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Four years after she was shot dead in Afghanistan, Cpl Channing Day's family is making sure she's never forgotten

By Stephanie Bell

Published 11/11/2016

Rosemary Day at her daughter Channing’s grave in Comber
Rosemary Day at her daughter Channing’s grave in Comber
Rosemary Day at her daughter Channing’s grave in Comber
Channing with her siblings, Lauren, Meagan and Aaron
The funeral cortege of Corporal Day making its way through Comber town centre before a Service of Thanksgiving was held at the local First Presbyterian Church
Rosemary and her husband, Leslie, and the family at a memorial service
Corporal Day while serving in Afghanistan

Today, the father of Corporal Channing Day, who was killed with a colleague in Afghanistan in 2012, will attend a memorial service for his daughter in England, while on Remembrance Sunday the Army medic's relatives will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Comber. Here, Channing's mother, Rosemary, who has helped raise tens of thousands of pounds for traumatised soldiers, describes how she is keeping her memory alive.

This weekend, as millions prepare to pay tribute to Britain's war dead, the annual act of Remembrance will be especially poignant for many local families who will lay wreaths in memory of loved ones lost in combat.

Families of people like Corporal Channing Day, a bright, beautiful and bubbly 25-year-old from Comber, whose life was cruelly cut short when she was killed with colleague Corporal David O'Connor while on her way to give first aid training to Afghan police officers on October 24, 2012.

As an medic with 3 Medical Regiment, Channing had saved many lives doing a job she loved and which she had dreamt of doing from her school days.

Her death shattered her family, who four years on still struggle to accept she won't be coming home to them again.

But all of her loved ones - mum Rosemary (54), a school cleaner, dad Leslie (56), a civil servant, brother Aaron (27) and sisters Laken (28) and Lauren (31) - have found a way of coping and keeping Channing's memory alive by raising funds for Combat Stress to help veterans traumatised by war.

To date they have raised more than £70,000, and for Rosemary in particular, helping others in memory of Channing has brought real comfort.

She says: "I have thrown myself into helping other soldiers and that has really helped me as well.

"It has kept my head focused on something else, as we organise about three or four events a year.

"My stepfather, Raymond, had suggested early on that we do a badge. I didn't think anyone would buy them, so we just got 500, but we ended up selling 6,000 of them.

"We've had four badges now in total, as well as car stickers and also a CD, which local musicians recorded for us.

"We've tried to run events we think Channing would have liked. We've had cinema nights and a Groovy Train night and a Halloween night and we do The Fare on the Square every year, which raised almost £1,000 last time.

"The money goes to help the girls and fellas that have been through past wars to ensure they are getting the help they need.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder takes more lives after they come back from war than those actually killed in war.

"So many veterans take their own lives. What they have seen in action is something which when they come home with, and many find it very hard to deal with. Some of them find it very hard to leave behind."

Today, Channing's father, Leslie, will travel to Preston for a special memorial service held every year by Channing's regiment in honour of her and two of her colleagues who were killed in service.

In recognition of her great sporting contribution, playing both rugby and football for the regiment, a sports trophy in her memory will be presented to a junior soldier.

It is an event which the family attends every year. Remembrance Sunday is also a day dedicated to Channing.

Rosemary says: "I went to Preston last year and Leslie is going today. It is a service to honour three of their soldiers killed in combat, including Channing, and they present trophies in memory of them, which is a lovely gesture.

"On Sunday we will go to church and the Cenotaph in Comber and we will lay a wreath for Channing.

"We will then all visit the graveyard and have a bite of lunch before going to the Garden of Remembrance in Palace Barracks, where we will lay some flowers."

Cpl Day and Cpl O'Connor were with a patrol in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on October 24, 2012, when they came under fire. The inquest into their deaths heard the patrol believed it had come under fire both from two gunmen on foot and from a nearby police checkpoint, causing a confused fire fight.

One of the gunmen was shot dead, but the one who killed Cpl Day and her colleague is thought to have escaped.

A post-mortem found Cpl Day was killed by a single bullet to her chest. Cpl O'Connor, of Havant, Hampshire, was also killed by a bullet to the chest, and had two gunshot wounds to his legs.

Four years on from their daughter's death, Rosemary and Leslie's grief is still acute, although they have very much tried to throw themselves back into life for the sake of their other children. "It's not just Remembrance Day that is difficult," admits Rosemary. "I find from September to around January is the hardest time of the year for me and for the whole family.

"There are days during those months when I just go into a wee room in work and sit and have a good cry and then dry my eyes and get on with it.

"It is still very raw for Leslie and me. Some mornings we get up and just look at each other because we still can't believe Channing isn't here.

"It is four years since she was killed and it is still very much like that for us - it never goes away. But you try and be upbeat for the kids. They don't want to know mum and dad's hearts are breaking all the time."

Cpl Day was described by all of her family as a wonderful young woman who never stopped smiling and who had an infectious laugh. She was an enthusiastic and talented sportswoman, playing football for Northern Ireland as well as ice hockey. She also gained her qualification as a ski instructor through the Army and was a Northern Ireland Gymnastics pairs champion.

Channing was a young woman who lived her life to the full, without ever giving up on her dreams, and it is her vibrant and very loving personality which Rosemary and her family miss so very much.

Rosemary says: "I miss her phone calls. She always rang me at least five times at day and I could have told you what time she would be ringing. Always before I went to sleep my phone would beep and it would be a message from Channing to say 'Night mum, I love you'.

"And I miss going into town on a Saturday shopping with her when she was on leave.

"I miss all the laughs that we used to have. Channing was so much fun to be around - she was a funny, giggling person.

"She, I and her brother Aaron had a similar sense of humour and I miss us lying about on the sofa laughing together.

"I miss the buzz of her getting ready with her friends to go out at night and then waiting on her coming home and listening to all her biz. Aaron is a bit like me - we can sit and talk and laugh and cry together. But her sisters and her dad keep their feelings inside. I don't honestly believe the two girls have accepted it yet and one of these days it is going to hit them."

Channing's death also shocked her local community in Comber, where everyone knew her for her dedication to her sport and the Army.

As a pupil of Strangford College, she was always physically fit and achieved top grades in PE, excelling at gymnastics, trampolining and netball.

Decorated Army hero and Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie described the role of medics like Channing as "angels" who save lives every single day in the frontline.

In tribute, he said of her: "Channing was a combat medical technician. In Afghanistan, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, that role will have seen her out on the ground in the thick of the fighting with the infantrymen, the Para Regiment.

"The soldiers look at these people in absolute awe. It doesn't matter if they are male or female because when the bullets are flying, the explosions are happening all around and men are screaming for help, it is the medics you see running across the open space to deliver first aid, and Channing Day would have been one of those medics."

Channing would have been celebrating her 30th birthday on March 12 next year and in a fitting tribute to mark it, her family are planning their biggest fundraiser yet - a masquerade ball.

Rosemary says: "We are having it in the TA centre at Hydebank on March 18 as I don't think we could have held it on the day of her birthday.

"We are hoping it will be our biggest fundraiser so far and we are currently working on organising it and looking for things to raffle and auction on the night."

Leslie and Rosemary visit Channing's grave every day, sometimes twice a day, to ensure that their daughter's final resting place always has fresh flowers and is neat and tidy.

Rosemary says: "Channing's grave is in a very windy part of the cemetery and we just check to make sure her flowers haven't been blown over.

"It is not an obsession or a sign that we can't cope. We just go down and check it and say hello and then we are off again. It is not that we are sitting there every day crying."

Working to raise money for traumatised soldiers has been a lifeline for this grieving mum, who will never forget her own trauma at hearing her daughter had been killed.

She says: "The repatriation and the shock of the funeral were terrible and it went on for about a month and we were all traumatised by it. I wouldn't wish anyone to go through that, which is why we are happy to do what we can for the charity."

Yet despite what she has been through, Rosemary, like her daughter, who was always cheerful, is known to put a brave face on life as she continues to host events in her local community to help soldiers.

She adds: "I try not to make it all about me and the kids. So many people have lost children through illness and accidents, and through the charity we are trying to take something positive from a negative.

"We just have to make an effort to get on with life as best we can."

Belfast Telegraph

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