THE parents of a Coldstream Guardsman killed in action in Afghanistan have explained how they take great comfort from visiting Coldstream, the home of the regiment.
Michael and Kim Sweeney feel close to 19-year-old son Michael, who was killed in action two years ago, and say they receive the warmest of welcomes from local residents when they visit the Berwickshire town.
Michael’s parents, who live in Blyth, Northumberland, were in Coldstream at the weekend for the Parade of Colours march.
Kim explained: “Since Michael was killed we have felt a connection with Coldstream and him being in the Coldstream Guards we like to attend events in the town.
“My father was born in the Borders which is one of the reasons my son joined the Coldstream Guards. We feel part of the Coldstream Guards family; as a regiment they have looked after us.”
Both she and her husband Michael feel the same about the reception they get when they visit Coldstream.
“It’s wonderful that the community support them (the Guards) so wholeheartedly. They know that people here are thinking about them and that they aren’t just a number or a uniform.”
Speaking about the loss of her son, Kim said: “The first year we were numb. The second year we had more time to miss him and grieve, and it has definitely been harder.”
Lieutenant Colonel Toby Gray, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, said of Michael, when he died in an explosion in the Babaji District of central Helmand province on April 1, 2010: “He fought bravely on the battlefield and brought light into the hearts of his comrades.”
On their return from their tour of duty in Afghanistan later that year Lt Col Gray led a contingent of Coldstream Guards who held a poignant ceremony in Coldstream’s Henderson Park to remember their comrades who didn’t return with them.
Lt Col Gray laid a wreath in memory of the fallen guardsmen at the Coldstream Guards Stone in the park. And in a moving ceremony he stood knee deep in the River Tweed to return to the river the individual stones that had each been etched with the name of each of the six guardsmen who died while on tour in Afghanistan and laid at the Guards Stone.
Kim and Michael did not find out about the ceremony until the following week, but once they were told about it they travelled up to Coldstream and have been coming back ever since, being kept in touch with military events in the town by Keith Cockburn who organises the annual Parade of Colours event.
“It was Michael’s first combat tour to Afghanistan,” said Kim. “He had been in Africa and France and had done two Trooping of the Colour parades. And he marched here in Coldstream in 2009.”
Since Michael’s death his family, including his aunt Irene Dodds who live in Berwick, have thrown themselves into fundraising and so far have raised around £30,000 for the Army Benevolent Fund.
Over the past two years the Sweeneys have been invited to a number of events: they were presented with Michael’s Elizabeth Cross by the Duchess of Cornwall at Winchester and most recently were invited down to Windsor last month to see the presentation of the new Coldstream Guard Colours by Her Majesty the Queen. “That was hard and I don’t think we could do it again,” admitted Kim, who in the past has watched with pride as her son took part in the Trooping of the Colour.
With the imminent announcement about the latest re-shaping of the British Army the Sweeney’s are keeping their fingers crossed for the Coldstream Guards.
Kim added: “I hope that they don’t touch the Coldstream Guards. It would be so disappointing and would tarnish the memory of soldiers like Michael.”