Widow finds love again 10 years after Taliban killed SAS husband David Patton
Coleraine woman and daughter lay wreath in Captain's memory at war memorial
A woman who lost her SAS husband to the Taliban has given a moving account of finding peace and love again after a decade mired in grief.
Captain David Patton was due home from a special forces mission in Afghanistan on June 27, 2006, but instead his wife Paula received the news every army spouse dreads: David would not be coming home and he would never see her or their one-year-old daughter Joanna again.
The devastation was something the Co Londonderry woman never thought she would recover from but, 10 years on, she has spoken of unexpectedly finding love again, while also remaining David's widow with a desire to keep his memory very much alive.
Recalling how she had been looking forward to welcoming David home from Afghanistan before tragedy struck, Paula Mayrs (50) said their 10 weeks apart had been the longest in their 11 years together.
"I was buzzing with excitement about his return, impatient for the phone to ring, to hear his voice from the army plane," she recalled.
"But that call never came. David was dead, lying face down in a field, gunned down by the Taliban who had ambushed his paratroop patrol during a covert mission in Helmand Province.
"Would I have got involved with David if I had known the dangerous nature of his job from the outset? Growing up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, during The Troubles, I'd vowed never to date a policeman or soldier, much less someone from special forces who everyone knew were targeted. I had seen first-hand the devastating impact army life could have on the wife left behind. My sister's husband, who was in the regular army, had been shot dead in front of her by the IRA at their home while on Christmas leave in 1992.
"But in 1995, when I was 29, and introduced to David by a mutual friend, I remember looking at this exceptionally handsome man and thinking, 'Oh golly.' We just fell for each other."
For the first few years of their marriage the couple were fortunate that David was stationed in the UK and could come home regularly to their Aghadowey address.
Then, in 2004, after giving up hope of having children, Paula discovered she was pregnant - but her happiness was clouded with concern about David's promotion to captain, which meant it was compulsory for him to do a tour of duty. After a painful goodbye, Paula was only able to speak to David three times while he was in Afghanistan.
"The last time I heard from him was a week before his death," she told the Mail On Sunday's You magazine.
"He was due home but told me he would be staying on an extra week, that the lads needed him.
"People said afterwards, 'I bet you wish you'd told him to come back', but he would have stayed regardless, and then there would have been bad feeling between us.
"On the day of his death, I'd gone to work as usual in the admissions office of Ulster University, leaving Joanna at the crèche.
I was surprised to see David's commanding officer in the doorway of my office. I started to smile, and then I saw his expression. He didn't say a word; he didn't need to. I ran out of the back door, along the corridor, screaming 'No, no,' so loudly that they heard me on the floor above."
Two funerals, one military and one civil, would follow, of which Paula remembers little.
"I lost the next three years of my life," she said. "I can't even remember Joanna's second or third birthdays."
Memories would start to come back, but they were often painful ones, and Paula lost her self-confidence. During that period she said it was a help to be in contact with the War Widows Association, while her family and church community also helped.
"After a while, friends began saying that I should start dating," said Paula.
"Even Joanna sometimes asked, 'Can I have a daddy?' I went on a couple of coffee dates over the years, but it never felt right. Then, last year, a member of church asked if I would have coffee with his friend Steve. I refused, but reluctantly accepted his Facebook friend request. Steve messaged me to say that he knew I didn't want a relationship but he would still like to buy me a coffee. I really couldn't be bothered, but something made me go.
"When he walked into the café, I thought, 'Oh, this isn't going to go the way I thought.' Yes, I was attracted to Steve, who is 10 years my senior and a retired pilot, but it was more than that. He was exactly what I needed. He is kind and thoughtful, and calmed me down, bringing a peacefulness to my life. He made it easy for me to be me again, almost as if I could step back into the person I'd been before tragedy struck. I can only describe it as feeling as though I could breathe again, and relax for the first time in almost a decade."
Paula said their relationship progressed very quickly.
"We met in October 2015, were engaged by Christmas and married in March this year.
"We knew how we felt about each other, so there seemed little point in waiting, although I did have an internal struggle about marrying on the 10th anniversary of David's death. But after grieving for a decade, it felt OK to put my new life first," she said.
"The fact I've remarried doesn't mean I've stopped being David's widow. A part of me will always be left behind at that roadblock. I have an obligation and desire to keep his memory alive. Steve supports my wishes - I couldn't be with a man who didn't. He doesn't feel threatened by David's memory.
"When I go to Army events to represent David, I always ask Steve if he wants to come too, as I will do next week, on Remembrance Sunday."