Soldier's death in Afghanistan through the eyes of his mother

Margaret Evison talks about hearing of her son's death and coming to terms with it

It is a mother's story that is deeply moving but often painful to read, emerging from the deep wounds of the loss of an only son.

Or as Margaret Evison puts it in her opening chapter: "This is the story of a journey... through the love one has for others, the intensities of care and compassion we feel for each other and the structures we humans have built to protect ourselves from those great heights and depths. I understand more completely now: when there is love, there will also be pain and suffering."

So far 437 British troops have now died in the war in Afghanistan. One of them was 26-year-old Lt Mark Evison, killed by a Taliban bullet as he led his men in Helmand in May 2009.

Mark survived long enough to be brought back to the UK, where he died of his wounds. His mother, father and sister were at his bedside.

Families' anger

Three years on, Margaret's book - Death of a Soldier, a mother's story - is being published on Thursday.

It focuses on her experience of losing her only son, and her subsequent battles with the Ministry of Defence to find out more about the circumstances surrounding his death. The clinical psychologist began writing as she fought to come to terms with his death.

Start Quote

I feel sorry for the other families, as they're suffering the way I am”

End Quote Margaret Evison Soldier's mother

"In the very beginning it was therapeutic," she says. "I would write whenever I was very upset, and I would write with no particular aim other than making myself feel better. And months later, I showed it to a friend and he said I should think about publishing it."

But the book is also driven by anger. Margaret wants the MoD to tell her why the medical evacuation helicopter that was sent to rescue Mark was delayed, as her son's life gradually ebbed away.

"They still haven't told me why. After Mark's inquest, my lawyers wrote to the MoD and they wrote back and said they didn't have to tell me as the inquest was now over.

"I think it's quite disgraceful that so many families end up angry with the MoD over their son or daughter's deaths. I wasn't angry at all until the inquest - and then I was."

The radios Mark's unit were issued with had also stopped working just before he was shot, leaving Margaret with even more questions.

For her, the book became a way to cope with the anguish. "It's certainly made me more resilient about death. Because I work with cancer patients, I had to be able to talk to them without crying and for a long time, I used to well up. So it was useful in helping to deal with that."

War doubts

It is also a chance for Margaret to pay tribute to Mark's life, and the remarkable impact he had in his all too brief 26 years. It is clear that he was a young officer popular both with his men, and with his superiors.

Lt Mark Evison Lt Mark Evison was killed as he led his men in Helmand in May 2009

Blond and hazel-eyed, the Londoner was affectionately nicknamed "007" for his capability, style and charisma. The Welsh Guards he commanded were in awe of his levels of fitness, and enjoyed his sense of adventure and fun.

He himself wrote a diary of remarkable maturity while serving in Helmand, questioning many aspects of the mission.

Margaret also described her own journey to Afghanistan, where she went to see for herself the place her son laid down his life. Today, she is no longer sure the campaign is worth the loss of so many lives.

"On the war in Afghanistan, I've become more cynical about it. I went there, and was surprised by how tribal it was. It has a very different culture which wouldn't take easily to democracy.

"Revenge is quite important there, because there is little law, so revenge has become part of the culture. And that probably hasn't helped the Western cause at all because there will be Afghans who feel strongly about the fact that their relatives have been killed."

She also pays tribute to the many other lives lost in Afghanistan before and since Mark's death.

"I list the soldiers who have lost their lives there, and when you see it page after page after page, it's quite remarkable. I feel sorry for the other families, as they're suffering the way I am."

But her book also tells a more universal story - of a mother's love and a mother's loss, and a tribute to a young life that was cut short before its time.

As Margaret herself writes: "When one travels to a new world - one wants to tell about it... and to pay my respects to a young man who commanded such respect and love in his short life... a young man, of great distinction, courage, charm and compassion. Farewell great heart."

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