War Mothers

by Eddy Rawlinson

Having been born before the Second World War and lived through the 1939/45 conflict, I witnessed the heartache mothers have suffered when a son is sent off to war.
An Officer holds a soldier who had been wounded as his Corporal rushes to his aid. Londonderry.

From the 1930s, I recollect a woman sitting outside her house, waiting for her soldier son – who had been killed in the First World War – to come home. Every day, she sat on her garden wall, looking towards the town centre, awaiting his return. The poor woman would not believe he had lost his life in the 1914/18 war. During a lifetime of working for national newspapers, I have been able to witness the heartbreak a woman suffers with the loss of a child. Television now brings war direct into our living rooms, and the announcement of the loss of a serviceperson’s life has become a down-the-list news item. We must never forget that sacrifice. Thousands of mothers with sons and daughters involved in the war in Afghanistan have a constant worry about the safety of their child. So do the partners, fathers and siblings of loved ones who are fighting for peace in a country they had hardly heard of before 2001. A mother’s relationship is different to the others having known the first movement of her unborn child to the time when she sees her baby, now a grown man, marching off to war.

The divided society was illustrated on the faces of those young girls as they followed a Protestant Orange Day parade.

Mothers have been involved in this heartbreak throughout the ages and now we have front line action brought by live television direct into our living rooms. The pain must be much greater when seeing the horrors of war as it happens and having to wait to hear if your child has been involved in the action. From an early age war has been an honourable adventure for men and today women are taking similar roles in war zones. As a result Afghanistan has its women casualties and with the special love of a daughter, I’m sure most fathers would only be too willing to take the place of their little girl on any front line. I have witnessed first hand a mother’s grief for her son away at war and the understanding of a father as to why his son must fight the enemy.

A wife waits by her soldier husband’s beside after he had been shot during a gun battle in Londonderry.

My mother saw her father return to the army when he was 48 years of age to fight in the First World War, as did her boyfriend, who later became her husband and my father; she had a cousin who never returned from that bloody conflict. At the beginning of the Second World War my brother broke the family tradition of joining the army when he enlisted in the Royal Navy and in the same convoy when our cousin went down with his ship. My aunt lost her son. Communication with my brother was lost if his ship was sailing out of an overseas port and without home leave resulted in months of not knowing where he was serving his country. It was the same for every family. Every working day my mother would dash home from work during her half-hour morning break to see if a letter had arrived from her sailor son. It could take as long as three months for a letter to be delivered then her silent mood would change to one of joy. During those worrying times there were only two BBC stations broadcasting to the nation and almost everyone had their ears glued to the wireless when the main news was read at 6.00pm. Our hearts lost a beat when the announcer dropped into a sombre tone to start the sentence “The Admiralty regrets” then he would give the name of a ship or ships lost at sea and sighs of relief came when we knew my brother’s ship wasn’t on the list.

The white line that divided a nation. My favourite picture from my many stints in N.Ireland.

In 1969 I was sent by my newspaper, the Daily Mirror, to photograph the riots in Northern Ireland and never realised at the time I was in a war zone. From 2001 to the end of 2009 two hundred and forty six troops have died in Afghanistan. In the same length of time from 1971 until the end of 1979 three hundred and twenty seven troops were killed in Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. In twenty two years from 1969 until 2001 over three thousand people had been killed in Northern Ireland’s war, hundreds more than those who died in New York’s twin towers disaster and shows the size of the “troubles”. In a conflict wives suffer the loss of a husband and later might find someone else, fathers suffer in silence, siblings don’t forget and carry on with their lives. Mothers who have lost sons through the horrors of war hope one day they will be reunited in death with their loved one. This relationship is a special love only a woman knows and to quote my late mother at the start of the Second World War “I didn’t bring a child into this world to be Cannon Fodder for the government…” But she did and my brother came back from the war safely. Millions of other mothers have not been so lucky.