Belfast Telegraph

Widow 'floored' that some families are not invited to military memorial event

The handling of the unveiling of a memorial to the thousands of British soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has been criticised as "crass" by a military widow.

Brenda Hale said she was "floored" to hear the event in London later this week, which will be attended by the Queen, is not open to all close family members of those servicemen and women who died in the conflicts of recent decades.

The Iraq Afghanistan memorial will be dedicated at a service attended by 2,500 people, including civil servants and politicians as well as veterans and relatives of those who lost loved ones.

Mrs Hale, whose husband Captain Mark Hale was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, leaving behind his wife and two daughters, accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of failing to understand the plight of the bereaved.

She said: " If it is the case that the charities have been left to decide who is to attend and who isn't that is completely crass.

"For that to happen, it speaks volumes that the MoD, despite the conflicts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and despite the number of families falling through the net, they still haven't got their act together and they still don't understand what it is like to be the family left behind, the family that has to go on alone."

The Co Down-based 48-year-old, who said she did not appear to have received an invite for Thursday's unveiling, said all families should have been given the option to attend, or arrangements made for them to see the service.

She said: " Every bereaved family should be invited and whether they can fit them in or not is neither here nor there.

"The bereaved families should be recognised because they are still living that war.

" They (the MoD) just need to step up and honour those men and women who died, but also honour their families because we are still living with that loss."

Mrs Hale, who lost her seat as a DUP Assembly member in the Stormont election last week after almost six years, entered politics after her husband's death and campaigned for better treatment of soldiers and their families.

The MoD said the memorial will represent the more than 300,000 people who served in the conflicts between 1990 and 2015 and those who supported their efforts from the UK, not just those who died.

A spokeswoman said the relevant charities and organisations had been contacted to ensure all groups are represented.

Families who were not invited should at least have been sent a letter to inform them the service was happening, another widow said.

Wendy Rayner, from Bradford, said she had spoken to a number of people who were "upset - they feel they have been forgotten".

Her husband, Sergeant Peter Rayner, was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) during a routine patrol in Afghanistan in 2010.

The 45-year-old said: "I am not an unreasonable person. We know there is only a certain amount of places, we understand that deeply. It's the way they've gone about it. They have not even written a letter of acknowledgement to say 'This event is taking place. There won't be enough spaces for you to attend this time. We are deeply sorry.' But we didn't even get that, we got nothing."

She said she plans to visit the memorial at a later date to pay her respects.

The MoD spokeswoman said: "G iven the significant scale and 25-year period being recognised, attendance at Thursday's unveiling must be representative in nature. It is right that each of those groups commemorated is represented - including current serving personnel, bereaved families, veterans, gallantry award winners, charities and the many civilian organisations that played a role.

"To ensure each group is represented, charities and groups representing the bereaved were asked to suggest attendees, and we look forward to welcoming them on Thursday."

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