Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

A family's grief for soldier killed in Afghanistan

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 21 June 2010

The family of Captain Mark Hale describes to Channel 4 News how they are struggling to come to terms with his death in Helmand last year.  Captain Hale's widow says the 300th British soldier confirmed dead today "is much more than a number."

Brenda and Tori Hale, widow and daughter of Captain Mark Hale who was killed in Helmand, Afghanistan last year

"Are you wife of Captain Mark James Hale?" With those words Brenda Hale says she knew. The men at her door were not there to tell her that her husband was injured.

"I locked the notification people outside the door, I wouldn't let them in. And I realised, they're military personnel they can't be on my doorstep."
Brenda and Mark Hale, from Northern Ireland, had been married for 22 years when he died while serving in Afghanistan. The family can clearly recall the day. With Mark away serving in the most dangerous place on earth, it was a day they had lived in fear of. 

Captain Mark Hale's daughter Tori told Channel 4 News her instincts kicked in: "My mum came to pick me up and she was sitting in the back, and I saw that she was crying. And she got out of the car and she said 'Tori come and sit in the back with me'.

"And I knew exactly; as soon as she said those words I knew. I knew that it was my Dad.

"I was screaming and crying and just waiting for her to add on that he'd been injured. But that bit of the story just didn't come... I've never wanted to hear anything so much in my life than to hear that."

Tackling the IED threat in Afghanistan
- Read Alex Thompson's report here

Serving in Afghanistan
Captain Mark Hale was killed in Helmand province on 13 August 2009. His unit had been providing security for a meeting of Afghan leaders and searching a mosque for ammunition, when a soldier triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

A second explosion followed and Captain Hale was wounded as he tried to help the casualties. He later died of his injuries at the British base of Camp Bastion.

Captain Hale was a Trauma Risk and Management Officer, his job to spot signs of stress in his fellow soldiers after a major incident, or death.

His wife Brenda recalled her last conversation with her husband, where he joked that being behind his desk was "boring".

"He went out that day because he knew the guys needed to speak to him, and they couldn't speak to him as 'sir' or 'boss.' They had to speak to him as Mark, another rifleman on the ground who'd seen what they'd seen, smelled what they'd smelled, felt the pain, felt the fear that they were going through". 

Shattered lives
Behind every announcement of a casualty in Afghanistan, are lives that have been shattered.

Few know the process that goes on, but Brenda Hale was full of praise for the army and the people of the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett, the town that falls silent when the bodies of British soldiers are repatriated.

"The organisation of the funeral is actually what keeps you going…. You get caught up in it, and you go to Lyneham where you're incredibly well looked after by the Royal Air Force, and you're taken through every step so there are no shocks. You're told how the Hercules comes in and dips its wing to the side in salute.

"You're told which coffin coming off the plane is your coffin; and you get a chance to speak with them in the chapel of rest, to see the coffin before it's taken down through the streets of Wootton Bassett.

"And with Mark, because he's been in the army so long it was just packed with Devon and Dorsets, and riflemen. And to be among those and to feel that love and support is phenomenal."        

When they arrive in the UK, the bodies of the soldiers must go to the coroner in Oxford before being released to the family.

Repatriation can take days or weeks, and for many it is the final journey home that brings reality to the situation.
The Hale family had to wait three weeks; they said that as they were used to him being away on tours, it was an important period of time for them to come to terms with his death.

"When he came back to Northern Ireland and he landed at Belfast City Airport it all becomes incredibly real, because you know then you’re going to have to bury him."

"And then after the funeral the quietness descends. "Then you remember, and it knocks you off your feet. You remember you're not going to get that phone call at the end of the night; you're not going to get the email asking how the girls got on at their school sports day; you're not going to get that tap on the shoulder saying ‘sweetie, do you want a cup of tea?’

"That's never going to happen to you again.”

"We're walking the same path, but we are alone"
Captain Hale, like so many servicemen and women who put their lives at risk, truly believed the army could make a difference in Afghanistan.

"He knows its not short term, he knew that it was going to be years, generations before any change could come about," Brenda said.

"But he wanted to go to Afghanistan. I didn't want him to go but he wanted to go. And he was happy to be there, and he enjoyed his job. But sometimes I wish he'd put us first that day."

A family man, Mark was the centre of Brenda, Tori and Alexandra's universe. Their emotional description of Mark more than a year after his death is a stark reminder of the legacy of the operation in Afghanistan.

But these women are not alone. Since hostilities began in 2001, many British families have had to go through this process and adjust to life without their loved ones.

Today the Ministry of Defence announced the 300th serviceman to be killed in action in Afghanistan, and Brenda had a message for support for this latest grieving family.
"Your son, your husband, your brother is a lot more than a number 300. He is the centre of someone's life, and as that ripple goes out and his friends are affected and his extended family are affected, draw comfort from each other, lean on each other.

"When I have my down day's I think there are so many other widows now, walking the same road as I am and we're all walking alone... We're walking together but we’re all walking our own path of pain." 

"The best dad ever"
Brenda Hale remains haunted by the thought of what the family will miss out on: "When I look down the tunnel of time I see what we're going to miss, and I mourn that loss for my children."

But Mark's daughter, Tori, said that despite her loss she is determined to make her Dad proud.

She plans to study law, to win a place at Sandhurst, become an officer and work in army legal services. "I know how proud my dad would be if I got into Sandhurst," she told us: "He would be over the moon, over the moon…. That's the motivation I have at the moment, to do it for my Dad."
This family's compassion for the other families affected, the obvious pride they have in Mark and determination to make something good come out of his death, is touching.

"He was the most amazing dad.  I could ask anything of him... he wanted me to achieve what I want. He was so amazing. The best dad ever"

"Undentable run"
Close bonds are formed between soldiers when they are away on tour and for the Hales, Mark's colleagues have been an important source of support.

The family are now focusing on a run that three of Mark’s friend's are organising in his honour. Following a route from John O'Groats to Land's End, the aim is to raise money for injured soldiers and bereaved families.  

They've called it the 'undentable run' after the nickname given to Mark by his commanding officer, a nickname the family say they are humbled by. 

Prime Minister David Cameron is to take part on the last leg, on 26 June. 

"..Captain Hale was by all accounts a truly great soldier, driven to get things done. So what better way to remember his life and service than by organising a seventeen-day run from John O'Groats to Land's End?

Running a double marathon every day for seventeen days is an incredible thing to take on and try to accomplish. But by the sounds of it, that wouldn’t have stopped Captain Hale.

And then of course, there is the way these servicemen are taking on this task to help others - in the finest traditions of our Armed Forces, and in line with the great sacrifice Captain Hale made with his own life.

I am delighted to give my support to this project and the fantastic causes it is helping. And to the three men taking on this mammoth mission: good luck!"
Prime Minister David Cameron
April 2010

"Yes Mark died and to say that we miss him is such an under statement and we can never explain the depth of how lonely we are without him", Brenda says.

"But this (run) also shows the brotherhood and the camaraderie and what the guys do for each other."

'Undentable run'
- click here for more information on the undentable run

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Domestic politics news

More News blogs

View RSS feed

Cartoon coalition


How Channel 4 News viewers picture the coalition in cartoon form

Token candidate?

Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott (credit:Getty Images)

Diane Abbott: I am the genuine move-on candidate for Labour

'Mr Ordinary'

Andy Burnham, Getty images

Andy Burnham targets Labour's 'ordinary' person.

Iraq inquiry: day by day

Tony Blair mask burnt during protest outside the Iraq inquiry. (Credit: Getty)

Keep track of Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war findings day by day.

The Freedom Files

Freedom Files

Revealed: the stories they didn't want to tell.

Making a FoI request?

Channel 4 News tells you how to unearth information.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.