By Jarra Brown
I was invited by Denise Philips to go along for an interview to the BRTK studios to talk about a book I have just written ‘46 Miles’ on her radio show.
The Main Event proved to be an emotional experience when the dedication of songs played was chosen by the families, who lost their loved ones. The story is about a chapter in time when the country recognised the impact of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and their return home in a wooden box draped with the Union flag. I thank Denise and Bayrak International Radio for showing compassion to so many families who were overwhelmed with their kindness for mentioning their sons, daughters, husbands, wives and of course many who lost their dads:
March 2007 Rehearsal of the Repatriation Ceremony.
First notification of Soldier Killed five days later, prepare for Op Pabbay by the end of that Monday we got a further message, prepare for two coming home on Thursday.
5th April 2007 Kingsman Danny Wilson and Rifleman Aaron Lincoln
First time I saw the fly-past of this huge aircraft C17 Globemaster it was a huge aircraft; as it flew over low, slow just hanging in the air with so much grace. Many families I got to know described it to symbolise an Angel bring their sons home.
Then with the deft dip of the starboard wing to honour the two fallen soldiers in its care many broke down in total despair.
It was an image we saw 168 times over during the next four and a half years. Then the two brave young men were carried off the aircraft with full military honours, with the sounding of the sombre ‘Last Post’.
I read the words of Aaron Lincoln’s Mother Karen who only a few days earlier held her 18 year old son in her arms the day before he had to return to Iraq after his R and R.
“Aaron had six months of basic training and then, the Christmas after he turned 18, he was sent to Iraq. Only once did he write or speak of the experience – on a visit home, the first time he had leave at the end of March. Even then, it took a couple of drinks in the pub before his tongue was loosened.
‘We stepped outside,’ says Karen, ‘and he broke down crying. He said, “I’ve seen things you’ll never see. I don’t want to go back.” I didn’t know what to say, so I just cuddled him. We both cried.’ Five days later, Aaron was dead, killed by a bullet from a gun”
It was hard to imagine the grief, the pain, the devastation, of a mother holding her son in her arms less than two weeks earlier, trying to comfort him before his return back to Iraq. That wave, the kiss and maybe the cuddle she gave to her son; not knowing it was to be the last time, she would ever see him alive.
This is why I would like to play this first tune, Aaron’s favourite song, for an 18 year old lad who served in the Rifles and is missed by his family each and everyday. Chosen by his sister Donna Moran
The fray “how to save a life” Click below to play in memory of in memory of Rifleman Aaron Lincoln
This was the first time we, the police, escorted the fallen home, it was a simple gesture one to recognise the two soldiers leaving RAF Lyneham and escort them up to the M4.
Two police cars front and rear, we had blue lights activated, but no sirens it was to be a 20 minute journey where we would make progress up to the motorway and the cortege would then continue up to Oxford to the John Radcliffe Hospital with Albin Funeral Team.
I was in the rear police car and methodically we drove up through Lyneham, no one knew we were bringing the Soldiers home. No press or media, however when we entered the Town of Wootton Bassett again by fate something extraordinary happened.
The Cortege came to a halt caused by an obstruction in the High Street and the two Union Flag draped coffins lying in the two hearses, stopped adjacent to the town war memorial. A pelican pedestrian is also in that area, a few people were at the crossing, as the lights changed for them to cross, they remained and others joined them. Some bowed their heads as they showed respects.
And that was the foundation for those emotional scenes that took place at the war memorial, as the community gathered to show their respects.
The obstruction cleared the cortege made its way to the M4 and we, the escort, returned to the police station.
Sqn Ldr Dominic McKevoy RAF contacted us on my mobile whilst we had a cuppa;
As you will see they don’t waste too much money on phone calls the military:
“Jarra its Dominic how did it go” (meaning the escort) I replied; “that all went well”; then I opened my ears as the words were received which I found difficult to comprehend.
“Bitter news, four soldiers were killed today, can you start planning for Op Pabbay, probably towards the end of next week”.
I put the phone down and relayed to my colleagues what I had just been told; it was staggering news that left us all slightly numb. Four more killed, no names, no pack drills, just a brief call, this is what we’ve got and this is what we are doing. It was a very different style from what we were used to in the police. When we were passed information such as a death, we would normally be inundated with details. It was difficult to absorb; yes, we understood the words that Dominic had spoken, it was just astonishing and difficult to digest.
Sadly those phone calls were to reach our ears many more times throughout the next nine months in 2007 as British Forces fatalities’ in Iraq and Afghanistan recorded 74 dead. The vast amount of them were repatriated back to RAF Lyneham, the few who did not, died in hospital in the UK from their injuries sustained in theatre.
But on each occasion we escorted the fallen home, those standing in Wootton Bassett High Street never wavered; in fact they grew.
So much so, a few changes were orchestrated in escorting the bodies home the Conductor would page the fallen through the High Street to enhance the honour and respect, and the police escorted the cortege further up the road to the border of TVP jurisdiction.
Then in January 2008 due to circumstances the flight returning Cpl Darryl Gardiner was delayed meaning the cortege being escorted went through Wootton Bassett around 7pm on Monday night.
It was a cold winters evening, but again hundreds lined the street, but on this occasion again by fate was the sounding of the Tenor Bell at St Bartholomew’s Church. The bell ringer’s practice their skills at that time and realising the cortege had arrived stopped and sounded the tenor bell.
That was the sound we heard for the first time that night the sombre sound of the tenor bell; from that time on it always tolled, as the conductor paged the hero home.
As that was what Darryl was, his comrade had been blown up due to an IED and without medical intervention he was losing his life. The Corporal seeing the predicament got into a vehicle collected his colleague and manoeuvred the dangerous ground towards the waiting helicopter.
100 meters short of the aircraft the Landover hit an IED killing Darryl, yet his actions saved the wounded comrade.
In his memory Lucy Smith Darryl’s partner and the Gardiner family have asked me to play Mr Brightside by The Killers as it was his favourite song one he used to play to the many skydiving videos he recorded.
Click below to play in memory of Cpl Darryl Gardener
There are so many stories inside this book but not possible to do so on this show, and as the bitter news continued throughout 2008 many more stories are told within the cover of ’46 Miles’.
By 2009 it got no better as devastation was felt by me personally when I heard the words not through my normal notification from the RAF that a soldier was dead, but on this occasion my brother broke the news. Royal Marine Travis Mackin a family friend from Plymouth had been killed. The impact of seeing family and friends on that High Street, breaking their heart was insurmountable to anything I could comprehend. It was the first time I did not feel sadness, but something far more deep..
By now the cortege was being escorted home the full 46 Miles as Thames Valley Police had seen the impact of what took place in Wiltshire and supported the Operation.
Communities would line up with the locals along the High Street from every corner of the country, united in recognising the loss of another fallen hero. In fact they established certain vigil points along the full 46 mile route, the last one known as the Final Turn.
Communities would travel to our market town to show respect when their own hero came home. There are so many examples of this, but here is one that epitomises this. When Scotland the brave entered our town as they did on many occasions, when we brought home a Scottish soldier, they did so bringing their own flower of Scotland; to place on their heroes’ hearse. To reflect that recognition I have asked the mother of Sgt Sean Binnie to dedicate a song in the memory of her son.
Jan Binnie this is for your son Sgt Sean Binnie Black Watch; Carry me home, by Ryan Adams. It was the backing music to a video that was created when his colleagues carried him home from Afghanistan.
Click below to play in memory of Sgt Sean Binnie of the Black Watch
The devastation that rippled through our Nation in 2009 was awful, and with so many communities coming to our small market town the media knew something extraordinary was taking place. They came in their droves the BBC, Sky, ITV the paparazzi, all captured heart wrenching images shown on the screens to our own living room. The following morning on many tabloids front page stories was the headline news, yes; our heroes were now being recognised, and rightly so.
There was a turn in the tide and so many charities were formed to reflect the support to our British Armed Forces.
Prince Charles and Camilla arrived in January 2010 and so did the English defence league; one was welcome the other most certainly not.
And then what started off as a Facebook message from an 18 year old girl Elizabeth Stevens, caught the imagination of the Country. She had placed a status inviting her friends to ride on their motorbikes to Wootton Bassett for a pint and a bite to eat. It gained a reaction no one could have imagined. 15,000 bikers turned up to salute a town that showed respects to our fallen, in doing so they raised £120,000 pounds for a military charity.
12 months later they came back and did it again, both these chapters in the book are unique and create a chest swelling pride in what took place. Indeed I have heard they plan to return on the 17th of this month some four years on since the repatriations in RAF Lyneham ceased, reiterating the continued support to Britain’s Armed Forces.
But the loss of life and devastation continued, as we all now know throughout 2010, so many names, so many fallen, it’s not possible to name all.
I will never forget the calls I received from the RAF; a Soldier is killed. On the 21st June I received that initial call once again, prepare for Operation Pabbay one soldier is coming home. Two days later the RAF phone me back, bitter news Jarra the number has risen to seven.
One of those seven we brought home that day was Royal Marine Paul Warren and I would like to dedicate on behalf of his family their chosen song in memory of their son. A label from the album good morning Vietnam ‘five o’ clock world by the vogues’
Click below to play in memory of Royal Marine Paul Warren
Over the years I got to know many of the families; Cliff Warren the father to Paul is one I know and we have become friends. What an inspirational man he is, as you will read in the book when he gives an interview on the BBC, it was an amazing tribute from a man whose heart had been ripped out.
Any reader of the book will begin to understand, that for those who lost a loved one that Remembrance Day is not just one date a year, as each and every day is a day to remember.
Another family I have got to know is that of Royal Marine Adam Brown, they have raised thousands through a charity they created. They bought a beautiful beach hut, named in the memory of their ‘Big Brown Bear as his sister called him.
I have been to visit the site where this memorial is located on Mudeford, Sandbanks it can only be described as a place in heaven. No wonder it was his favourite place and now ‘Adam’s Hoofing Beach Hut’ is a place many Marines and their families can stay for respite.
I asked Jenny for a song she would like to dedicate to Adam; she chose:
Chasing cars. ‘Snow patrol ‘His wedding and funeral song.
Click below to play in memory of Royal Marine Adam Brown
These two huge emotional events took place only 9 months apart and my thoughts are with you now Jenny, as you listen to this song, with the impact of those oxymoron emotions. You are maybe two thousand miles away but I know you will be crying as you hear this tune.
There is another story I will come back to later in 2010 but for now I will move onto the Christmas of this same year.
December 21st the shortest day was to become the longest day for a family from my home town, Newcastle or more precise Gateshead. When a six year old girl Emily should have been having sleepless nights with the excitement of Santa Claus, she was breaking her heart with the news her own hero, her dad had been killed.
Cpl Steven Dunn from the Parachute Brigade one of those warriors who wore the Maroon Beret, was coming home to his beloved Newcastle. There was no surprise to me, when his Mother Vicky Dunn asked me to play her son’s favourite song, when he was away on deployment. So in his memory for all those Geordies who really understand the lyrics of this song Steven Dunn this is for you. Coming home Newcastle by Ronnie Lambert the Geordie Busker.
Click below to play in memory of Cpl Steven Dunn
Before I move on can I say a personal message to Emily a daughter and you Vicky, a Mother. When you walk through the Garden of Reflection in Saltwell Park always keep your memories of Steven cherished in your heart and tell them of him.
So yes this story I wrote is full of much emotion and written from deep inside, it’s not all sadness as there was so much pride even humour to deflect from those heart wrenching scenes.
So when asked; what was the inspiration for the title of the book? It would be no surprise to hear that also happened by fate.
Just as I was editing the manuscript out of the blue I received a copy of a letter that Wootton Bassett town council received.
It was a letter written by an Infantier soldier of 22 years service, just about to embark on his fourth tour of Afghanistan. He wanted to thank, the town of Wootton Bassett and all the residents for all the help and support they gave him.
He mentions the trauma he has seen and of standing on the High Street three times as colleagues returned home in a Union Flag draped coffin. You cannot miss the pain he carried and he sent his gratitude in a poem he finally plucked up the courage to share.
But there is no name on the letter it is signed off:
A grateful Soldier
Then when I read the poem I thought; this has to be the title of my book; a symbol of mutual respect of a soldier to Wootton Bassett and those who lined the 46 miles route.
If I should fall in that far foreign land,
with my blood sweat and tears soaked up in the sand.
I shall not fear or fall with regret,
the 46 miles will never forget.
I won’t lay to rest or just drift away,
46 miles will have something to say.
I have one last task, one more mission to be done,
46 miles before the going down of the sun.
As we step off, uncertain if it’s our last,
I think of my friends that have already passed
I remember the silence as Wootton Bassett stood still,
shoulder to shoulder the High St would fill.
curiously as I stood, I felt so at ease,
surrounded by strangers outside the Cross Keys.
I have one last task, one more mission to be done,
46 miles before the going down of the sun.
From Tarmac to Motorway its 46 miles in all,
Police stand over me, keeping me safe standing tall.
They lead the way and watch over my kin,
for this I thank with all I have been.
The young and old fill 46 miles together,
flags and banners, salutes in all weather.
I have one last task, one more mission to be done,
46 miles before the going down of the sun.
This is how we go to these far foreign lands,
where our blood sweat and tears are soaked up in the sand.
Wootton Bassett did welcome us home,
standing side by side our families were shown.
We have done our best and given our all,
the nation remembers 46 miles stands tall.
I have one last task one more mission to be done,
thank you Royal Wootton Bassett from a nations grateful son.
That is why the book is entitled ‘46 Miles’
But to conclude, I want to take you back to the summer of 2010 when I received the call Royal Marine Scott Gregory Taylor had been killed. This is a passage in my book that reflects so much devastation. A Marine is killed his brother also in Afghanistan with the Commando Brigade brings him home. Anthony Hotine; a comrade of Scotty in the same Commando writes the most wonderful tribute and promises to tell his parents what a hoofing Marine their son was, when they meet up at the end of the tour. Anthony never made that homecoming parade, as he was on the next plane home killed three days later.
So when I contacted Jayne Taylor, Scotty’s mother, the most selfless person I have ever met she asked this song to be played ‘LIVE FOREVER by Oasis and here in her words she explains why.
Click below to play in memory of Royal Marine Scott Gregory Taylor
The track is LIVE FOREVER by Oasis, because in our heart he will do exactly that, and so will all the fallen with kind people like you keeping their memory alive.
So on behalf of Jayne and so many others who lost their loved ones thank you for listening
Looking back on the time I spent talking with Denise in the The Main Event studio I now reflect on the song Bring HIM Home by the Soldiers that for me reminds me on each and every occasion the huge respect and honour shown, on the day we brought 345 heroes home.
I would like to finish off by announcing the main charity I will be donating funds towards from the proceeds of my book.
There are so many fabulous military related charities and it is not possible to support each and every valued one.
So with a lot of thought and consideration I decided to predominantly support just one Charity, as it supports so many children from tri – service families and that is “Scotty’s Little Soldiers”.
How could I ever forget the impact it had on me, seeing so many children breaking their hearts when we escorted their dad home, a memory that will forever be etched on my mind.
But also out here in Cyprus I will be supporting my own, Royal British Legion branch in Kyrenia, who do such a fabulous job, in remembering those who have fallen.
Concluding thoughts by Denise Phillips
When Jarra came to the BRTK studio to record the Main Event he and I had never met before and I had only had seen a brief synopsis of ”46 Miles” his book. We had not even spoken but had just had email contact.
So when I met Jarra on the day of the recording I was totally unprepared for such a moving, and at sometimes harrowing account, as told by this unassuming and gentle man, who had done so much to help so many families at a time of terrible loss and sadness.
The story that unfolded of heroism, bravery and sacrifice of these soldiers during the interview was truly humbling. Their final journey home through Wootton Bassett, as recalled and documented by Jarra, was one of respect and deep sadness. Memories of the lives of some of these lost soldiers, many of whom were so terribly young, were remembered with personal stories recounted about them by Jarra.
During the programme Jarra had not wanted his choice of music as the normal way on this show, but wanted all the tracks played to be those chosen by the families of some of these fallen soldiers who gave their lives so far away from home.
To listen to these pieces of music was heartbreaking. One in particular played at both the wedding and funeral of the young soldier who had died so far from his home and family.
In conclusion I would just like to say was a huge privilege for me to record this programme for radio broadcast and I have nothing but respect for Jarra Brown for speaking so movingly and honestly and also for his compassion and understanding of the terrible loss suffered by so many families. I must speak for many when I say his MBE in recognition of this work was truly well deserved.
I have recorded many Main Event programmes, every week, over nearly 19 years at BRTK and this one moved me more than any other and even to tears at the end of the show with the final poem.
God Bless you all and thank you Jarra.
Cyprusscene would like to thank Jarra Brown and Denise Phillips of Bayrak International for allowing us to publish this article and we would like to make our own tribute to all of the servicemen and women who have lost their lives serving their country by sharing a link here to the haunting sound of the Last Post.
Click below to play in memory of all who have given their lives for their country.
GREAT NEWS -We have now added the full recoding of THE MAIN EVENT with Jarra Brown in two parts