Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 13:11 UK

Homecoming heroes: Wives' tales

As the flag was lowered in the afternoon sun of Basra on Thursday, it marked the official end of the six-year British military presence in Iraq.

Whilst servicemen are away on tours of duty, those left behind carry a burden of their own.

Military wives told the BBC news website what the withdrawal of troops means to them.

RACHEL, YEOVIL
Tim and rachel
Rachel with her husband Tim

My husband has served two tours in Iraq. He hated leaving me and the children behind but he had to go. When I met Tim, he was already in the navy and it was quite romantic back then. As our time together evolved, we became more and more patriotic and I've always supported what he does.

It was when I had our first child that it hit me really; I felt like a single parent. I didn't have any family close by and I went to pre-natal classes and scans on my own. I felt solely responsible for the baby and, yes, I started to feel lonely.

When Isobel was born Tim stayed with us for ten days but then had to go back. He missed her terribly. He couldn't call me often but when we did speak, we'd have long drawn-out conversations about nappies because he really wanted to know everything and be a part of it. When he came home, he was always such a good dad and that made it harder when he went away again.


It was heart-wrenching seeing the collapse on Tim's face. For the first time, I saw the enormity of the situation from a child's eyes


When our second child Archie was born, resentment started to creep in. I found it hard coping with two small children and I never got a day off; it was relentless. I never told Tim how I felt because I supported what he was doing and I knew how important his job was for the country.

When Archie was 18 months old, he caught pneumonia. In the middle of the night he started having breathing difficulties. I was so scared, he couldn't breathe. I took him to hospital. I had to take Isobel with me because there was nobody to leave her with. I called Tim as soon as I could. It was the first time I had ever told him the full story about something; normally I muted the edges. This time though, I had to tell him everything. He was so quiet on the other end of the phone. I was thinking "say something, say something". I put the phone down and just felt empty. What could he do, he was in Iraq? Archie was in hospital for four days before he recovered.

Tim
Tim on a tour of duty

Shortly after Archie's illness, Tim came home. He got back late at night so the children didn't see him until the following morning. When Tim came down the stairs Archie was so frightened that he hid behind the settee. It was heart-wrenching seeing the collapse on Tim's face. For the first time, I saw the enormity of the situation from a child's eyes.

It took a while for Archie to warm to the idea that Tim was his dad. Later on, Archie would get really clingy and tearful whenever Tim had to leave after a visit. Isobel would howl as she waved her dad off down the road but Archie would just cling to me. I think he thought that I was going to leave him too.

Tim's been back home now for 18 months. He injured his back flying helicopters so he can't do any more tours. It has just been the best thing for us as a family having him back.

Being married to a servicemen has totally shaped my life. I was married to the navy. I would say that the navy always came first, Tim would deny that. I never put him in the situation where he had to choose between us and the navy because I valued what he did for this country as much as he did.


GOLDIE, PLYMOUTH

Goldie
My father was in the navy and I married a man in the navy so I was prepared for this life. My husband has been serving for over 25 years. He's a senior officer in the submarine service and his work is top secret so I never know where he is. I'm very resilient and I don't mind what he does at all, in fact I'm incredibly proud of him.

We have two sons who both adore their dad and when he's off duty, they spend all their time together. This means I don't get to see him that much but that's a sacrifice I'm prepared to make for my family. I do miss him terribly though and would love to have him all to myself.

When the children were younger and my husband went away, it would hit my youngest son the hardest
My husband has missed birthdays, Christmases, graduations and prize-givings. When the children were younger and my husband went away, it would hit my youngest son the hardest. He would always be very clingy. I would try to fill the hole he left by talking about their dad the whole time and showing them on a globe where he might be; I would also make the boys say goodnight to the moon every bed time because their dad would also be looking at the moon. It was hard though. I couldn't rely on him to be there when big things happened.

Sadly I lost two babies. Our son Charles died shortly after being born because he had breathing difficulties and then our daughter Bethany was stillborn. My husband was with me at those times which was an incredible support but then he was sent away again shortly afterwards. By then though I had my eldest son to look after and he was both a distraction and a comfort.

Goldie and husband
Goldie on her wedding day in 1978
Families of servicemen are often treated as add-ons and not given much support. The accommodation is poor and there's nobody to talk to. Families band together and are buddies for the couple of years they're on the base but families move a lot and so these friendships are fleeting. I really believe though that this hardship brings out the best in people.

I feel thankful that the troops are coming home, if only for a short while. I worry though about how they will adjust. I've tried to help returning servicemen. It's hard though because I don't know first-hand what they've been through; they've seen their friends die, they've shot at people and have been shot at.

Often returning servicemen can't sleep and they are traumatised. They have a lot of problems. They're not going to walk through the door and it will all be fine.




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