THE BLOG

Remembrance 2015: 'It Is Humbling to See What Families Go Through'

08/11/2015 09:04 GMT | Updated 05/11/2016 09:12 GMT

During the First World War, families eagerly awaiting news of their loved ones fighting on foreign soil would receive the devastating news of their deaths via a standard issue, form-like letter sent in the post. It had blank spaces where someone in a distant office would fill in the names and send them out.

It was an impersonal approach borne out of the vast number of soldiers killed in the conflict but it was one that continued through the Second World War.

Today, things are done very differently. The Armed Forces work hard to make sure the families of those killed in conflict are looked after and given the support they need when the worst happens.

Twice in my Army career I have been given the job of Visiting Officer - a person assigned to a family following the death of a soldier who helps them in any way possible.

When a soldier is injured, missing in action or killed, their emergency contact is informed of the sad news by a Casualty Notification Officer, the person who must break the news to the families that their loved ones have been injured or killed.

Within 24 hours that person is replaced by a Visiting Officer, who becomes the contact point between the family and the military from then onwards.

The job is varied and challenging. It can involve helping to recover the soldier's possessions, making funeral arrangements and helping with transport. You become the best person to deal with any questions to and from the family from the various military and civilian agencies.

The idea is to take as much pressure off of the family as possible, dealing with those questions and communications and easing the burden on them.

Any communications from the Armed Forces come via the Visiting Officer so the family is not being bombarded with phone calls and e-mails from different sources all the time. It really does take the pressure off at what is already an extremely difficult time for all involved.

Not everyone is suitable for the duty and some soldiers are honest and admit they do not have the personality traits to fill the role. You must be able to show empathy for the family members you are dealing with and some soldiers find the emotional rollercoaster you can ride with the family is too upsetting and mentally they cannot cope with this stress.

It is a very challenging role and is very time consuming. You must be prepared to work long hours in support of your family and you still have your own workload and family to attend to as well.

It can be difficult keeping your own emotions separate, and that is one of the biggest challenges of the job. I have my own son so that makes it especially difficult. When I was married without children I had a different outlook on life and as soon as my son was born it changes you and you're more aware of children.

It has been a very humbling experience and an honour to help two families who have lost their loved ones that I was appointed to. While accompanying a family to a commemoration service for their son and nine other servicemen who had lost their lives in Afghanistan, the families exited the church and hundreds of passing civilians and tourists alike gathered outside and clapped the families as they exited. I have a lump in my throat now as I write this as I did on the day from the fantastic spontaneous gesture our British public and foreign tourists showed our service families that day.

The support our injured soldiers and bereaved families receive is unrecognisable from our predecessors and it is a comfort to a serving soldier now if he gets injured or he pays the ultimate sacrifice. He and his family will be looked after by a first rate support system providing both for them financially with lifelong help available if required.

This Remembrance Sunday I will be thinking about these experiences as I remember all those who have given their lives in conflict. We will remember them.

Captain Armstrong works at the Permanent Staff Administration Officer with C Company, the 4th Battalion the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. He has served for 23 years as a regular soldier and 3 years as a reservist.