the RAF map, if you’ve ever seen one, you have the exclusion zones for, like, airports, Buckingham Palace, stately homes, you know; places that you don’t want aircraft to fly over in case of a crash. And they also have, on the lochs of Scotland, one-way arrows on lochs that are really very awkward to fly down. So I said, “Okay, this loch is proving to be an optical illusion. You’re seeing a different horizon to what’s actually there. Why don’t you make this particular loch a one-way valley?” “Oh, we can’t possibly do that.” And I said, “One arrow on a map that gets reprinted every so many weeks. You’re not prepared to do that?” “No, we’re not prepared to do that.” And I said, “Well, it’s another accident going to happen, then.”
So at least the Procurator Fiscal heard me argue for that alteration. And I thought, ‘Well, I can’t do more than flag it up.’ As I was really angry about this, it should be changed. So it was a pretty full-on summer.
At what point did anyone bring up finances with you, War Widows’ Pension, other things that you might be liable to access?
Right, okay. That luckily happened quite quickly. Thankfully, my husband was killed on the 2nd of the month, so he had been paid for the previous month and I had the money in the bank account. So that was actually alright. The people came quite promptly to sort out the money, so that was quite good. It felt like ‘blood money’ but you sort of did need it at the time. So that was actually quite good.
The bad point, and again, they got the worst of me. They came, they had to have the Will, which I knew where it was, thankfully, so I could prove, yes, it was me and yes, this is the Will and yes, this is all the paperwork they needed. So they went away and filled it all in for me. And they sent me a customer service questionnaire! Question 1, Would you use this service again? And I was sort of a bit angry at that point, so I got the thickest black marker pen I could find and wrote, ‘Do you think I really want to? Not replaceable.” Or something like that. And posted it back to them. And the bloke actually turned up on my doorstep, not with a bunch of flowers, which I would have thought more of him if he’d done that, but he had to grovel on my doorstep before I let him back in to apologise. Because I just thought that was appalling. How can you send a war widow, with Question 1, “Would you use this service again?” “No. Dream on. Thanks a lot.”
So, what else did I get? My friend who’d lost her husband was a member of the War Widows’ [Association], so she advised me to join because she said, “It’s obviously not the most friendly of clubs for the reason, but the people are lovely and the support is lovely. And you’ll meet people who know exactly what you’ve been through.” That was quite good, so I did do that, thanks to her.
Charities are a nightmare to find. I didn’t find out about the Scottish Charity for about four years; I didn’t even know they existed. Other charities I’ve found out the last year that they even existed. So it’s really bad, there should be much more linking up, joined-up thinking about how it’s going to happen. My friend who had lost her husband, she was the Chairwoman, Chairman, whatever you want to call it, of the War Widows’ Association. And when she was in charge they were looking at the Visiting Officer and how his role developed. And they said, “Could you write your story?”
So I wrote mine down, just sat down one night and wrote my 500 words and sent it in. Email straight back from her, “Oh my goodness, Romana, that’s horrific, how did that happen?” I went, “How did what happen? He was my friend, he was my neighbour, he volunteered for the role, he did a good job. What do you mean?” “Well, that shouldn’t have happened, and that shouldn’t have happened.” So in the light of my experiences, they had to rewrite the whole Visiting Officer job description, because there were so many things that weren’t done. Because neither of us knew what was meant to happen. So both of us, being mates, just muddled through all the paperwork; like we knew we had to register the death, we knew we had to do the funeral, you know, the things we knew. But there were things we didn’t know and nobody told us, so we didn’t do them!
And that was obviously part, he should have been trained in that as well.
He should have had, well, he did have a pack-up, but it was very vague, it was just a list of charities or a list of dates and names. And both of us went, “What’s that supposed to mean?” We didn’t know. There wasn’t a big, red star, ‘Day One, you have to do this. Day Two, you have to do this. By the end of the first month you really must have done ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’, otherwise, ohh, it’s going to be hellish.’ So yeah, they had to rewrite the whole scenario after that because things were missed.
But poor guy, you know, the accident happened, everyone’s shoved into a room and they have to stand there until somebody volunteered to do the job. Who wants to volunteer to be a Visiting Officer? And this poor guy, he was my neighbour, said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” because a) he was a friend, b) he hadn’t booked his summer holiday, even though he had three small kids, and he thought, ‘Nige would do it for us.’ So he volunteered, poor guy. It was just, you know. So now they have people trained. Funny that! [Laughs]
What did it mean for you in terms of your family; you were living on the base, so it wasn’t that you had to move out of married quarters? But can you tell us a little bit about the mechanisms of, then, being an RAF wife but, then, being an RAF widow? And what that entailed in terms of the transition for you?
It was difficult for me because the Squadron had closed. So once the squadron had closed, the base closed, there was nobody there. So all my friends, pretty much all bar about five, went to the four winds, all over the country. So I’d had my military family when the accident happened but four weeks down the line – gone! Nobody was left. So it was really, really weird that I hadn’t, you know, I could still get on-base if I wanted to, didn’t really want to, I had no need to. But there wasn’t any help from them, really. I had SSAFA give me counselling but I just felt like I was a lost soul, there was nothing to do, you know? It was weird.
So my friends helped me, but even then you had people who crossed the road rather than speak to me because, “I don’t know what to say to her. I’ll just cross the road, that’s easier.” So, you know, it was just hellish. There was the playground, there was the people who would talk to me, and the people that didn’t know what to say and were too frightened to speak to me. And that, clearly, wasn’t very great. And because I’d lost so much weight, because I couldn’t eat for three months, because it all tasted of cardboard, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep for three months, everyone said, “Oh, you look fantastic, Romana.” And I went, “I’ve eaten cake and ice cream all summer because that’s the only thing that vaguely tastes of anything. And you’re telling me that size 8 from a size 12, that’s good, is it?”
People just had the, ‘Oh well, I’ll give her a compliment because she does look quite nice.’ But, you know, I’d lost two stone in, like, a week, it was like, “Really? Is that the best you can come up with?” And people knew me, I wasn’t that mouthy wife who was, “Oh, my husband’s in the RAF, I’m so fantastic, look at me.” I was very much a normal, “He does the job he loves, I’m a teacher that makes me normal.” I wasn’t the bossy, brash, horrible person. I have a nice group of friends, and they’re still my friends. But there were so many people who just went, “Oooh, I can’t speak to her,” and crossed the road.
The village, bless them, put in the local newspaper all my details. They said, “Oh well, we always put that in obituaries in the paper.” And I went, “Thanks!” So the local newspaper had my name and address, and the local village newspaper had my name and address. And I went round to them and I said, “Do you know what that does in this day and age?” because the editor was, like, 80 years old. And he looked at me with that face of, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I said, “I’ve had emails for months now, phishing emails trying to get my bank account details, trying to get me to talk to them. You have no idea how putting my name and address online has made my life 100 times more difficult.” And he said, “Oh! Oh, has it?” in that lovely way that old people don’t get technology. And they must have been the people that, the sort of kirk and community must have been the newspaper that meant that the Press knew my details. So they published my name and address.
So the day when they reinstated the End of Squadron closing bash for August, there was a lovely dinner given, and they said, “Do you want to attend?” I said, “Well, I think I should attend.” It was like a month later. I said, “Yeah, I need to do it. It was the squadron that he loved. Everyone’s going to be there, coming back for the meal, I want to go.” That was fine. And I was psyched up for it, I thought, “Right, I want to do this, I’m going to do this.” I’d lost so much weight I did get into a really nice dress of mine out of the wardrobe, so I was like, “Yeah, let’s go do this.”
So I went to Cupar with this in mind, and I went into the newspaper that published my details, and it was lunchtime. I said, “Can I speak to the Editor?” And the girl said, “Y-yes, do you want to? Who is it?” And I said, “He’ll know me when he sees me.” And she went, “Okay, fair enough.” So the Editor came out of his office, put his hand forward to shake hands, and I said, “No mate, I’m not shaking your hand.” And he gave me a sort of taken-aback, what’s the problem. And I said, “I’m Romana Morton. You have caused so much stress and aggravation to me this summer, you have no idea.” And he went, “Why? Why? You look familiar. How?” And I said, “Because you published my name and address. The whole world has sent me fraudulent phishing emails thanks to you. The RAF did not give my name and address out.” “Oh yes, they did.” I said, “No, they didn’t. The Station Commander is my friend; I know he didn’t do that because he would know the repercussions.” “Oh, it’s freedom of the press.” I said, “Stuff you.” I didn’t actually swear but I was really tempted. “Stuff you, wait until it’s your turn,” or something equivalent, because it is horrific. The trolls that are out that will prey on people. I said, “I’m young enough to know that happens, but there are people out there who aren’t as savvy, and will have fallen for the scam banking emails. The fraudulent emails that are very cleverly written in other ways.” I said, “You have no idea what you’ve done.”
And this guy looked, actually, quite shaken; he actually sort of drained in colour. And I thought, “Good, you’re not going to enjoy your lunch today, mate.” And I went back to the 5-star hotel and had a really nice dinner. I felt vindicated that I’d actually got revenge on the paper that had just gone, “Oh, that’s what we do.” That’s not acceptable! No way is that acceptable: Name? Hmm. Address? No, no! But the thing was, because of where we lived, the RAF police had actually shut down the village for me. So the day of the accident, the RAF police had literally locked down where I lived. So people who lived on my street couldn’t get to their house without showing almost their passport. Because they wanted to make sure that I was safe. And where my house was, you couldn’t take my picture from the main road. So for, like, three or four days we had literally the whole police watching us, keeping us safe, keeping the Press away. And after that they gave up because they thought, ‘We’re never going to manage it with the RAF police.’ Because they’re armed, you know?
So that worked in our favour and it was our own house, so they had no right, they couldn’t gain access; private road, you know? But it was like; the Press really need to rethink what they do and how they do it.
In terms of work, were you still at work? What did you do? Did you take time off? How did you manage the situation through work?
I was only working for my friend part-time in her shop in St Andrews, so I didn’t go back to work for her. I think I did odd days for her when she was really stuck but, because the boy was so traumatised by losing his dad, I really felt that I had to be there to take him to school and there to pick him up. And of course, wee kids finish at quarter-past three, so it really didn’t give you much of a chance to work. Which was fine, it was like, ‘Okay, I’m pretty busy doing the Procurator stuff and all the other horrible admin that you have to do when somebody dies. Because it took six months to do all the jobs; it took forever. So actually, that worked for me. And thankfully, because my husband was the rank that he was, I had enough money to be able to just, “Well, my son is the priority here.”
I think, to be honest, he’s what kept me sane because I had to focus on, ‘Right, a6-year-old needs this, he deserves a party for his birthday, his dad’s just been killed, what do we want to do? What do you want to do, love, what would you like?’ And because I was constantly thinking, brain of a 6-year-old, ‘What does he want?’ it stopped me focusing too much on me, and it meant that I could just, because I had enough money, I could go, “Okay, let’s go and do that then, let’s do that.”
So it got to February, because my husband was killed 2009, and that was the Christmas where the snow was two metres deep. It was horrific. So my Christmas plan was to go see my mum, but the weather was so bad we couldn’t go. So we stayed in Scotland and we had a very nice Christmas, just the two of us, with all my friends who invited us round. So I had Christmas dinner with my friends, which was lovely. I have hardly any family so that was like my extended family. And they were very generous and very lovely, and the boy got nice presents – not extra presents, but he got a nice Christmas. He could stay in his house, he felt safe and secure in the house, and it just sort of worked. But it was never going to be ideal, was it?
At what point did doing stuff feel like they were getting onto an equilibrium? Or at what point did you sort of say, “Okay, we need to look to the future and think about what we’re going to do next. What’s the plan? ”
It was tricky, actually, because we always had nice holidays. So because the Christmas was so awful with the snow, and we hadn’t been down to see family and friends that we wanted to see, it got to February and I just thought, ‘I need a break.’ I’d had six months of hellish paperwork. So all my friends said, “Go to Sharm El Sheikh, it’s hot, it’s warm, it’s cheap. Go.” So I thought, ‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea.’ So I booked it and then half my friends who were Air Force, went, “Brilliant idea.” But all my friends who were in the village were like, “You can’t go on your own.” And I went, “Who am I going to go with? There’s only me and Rowan.” And they went, “Really? You’re not going on your own?” And I said, “Look, it’s a package holiday with something like Thomson, or somebody,” I said, “what can go wrong? They pick us up, they take us, seven days in the sun, we come back. I’ll have a nervous breakdown here. I’ve done so much admin, I need to sit and rest.”
So that was really good and the boy had a brilliant time, I had a brilliant time, and it was just fantastic. So we did that, and I was trying to say to the boy, “Rubbish things happen but you can still live, you can still have holidays.” Because we always had nice holidays. “You can still do that, mate. Because your dad’s dead, it’s not the same, it’s certainly not as good, but they can still happen.” So I tried to do that. So every summer we’d have a good holiday somewhere interesting that suited us both. So for about four years we did that, and then at the end of four years my dog was sick, and that was the year I was going to go to my first War Widows’ Conference. Because with a 5-year-old there’s no childcare, so what do you do with them? So I found one that had lots of my friends were attending. I thought, ‘All the kids can be together, and because he knows them he’ll be happy. I can do the conference.’
And then my dog was sick and my dog started coughing, and I thought, ‘He’s got kennel cough, I can’t take him to the kennels with kennel cough.’ So I cancelled the conference, took the dog to the vet, the vet said he hadn’t got a kennel cough, he’d had a virus and his heart was enlarged. So two weeks later my dog keeled over in the garden, aged 5. So I’m like, “Great, I’ve just lost my husband, my son wants to go away and our lovely dog has just keeled over in the garden, aged 5. That’s not good.”
And then, I was in the shower, as you do, and I found a lump, and I thought, ‘No, no, I can’t possibly have cancer, that would be such bad luck.’ I’d booked us a really fancy holiday that summer, which was one of these ones where I get to do what I like during the day, and the boy had activities all day long. So he could see me all day long on a lovely, lounging deckchair while he did volleyball, swimming, sailing, all these fancy things. And I’d thought about it very carefully, and he was the wrong age for the groups, and I said, “Look, during this holiday he changes age and becomes the next age group. He’s really sporty. Put him in the group that he should be in halfway through our holiday.” And they went, “Okay, fair enough, you know your kid.” And I said, “Yes, he’ll be up for it.”
So the first day, he met all these kids, “How old are you?” “I’m 9.” “Oh, you’re not allowed in this group until you’re 10.” “I’m 10 next week.” “Oh, alright then, fair enough.” And because he could hold his own, because he could do all the sports, he was like a ‘mini-me’ for his dad, he could do all the sports, that was acceptable. But everybody on holiday was an oncologist and I thought, ‘Err, no, surely this lump that I’ve found isn’t going to be cancerous.’
And I came back, and I had his birthday party, and we went to kayaking, which was a real nightmare to organise. At that point, my boob was getting really, really sore and I thought, ‘No, no, I’ve just been on a holiday in the sea, I bet you I’ve got just some infection.’ I went to the hospital, “No, you’ve got breast cancer.” And I went, “No, I can’t possibly have breast cancer.” “Yeah you have, quite aggressive breast cancer. You’re Stage 3.” And I’m like, “Stage 3! This is August, I only found this lump in April. It was only like a Tic Tac in April, how can it possibly be Stage 3 by August?” “Well, we don’t know but it is.”
And of course, at that point I lost it big time. And my friend who I was working in the shop for, she’d taken me, and she and I were like, “Aagh! Aagh! How can this happen? How can she be Stage 3?”
Luckily, I had the Head of Oncology, who was on duty that day, and he was such a lovely guy. He actually knelt down in front of me and he said, “We can’t say you’re going to live or you’re going to die, but we’ve got all the drugs, we’ve got all the treatments, we know what we can do for you. Can we just start this process?” And I was like, “Well yeah, I’ve got no choice, I’ve got a six-year-old …” No Nine, he was nine by then. “I’ve got a 9-year-old who needs me, yeah, of course I’m going to have to do it.”
So of course, I had the most aggressive type of cancer, so that meant that I had to have a mastectomy. Luckily, that particular hospital didn’t believe in that as a oner, they believed in doing the reconstruction at the same time. Which was good because I’m squeamish. So much so that when they started telling me what the options were I nearly threw up. So I took my nursing friend with me, and when the Plastic Surgeon started explaining she had to go, “No! Stop there,” because, again, I was nearly hurling. So she went home with the booklet, which said what options I had, because there were four. We went back the following week for the follow-up, “Which operation do you want?” And she said, “Well, 1) seems pretty good, 2) seems a bit extreme, 3) you won’t cope with, and 4) there’s no way Jose you’ll cope with that. I’m not even going to tell you what that is, Romana, because that is really horrific.” And I went, “Okay, Number 1 then.” And she went, “Yeah, Number 1.”
So we sat in the meeting, and I’ve got a friend who works for this plastic surgeon, he said, “He’s brilliant but he’ll just talk.” So we knew we had to sort of shut him up, because I’m squeamish. And he said, “What do you think?” And my friend said, “Number 1. That will suit her down to the ground.” Because Number 1 was just mastectomy and implants. And he went, “Nah.” And we went, “What do you mean, nah?” And he went, “We can do far better than that. We always do Number 4.” And my friend said, “She won’t cope with Number 4. She’s never had an operation, she’s squeamish,” and Number 4 involved lots of, like, bionic woman stuff; bits of me from A, B and C removed and implanted somewhere else. And she went, “She’ll never cope with Number 4.” “But Number 4’s the best, we do that really, really well.” So we sort of sat there and looked at each other, and she went, “That’s what he says.” And I went, “Yeah.” So we agreed to do Number 4, and I couldn’t read the book to know what it involved. So I went back to my counsellor, who did hypnotherapy, and I had to have a good few sessions of hypnotherapy.
So I turned up for the operation, and the night before you get drawn on. So my whole body was like this map, and the surgeon was lovely but he’s a little bit autistic with, “Ooh, let’s see where this vein is, I think it’s there.” Put this scanner on me, bop, bop, bop. “Well, where’s the, oh, there’s the vein, that’s good, isn’t it? It’s in the right place. Some people have these veins in the wrong place, you know, Romana.” “Fine, whatever.” So I looked like a road map with these lines all over me, and I took a picture because it was just honestly like some carpet with all this pattern.
My friend was allowed to take me out for dinner. I had to stay in the hospital overnight but she could take me out to dinner. So we went out for dinner and he said, “Don’t get her drunk,” and she went, “She won’t get drunk because she’s not like that.” And he said, “But I managed to draw on her and talk to her, she seems like a different woman.” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve had hypnotherapy, there’s no way I could do it else.” So I had a nice dinner, put a scarf round my neck so they couldn’t see all the lovely patterning, came back. The lady in the next room to me was pressing her buzzer all night, so I had no sleep, and the operation was ten hours.
The Head of Oncology, thankfully, was the oncologist that day, so he came in to see me. And he was so lovely, sat on the bed, and he said, “It’s me, I’ll do my best, we’re not expecting any complications but you’ve got more than one lump, so it’s going to be pretty bad. But we do this a lot, its fine.” So I said, “Okay, thanks very much for coming to see me.” And that was fine. I had my pre-med, got wheeled in. And I can remember thinking, ‘There’s an awful lot of people in here.’ The Plastic Surgeon was training up another plastic surgeon, so I had a room of about fifteen people, and I’m thinking, ‘I am quite embarrassed about my body, and I’ve got literally a whole roomful of people who are going to have to watch me for ten hours. Delights!’
So I came round ten hours later and was pretty thankful that I’d made it. The recovery people were lovely. The trouble was I was allergic to the opiates, so I didn’t sleep that night either, because the tablets made me, like; I felt like I was tripping completely. I thought, ‘I never want to do drugs ever, having had that.’ Because that was, ooh, amazing. And I had a whole week in hospital. Thankfully, one of Rowan’s friends took him, so he was staying with a family with three boys, lovely family, really good friends. So I knew he was alright. I was in hospital, clearly I was alright. And it was alright but, you know, I couldn’t look at any of this bandaging, because most of me was bandaged.
And then near the end the nurse said to me, “You’re going to have to have a shower, you know,” and I went, “I can’t look at any of this.” And she said, “You’ve got to,” and I went, “No.” Because I had drains out, I had surgery on my stomach, I had surgery on my breast.” “You’ve got to look, you’ve got to have a shower.” I went, “Yeah, I want a shower but I can’t look.” She went, “You’ve got to look.” And the Surgeon who’d checked on me every day said, “You’ve got to look, because if you don’t look and accept it, your brain will never accept it.” And I went, “I can’t,” and he went, “You’ve got to.” I went, “I’m squeamish,” and he said, “I know but you’ve got to.” He sent this really lovely nurse who said, “Come on, I’ll come with you,” and I’m like … Because I mean, obviously, a week later there’s quite a lot of scarring and stitching and bits that aren’t healed. It’s only a week, most of them have been open.
And I had Michelle and, actually, I managed to do it, and I thought, ‘Okay, phew that actually looks alright.’ But the weird thing about oncology is, you have to have a photograph before and after. So they’re like, “Come to photography,” and I’m like, “Photography?!” And they went, “Yeah, upstairs.” And because they do it every day they assume you know what you’re going for. So I went, “Why am I going to photography?” Went upstairs, “Take your kit off.” I’m like, “What do you mean, take my kit off?” “We photograph you.” “Photograph me where?” “Well, your bit we’re going to operate on, of course.” So you get your photograph before and then you get your photograph after.
Luckily, it was a girl; there are male photographers. I wouldn’t have thought much to that, I tell you! And the girl photographer took my photograph and she went, “Nice job! Who’s your surgeon?” And I said the name and she went, “If I ever have to go through what you’ve gone through,” she said, “I want him because he’s clearly really good.” I said, “Really?” She went, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen some okay but really not very brilliant jobs here.” So I thought, “Oh, okay, that’s alright then.” But it was just, from one extreme to the other, just so embarrassing. And I heard the nurses talking, “Oh, she’s okay but I think we’ve embarrassed her.” And I thought, ‘You have!’ Of course you’ve embarrassed me. I don’t go round, I’m not a Page 3 model. Why would I show everybody all and sundry, all of me, naked?’ It’s not something that you do, is it?’ It’s like this.’ So that was entertaining.
Then I had to wait six weeks to heal, then I had to start chemotherapy. I had six sessions of chemotherapy, which was hideous. I had no family so I couldn’t always get to the hospital, so sometimes I had to get a taxi because I couldn’t get there or get back. Then I had to have eighteen months on Herceptin, and as somebody who hates needles, that was a needle every session for two years. So every three weeks I had to be in hospital for a day with needles in me. So it was, yeah, pretty bad.
With your cancer treatment, did you lose your hair? And sort of what were you going through physically as well?
The cancer treatment was horrific because they want you to have all the drugs and, of course, you don’t really want to turn down any of the drugs. So the first lot of drugs that I had, I haven’t really got many allergies but, typically, I was allergic to the cancer drugs! Which meant that I had to have Piriton, or something equivalent, with all my drugs. So that was great! So literally, for my first treatment, they sit you in the room. I’m squeamish, so get this, they sat you in a room with about fifteen other people doing chemo, all different stages, all different needles in different places. There’s no curtains round you, you just have to sit there and watch somebody else’s treatment. So that’s a bit horrific for your first time.
And I was allergic to my first treatment, so they started putting the drug in, then they worked out I was changing this lovely purple colour. And they went, “Ooh, you’re allergic, let’s just get you some Piriton.” So I had to have, then, Piriton every time I had whichever drug it was they gave me first. I was trying the cold cap, which supposedly helps you keep your hair, and I’ve got quite a good pain threshold, so it’s like the freezer on your head. And I thought, ‘I can do that because my hair’s incredibly thick. That’s fine.’ But that didn’t actually work, my hair was falling out in handfuls, so I had to go and have my head shaved. So that was horrendous, as a woman that was a really low point, because once you start on the cancer treatment they are killing all the blood cells to re-jig your DNA and your blood bone marrow to reset, as it were. So you look absolutely pallid and horrific. Everybody on chemo just looks like they’re sort of a zombie. So you have spots because you’re allergic to the drugs, no hair because that’s what makes it fall out, you’re not at your best because you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating very well. And it was just horrific.
So the first three, I lost my hair – great! The second three, I was still allergic – great! And then, because cumulatively the effect on you, because basically it’s mustard gas from the First World War, so it’s not really very good for you. And they tell you, “Oh, it’ll be fine,” and you think, ‘Well, you’ve done this before, I sort of believe you.’ But you wake up at three in the morning and you, I didn’t actually feel sick but you had to take steroids in certain timeframes before your drugs. Well, by Session 4 I was allergic to those. So I’d got to the point where I couldn’t even drink a glass of water without it burning my entire throat down to my stomach.
One of my friends was a nutritionist so she said, “Just drink milk.” I said, “I can’t drink milk either.” So there was literally nothing I could eat or drink that didn’t make me sore. They couldn’t swap the tablets so I had to take them. So yeah, the chemo was awful for me. And of course, I had a 9-year-old in the house who wanted his tea cooked. So I’m coming back from chemo, absolutely zonked, because I’d had Piriton all day so I’m completely fazed, falling asleep on the sofa. My boy thinks I’m dying, “Mum, Mum, wake up, wake up.” “I’m actually alright, love, I’m just tired.” But that’s four times a night he’s been nudging me to wake me up and I’d be so comatose I didn’t really know which way was up. But of course, I had to cook for him and keep the house going, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, chemo was horrendous.
And because I was Stage 3 on a really aggressive cancer, I had to have Herceptin. So the first treatment of that they sat with me, and again I turned a bright purple. So every time I went for Herceptin I had to have Piriton. And that was eighteen months’ worth. So instead of turning up and having like a two-hour session, I had to turn up, have my Piriton which took two hours to go through, and then have my Herceptin. So what should have been a quick morning’s treatment became, for me, a whole day. So basically, I had two years of treatment. Every three weeks you could guarantee where I was going to be, which made holidays difficult. But I was determined to go on holiday, so I made sure I booked it two days after, because you always felt lousy for the first sort of four days after your holiday.
So I went to Portugal with friends, mainly because they like driving in Portugal, I like Portugal and they had a beach holiday planned. Their kid is the same age as my son, so two lads looking after each other on the beach, me with two adults who were going to look after me, haven’t got to drive, haven’t got to cook. I just give them the money for the shopping. Perfect. And that worked a treat. But the trouble is the chemo makes you sun-sensitive so I had to buy a great big hat and cover up. But it was a good decision. People thought I was mad because your immune system is so ruined by the chemo, but I said, “Look, it’s the summer, I’m not doing anything ridiculous.” So that was okay.
Because I had such a bad reaction to the chemo drugs; they put me in hospital at the end of November, because my blood count apparently was zero, which meant that I had a temperature, I had shivers, and any infection I would get would be pretty horrendous. So I literally went to my son’s school, had a meeting about him, went home, phoned my friend, “Take me to the hospital because I feel awful.” They took one look at me and said, “You’re neutropenic. In that room now, in isolation. Where have you been all day?” I went, “I had to sort my son out.” And they’re like, “You’re mad,” and I went, “No, he has nobody else, I have to look after my son.”
I was in hospital for a week, end of November, thinking, ‘Am I going to get out of here for Christmas?’ Because they weren’t going to let me out until my blood count was normal, and clearly, on chemo, that takes a while. So I had to wait and have blood tests every day and they eventually worked out that wasn’t going to work and they had to give me more injections! So after that I had to have an injection every week before my chemo to make sure my body would then kick in and make enough blood cells to make the chemo work. So for me, being needle-phobic and hospital-phobic, it was not pleasant.
I wondered how that affected you dealing with your bereavement as well? Was it something that you compartmentalised, or was it something that sort of ran concurrently? How was it managing the loss of your husband with, then, struggling to fight cancer?
I was just coming into a good place four years on because everybody said that after four years you sort of work out that you’ve survived four years, nothing’s fallen apart too badly that you can’t repair. So it’s supposed to be quite a good place after four years. But of course, four years after losing my husband I got cancer, so I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff again. It was absolutely horrific for me, but again, of course, I had my son who needed me. So it was a case of, ‘I have to keep going because a) I don’t fancy dying, thank you very much, b) I’ve got him and he doesn’t want to lose both his parents within four years. Because what do I do with him? I mean, he has got great godparents, so I’d done all the legal stuff with, he’s got this, if I die I’ve got this. I’d done all of that. And I knew if anything did happen to me they would make brilliant decisions, because they’re such fantastic people.
But it was still like, ‘What am I going to do, how am I going to deal with this?’ So yeah, there were days when on chemo especially, just thinking, ‘Oh, this is just horrific.’ It was a complete nightmare trying to keep some semblance of normality and trying to keep positive. And a few of my friends had been really good and taken me out, although you couldn’t really go anywhere because if you caught a cold you’d be ill for about three months. So you had to keep away from people who were ill, and of course, I started my chemo in October, six months, so that covered Christmas, holidays, my son was a primary school – prime bug-festering location. So it was quite difficult. But they’d take me out for nice lunches and massages and stuff like that, to try and help me to just feel better about me.
And of course, I couldn’t have a massage for months, and then when I could it was, “Oh, that’s so nice.” Because it does relax you. And they’ve proven since that you can help yourself with massage. The Maggie’s Centre in Dundee were brilliant. They didn’t let me run a knitting group for some reason, which I could never understand why, but they had all the holistic medicines. So you could go for a massage, like Reiki or counselling. And I did a journaling course, and that was brilliant. I did a mindfulness course; that was amazing as well. So I was just trying to access things for me that I could fit in in the daytime, and then get back for the boy, to be there for when he finished school.
So yes, I did have a better chapter of my life and keeping my sanity. My counsellor was really good, he was really kind, and he kept saying to me, “Lesser people would have collapsed by now, Romana, and you’ve done the bereavement and you’re still going with this [the cancer],” he said. “That’s amazing.” So he was really keen to keep me on the up, you know, would try and say, “How about this for your next challenge? How about this?” So between friends and counsellor I had enough people willing me on to keep going. Which if I hadn’t had then I probably would have gone under.
Is that something that you’ve done, sort of set yourself challenges, periodically sort of …?
Not much at that point but I was just mindful of the fact that if you don’t have a carrot, like the summer holiday was always the carrot, you know, Christmas, when it was always lousy weather, I’d always plan my summer holiday. So I’d know that I’m going somewhere good if Christmas is ugh, with the weather, or Scotland is just rains for the whole of January, February. I have to have something to look forward to. And also, for the boy, he has to have something to look forward to, that isn’t just me. Because, clearly, there’s only me and him in the house, we’re going to argue and fight and get grumpy with each other. But if we’ve got a holiday that we both want to do in the summer, he’s learnt that if he wants to buy anything, ‘ask Mum when she’s on holiday’ because chances are she’ll buy it for him. So he’s sort of learnt and I’ve sort of worked out now that he’s not daft and I will probably buy it for him. Because his birthday’s in the summer, so it works out quite nicely. We go away about his birthday, he sees something on holiday that, actually he quite fancies, “Why not have that for your birthday?”
So it’s a good trade-off. We don’t fight particularly but, obviously, there’s just me and him 95% of the time. It’s not great, is it? We could do with a few more people in our lives. So yeah, that’s been the way it worked.
Can I ask you how you explained to your son about what happened? And how you’ve kept your husband’s memory alive, his father’s memory alive, if you don’t mind?
Yeah, telling this 5-year-old that their dad had died was definitely the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do. And he was amazing, he just sort of said, “Oh, did it do this?” and he sort of did a plane that sort of literally just launched into his knee. And I said, “Yeah mate that is what it did” And he went, “Okay.” And I was like, “Oh, right, yeah, so you know Dad’s not coming home,” and he went, “Yeah,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay, give me a hug.” So we had a hug. And then, as 5-year-olds do, he sort of carried on doing stuff. And I thought, ‘Right, okay, has he got that, the implication of that? I have no idea.’ But at least it wasn’t floods of tears and screaming, so that was a bonus.
And the whole summer, when I had all the hideous admin to do, I was as honest as I could be. So when the funeral was coming up and I wanted to go before anybody else saw the coffin, I wanted to go to the Chapel of Rest. And the boy said, “Can I come with you? Can I see inside the coffin?” And I said, “No, I’m not allowed to see inside the coffin.” And that was the honest truth because, of course, the nature of it, the post-mortem, so really not advisable. And I said, “I’m not allowed to, mate, so no, you’re not going with me.” And he went, “Okay, fair enough.” So there was nothing that I did or said to him that wasn’t true, but I had to temper it to the language of a 5, 6-year-old. So there’s nothing that can ever come back and bite me because I told him, “I’ve got a meeting with him, this chap, because this needs doing or that needs to be dealt with.” So he’s got no nasty surprises coming.
We still go out for a meal on his birthday. I sort of mark the wedding anniversary with, ‘Oh well today’s our wedding anniversary,’ kind of comment. But we don’t mark the 2nd of July, which is the accident date, I just take flowers to the cemetery and he’ll see me buying bunches and bunches of flowers. And when he was wee, I didn’t actually tell him what day it was. I just used to buy loads and loads of flowers and just put them together on a cross or on his, an ‘N’ or something, and take it up myself. And I just said, “I’m taking flowers to your dad,” and I always take flowers at least once a month to the grave. Because I need to check up on it, make sure it’s okay.
But it’s a difficult one, how do you involve kids in something that impacts on their life but they don’t want to interact with? So the meal is the best thing, the meal definitely works for both days, because my husband’s birthday was the first of all our family’s. So it was good to have, March birthday, here we go, meal, what do you fancy? So that’s definitely the most positive one.
Do you do anything on Remembrance Day?
Remembrance Day is a nightmare because, although my friends are marching past the Cenotaph, there is the childcare. And because I have no family, in London, how do I … I can’t leave a 6-year-old in a hotel room while I go past the cenotaph. I’ve no family in London to leave him with, I didn’t want to leave him aged 5, 6 or 7. So this year is the first year that I’ve put my name down to do it because a) I wasn’t emotionally ready to do it, and this year I went to the War Widows’ tri-service conference. And I said to the ladies, “How do you cope with that?” and one lady, who was ex-RAF, said, “Well, I cry every year but who cares?” And I thought, ‘Good! That’s further on than me in her life story but she cries,’ so I thought, ‘That’s alright then.’ Because I assumed you weren’t allowed to in the sense that it’s not the British thing to cry. I thought, ‘Well, if she cries that’s alright. If I cry, I cry, if I don’t, I don’t.’
So this year is the first year I’m going to do it, so that’s going to be interesting. I’m going to stay with his godparents because they live far enough away to me that he’s not in the city centre but near enough that I can get there and back in the right timeframe. It’ll be interesting, come November.
Do you buy a poppy?
I always buy a poppy. I’ve got a poppy on my car. I always try and take something like that to the grave. There’s always fresh flowers for Remembrance Sunday. So, it’s keeping it current but not so much that every day is obsessed with, ‘What am I taking tomorrow?’ You know? I’ve tried to sort of back off a bit with, I’ve planted things and I’ve taken them away. And then the War Graves Commission came one day and ripped up all my things off my grave! I turned up, and there was nothing there. So, the plants that I’d planted had gone, there was nothing. And I could tell the grass had been cut, it had all been mown and made quite tidy, so I thought, ‘It must be the War Graves Commission because, clearly, it’s a whole run of war graves.’
So, I phoned them up and I said, “What’s going on with Leuchars, St Mike’s at Leuchars?” and they said, “We’re doing that up at the minute.” And I said, “Okay, well it’s November, Remembrance time of year, I went up with my Remembrance Day flowers, not best impressed to see that all my flowers I’d planted and the items I’d put there,” which were a Tornado, a badge from Rowan that he’d made at pottery class, you know, two or three silly little things, “aren’t there.” “Well, we put a sign up.” I said, “It’s November. If I turn up even at two o’clock in the afternoon, I’ve never seen your sign, where is it?” “It’s on the gate.” I said, “Well, it must be pretty small, then, because I go in there once a fortnight and I’ve never seen your sign.” “Well, it’s there.” I said, “Could you not have told people you were going to go and do this?” “We did, we had a sign.” I said, “You’re not getting this, why didn’t you email the War Widows’ because they would have sent a blanket email to every member to say, ‘St Mike’s is being done up in November, for example, Edinburgh’s being done up in January,’ and then everybody would have known.” “Oh, didn’t think of that.”
I said, “So where’s my stuff?” “We’ve got it safe for you.” And I said, “Okay, safe is good, but can you imagine, in November, how traumatic it was to turn up with my Remembrance Day flowers to find the grave effectively desecrated, in my opinion?” “We’re very sorry, we’ll look into it.” So they phoned me back and they said, “What do you want done with it?” And I said, “Well, I put a penstemon there because a) it was blue, which was RAF colour, and rabbits can’t eat it, you’ve ripped it out.” “Oh well, we’ll replant that for you.” I said, “But why did you rip it out in the first place? A penstemon does not grow to be 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, it’s a very small shrub, rabbit-friendly. The other plants I put there were rabbit-friendly because it’s that sort of area.” “Ah, okay, yes, we’re very sorry.” I said, “Well, it’s really not good enough.”
So the people I least thought I would ever fall out with were the War Graves Commission, and I did. But at least then, in future reference, they know that they should email the War Widows’ and all the associations. So they’re going to hit all the people that would have a link to a particular cemetery. I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it. When I actually saw the sign it was literally about A5 on the fence, which of course in November, in the dark, just looks like the ‘No Parking’ sign, the normal sign they’ve got on the gate to the tiny little cemetery. So yeah, another war I’ve had to fight.
Can I ask you about whether or not you’ve considered new relationships? At what point it came into your life about, you know, just sort of finding companionship?
For me, I’ve had such a hideous time, so four years on I got cancer, then I was ill for two years with that, and my brain just wasn’t in the right place. So, it literally got to Christmas this year, so nine years on, that I thought, ‘I’m in Edinburgh, I’ve not met anybody yet.’ My Edinburgh friends kept teasing me, any fit bloke walking past us with, “Oh, he looks like he’s single, why aren’t you on Tinder?” And I’m like, “Dream on, shut up, I’m not interested.” And it got to Christmas and I had such a rubbish Christmas, because I broke my ribs, my mum broke her arm. So Christmas was just a write-off. The boy had a nice Christmas because he had Xbox, but Mum and I were just sitting on the sofa going, “Bleurggh.” So I actually thought, ‘Actually, in eighteen months’ time my boy leaves home. I don’t really want to be thinking about a new relationship the day he leaves the house, because that’s a bit sad and a bit late.’
So I thought, ‘Okay Romana, pull your finger out, get on with it.’ So I sort of considered dating, and then I thought, ‘Ohh, this is not going to happen.’ And my friend had actually met this lovely man, this lovely fella, online, lovely in all respects, you know, nice house, nice job, nice guy, very kind. She’s really happy with him. So I thought, ‘It’s possible then.’ So I started looking at that. That didn’t happen until actually about April. (Pause). So that’s all I’m going to say about that. So yeah, it’s taken me nine years and nine months to be in a position where I think, ‘Do you know what, maybe I can start looking forwards instead of backwards.’ Because I’ve had near enough ten years looking backwards, doing the right thing, being the mother, keeping my husband’s memory alive for the right reasons.
Because, obviously, the military had tried to prove that he was negligent in the air. I’m proving that he’s not. The Procurator Fiscal argument was all about that. And it was like, “No, I’m not having this.” So I’ve had a lot of fighting to do just because I don’t think it’s right that they should … You know, they trained him, why is it he’s suddenly negligent? “No! He’s not negligent.” “Oh, he didn’t do this.” “Well, I’ll tell you why he didn’t…” Do you know what I mean, it was that kind of argument.
And this was going on immediately after?
Immediately afterwards, yeah. So I’ve had ten years of trying to keep everything as it were ‘correct’, you know, get the story out there that’s actually true, not somebody’s fabrication. So I thought, ‘Ten years is probably time.’ Hence the reason I’m doing this marathon, because my husband was 43, so I’m running 43k for charity, just to get it as a, ‘Right, ten years is long enough to look backwards.’ And I think now I deserve to start looking forwards. And the boy is quite happy because, of course, he is now going to be in the sixth form, he’s started thinking about his future. And I think, ‘Yeah, it’s time for me to think I’ve got a future as well.’
So the ambassador role will get me out there meeting people, doing stuff. So I think 2019 could be quite a nice year, but who knows?
Are you setting any other goals for yourself? What can you see yourself doing in the future?
Well, my trainer keeps thinking I can run further than I think I can, so he’s already firming my next race. So yeah, I think it’s going to be busy doing marathons, or whatever, as well as the ambassador role. I think it’s going to be good, I think it’s going to be good.
Brilliant. So just some round-up questions. Do you think in your perception there are any changes in the experience of war widowhood from what you’ve experienced to present day?
I think the worst thing for me is, when I go to like the coffee mornings that they do in Dundee, mainly, because that’s where I was living the longest, I got really sick of people saying, “Who have you brought?” Because the widows themselves, or the associate members, had no conception that, actually, post-Afghanistan, post-Bosnia, post-Northern Ireland, that the widows weren’t going to be 65 years old. So I’ve really got truly sick of people saying, “Who did you bring? Where’s your mother?” And I’d be like, “I’m the member.” And they’d give me that face of, ‘what do you mean, you’re the member?’
So when I went to the conference this April, when you go in you can buy all the memorabilia, and there’s a badge you can buy if you’re a member. I’d only ever had the tiny pin before to put on my coat for Remembrance Sunday. I’ve got it on the car but I hadn’t got the pin. And they had a much bigger brooch, a bit more like a medal, and I thought, ‘I can’t do the whole conference with people saying, who have you brought?’ So I actually bought the proper big badge that only, only the war widows are allowed to buy, darling, the associate members can’t wear it. I just thought, ‘I’m not having the whole weekend with people saying, “Who have you brought, who have you brought?”
Not that they’re nasty, I mean, the war widows themselves are a great bunch of girls, they really are lovely. But it just stops that ambiguity of, ‘are you an associate member or are you a full member?’ And then people do ask you what your story is, but they temper it with, “My husband did this, what was your story?” And then you can answer if you want to, or not. So it actually made the whole weekend a whole lot easier. Because I just can’t get over the fact now that people, like my friend sort of said, “Why are you upset at Remembrance?” “Because Remembrance is about every war.” “But he wasn’t killed in war.” “Yeah, but he was killed on a training exercise, that counts as active service.” So people, even my friends, don’t get it. Only the empathetic ones do. But a lot of them go, “Well, it’s nothing to do with you.” And it’s like, “Remembrance Sunday has everything to do with me. It’s about remembering anybody who’s been killed in service.”
So yeah, perception needs to change big time, it really does. It’s shocking that in this day and age people don’t equate the two. So hopefully, my role as an ambassador will maybe make people wake up to the fact that I’m in my 50s and I’m a war widow. And it’s a different story to them but it’s still as hideous and as raw and as real as anybody else’s.
So that follows on to my next question perfectly. Is there anything that you would want people to know about war widows that they don’t necessarily know?
I don’t know. I think I’ve possibly just answered that. But I think the fact that people don’t get sort of the dates in the diary that are painful for people. That really hurts. Because like, November, I’m not at my best, ever. The weather’s rubbish, normally, all the television programmes are all, weeks and weeks beforehand, all the war this, war that. And it’s just horrific, you can’t turn the telly on without somebody telling another war story. Which; it needs to be out there, don’t get me wrong, we’re going to repeat the wars if we don’t know what went on in the past. Like the concentration camps, we need to get that out there so that people think, ‘Crikey, that’s never going to happen again, that was horrific.’
But there were so many good stories that came out of that, like the doctors that saved people and Schindler’s List, people that were good in that situation. So I do think we just need an awareness, but tempering it with actually every channel for Remembrance Week is nothing else but remembrance stories that are all about the war. Maybe they should make it a bit more current, and maybe have a gap for the people like me who actually don’t watch telly that week because they can’t.
Finally, is there anything you think that we haven’t covered that you’d want to bring up and put on record?
[Pause.] I don’t think so, to be fair, thank you. I think I’ve talked a fair bit about lots of things. No, I think that’s probably everything.
Well, thank you, Romana, and we’ll end there.
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