MY son wasn’t a movie star, celebrity, or millionaire.
But Simon Annis has a place in history.
Ann with son Simons presented to Elizabeth Cross after he was killedPhoto credit: Neil Jones – The Sun
He was one of 454 British military personnel who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
When he died 12 years ago today to save his best friend, my boy became the 201st British soldier to be killed there.
When 600 paratroopers were sent back to Afghanistan last week to help the British escape amid more Taliban atrocities, MP and ex-soldier Johnny Mercer asked how the mothers of the 454 were feeling.
I am one of those mothers.
Looking back, I think the last 20 years have not been worth it.
Nothing that happens over there tells me it was worth it.
Within a few months of our departure, Afghanistan is back in first place.
As far as I’m concerned, the 454 have been abandoned and I don’t want the sons and daughters of other mothers to return there.
Next month, it will be 20 years since Simon’s fate was set in stone on the day of the murderous attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
I still remember how we all sat together and watched these terrible events on television at our home in Cadishead, Salford.
How could we have known that Simon would die as a result of that day when he was only 14 years old?
Within seven years, my cheeky young lad would be a proud man standing upright in his army uniform.
When Simon asked me and his father Pete whether he should join in or not, we said, “Go!”
He was in the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
I saw the war in Afghanistan on TV but didn’t realize how bad it was.
Student Simon at the age of six
I wasn’t disinterested. I just didn’t feel the need to worry, watch, or help.
Losing my hero changed all that.
I now realize that no matter how much you ignore something, it always happens and can one day affect your life.
Sunday August 16, 2009 was the day my soul was torn in two.
Pete and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary aboard a cruise ship that sailed from Southampton to the Mediterranean.
We’d seen dolphins swimming next to the ship before retiring to our cabin for an afternoon siesta.
It was 4 p.m. when the car phone rang.
One lady said, “The captain wants to speak to you and your husband. He is on the way.”
My stomach started spinning.
I told Pete, “It’s Simon. Otherwise why should the captain feel the need to visit us? “
We both sat perfectly still and stared at the door. Five minutes felt like five hours.
The captain, who was with two strangers, stopped uncomfortably and then said Simon had been killed.
Simon in uniform on duty at Buckingham Palace for Queen and Country
A feeling of utter helplessness came over us.
We felt small and isolated, alone and scared.
We had spoken to Simon on Thursday and I tried to remember the sound of the voice but couldn’t.
The captain gave us the phone number of an officer who confirmed that Simon was on an early morning patrol in Sangin town when an IED or improvised explosive device detonated.
When the cloud of dust subsided, they realized there was a victim – Simon’s true good friend L / Cpl James Fullarton.
Hell had broken out.
Simon went to James to provide first aid to his buddy.
When James – known to his buddies as Fully – was placed on a stretcher, Simon and Fusilier Louis Carter picked her up
But they were in the middle of a minefield and, tragically, Simon was standing on a different IED.
All three brave heroes lost their lives in the same tragic explosion.
Pete and I had to sit on this boat from Sunday through Tuesday.
It was unbearable. They wanted to take us off in the helicopter, but it was not possible.
When Simon asked me and his father Pete whether he should join in or not, we said, “Go!”Photo credit: Neil Jones – The Sun
We couldn’t stand the tightness of the cabin and went crazy with anger and sadness.
The boat was teeming with partying vacationers.
I heard them laugh and joke and hated them all because of their happiness.
Holding hands, we made our way to the upper deck, away from human contact, and drank twice as much.
It didn’t work and it just numbed us.
Eventually we arrived in Gibraltar and flew home from Malaga.
Simon’s picture was in the newspapers, his face was now national.
On the plane, a man across the aisle was reading his newspaper attentively.
Pete snapped it and snatched it from him.
Simon wasn’t on the front page.
The man looked angry.
Brave Simon on the front lines in AfghanistanPhoto credit: Neil Jones – The Sun
I apologized to him without offering an explanation.
After Simon died, we didn’t mourn, we raised over £ 40,000 directly for the Fusilier Aid Society.
It awards grants to soldiers in its regiment who bear the physical and mental scars of battle.
We sent packages to the guys who were still in Afghanistan.
We included little notes to tell them we hadn’t forgotten them.
And it has also helped us.
Eventually Pete and I had to move away from Cadishead.
It’s a beautiful city and everyone has supported us and helped us raise funds.
But there were constant memories.
See the house where Simon was born and played in, walk down the street and see his school with its playground. It all got too much.
Ann says, “We visit Simon every day, tending his grave, cutting his lawn, washing his hero’s tombstone and making sure he has fresh flowers.”
Simon’s precious items have pride of place in our new home in Mobberley, Cheshire.
There is a photo of him that was taken shortly before he left for Afghanistan.
It is set in a rough handmade wooden frame.
It was the picture that was on a table during his memorial service in Afghanistan, so I will never replace this frame.
Together with his neck hair, belts, medals, flags and the Bible, Pete’s most valuable item is a brass Zippo lighter that Simon gave him for Christmas.
The side was engraved with the words “Thank you for everything, Papa”.
The words are worn out now and Pete is too scared to use them in case they get lost.
There is also his beret, which he was wearing, and I can smell Simon on it.
Sometimes I hold it to my heart and sniff it deeply.
I look at his stuff every day and wonder if it gets any easier?
Will I one day look at his things without it hurting me?
I don’t want it to get any easier because if it does, it means we can finally get on with our lives.
The coffin of Fusilier Simon Annis is in the Church of St John the Baptist, Irlam, Manchester. carriedPhoto credit: PA
The letters that Simon told me that he wanted to write – the letters that should remain unopened if nothing happened to him – never came.
Maybe he didn’t have time, maybe he couldn’t find the words, maybe he didn’t want to challenge fate
I’m still waiting for these, telling myself that one day they will come through my mailbox, lost in admin files.
We visit Simon every day, tending his grave, cutting his lawn, washing his hero’s tombstone and making fresh flowers.
We keep his property fit for a king.
We cared for our son for 22 years and it makes no difference that he is no longer with us in life.
He is with us here in our hearts and in our memories.
The medical examiner’s verdict during his investigation was “unlawful killing”.
What makes this difficult for me is the fact that it certainly means murder
We don’t have a closure.
If Simon had been murdered in this country and the perpetrator had been brought to justice, we could have looked him in the eyes and looked him in the eyes.
But not in this case, and that is what makes it so difficult to accept.
The cost of the war
I was afraid that Simon’s name would be forgotten, but we’re not afraid that this will happen now.
His name is there with all the other Afghanistan war heroes in the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
He also has a memorial stone in the new extension to his high school and two more on the walls of the Fusilier Museum in Bury.
Two trees of life planted in his name are now growing tall and strong.
My dream is to see a bronze statue of Simon in his hometown, a truly fitting memorial in honor of all the fine young soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
- The book, adapted by Mike Ridley from Butterflies And Feathers, which Ann Annis wrote and published about her son Simon, is available on Amazon UK.