Every time another name is added to the list of the fallen in Afghanistan or Iraq, Carol Jones reaches for her box of handmade condolence cards, picks up her pen, and starts to write.
“I’ve written nearly 400 cards now,” says Carol, of Hurley in Warwickshire. “They’re made by a lovely lady in the next village and they are unique, no two cards are the same. I have three addresses – Army, Navy and Air Force, and the girls at the MoD press office send the cards on to the relatives for me.”
It may be a time-consuming task, but Mrs Jones knows the pain every family who loses a loved one is going through.
Her own son, Sergeant John Jones, died when a bomb blew up in the path of the Snatch Land Rover he was travelling in close to Basra airport in southern Iraq in November 2005.
John, aged 31, was married to Nickie and had a son, Jack. Before he joined the army at the age of 16 he had been a sea cadet.
And, despite her own loss, Carol continues her pledge to contact every bereaved family.
“The reason I do it is because I had cards come to me about a week after John died,” said the 64-year-old. “I thought it was lovely that they had taken the time to do that, even in their own grief.”
But writing words of kindness is just one way Carol helps those who have lost someone.
The retired doctor’s receptionist helps to run the Forces Families Support Group, which offers support and advice to the relatives of servicemen and women who have died and of those on deployment.
“If you have a family member who is deployed, it is a worrying time, so we go online to chat to people and families can also chat with each other,” Carol said. “We see if there is anything we can do to help them, or if they have not heard from a loved one for a long time because they are on the front line, then we try to console them.”
Carol was also instrumental in a campaign to bring a memorial wall at the main British base in southern Iraq back to Britain.
The Basra Memorial Wall commemorates the 178 UK service personnel and one Ministry of Defence civilian who lost their lives serving in Operation Telic – Britain’s six-year operation in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. It was originally built in Basra outside the front of the headquarters of the Multi-National Division (South East).
But, after the end of combat operations in Iraq last April, it was dismantled and re-built at the National Memorial Arboretum, at Alrewas, near Lichfield.
Carol has also been an outspoken critic of what she calls the “dreadful” lack of training and equipment afforded to some soldiers.
She said: “John never discussed the Army much with me, but he did once say that he didn’t have any boots and he had to buy his own. I know now that he had to buy some of his own equipment and the Snatch Land Rover he was in, well, the soldiers themselves called them moving coffins.
“I was so upset about it that I wrote to a government minister about John’s vehicle.”
Carol said that it is often the parents who speak out because spouses are “frightened”.
She said: “Wives have the pension to think about and a lot of the wives are frightened of losing what they are getting if they did speak.’’
Carol is also fighting for equality in the information given to parents and spouses.
“I gave birth to John but as far as the MoD is concerned, I don’t exist,” she said. “I’d like wives, husbands, mother and father to be all be recognised as equal.
‘‘If a soldier dies and if their mum and dad is still alive, they should be told everything that wives and husbands are told.”