Mum grieves for soldier son 15 years after losing his brother in Taliban bombing



Few forces mums can have been touched by tragedy quite like Jan Hawkins.

Her elder son Alex was blown up by the Taliban 15 years ago. Then, last month, his brother Nigel, who was two years younger and also a soldier, died in a suspected suicide after battling PTSD.

Nigel – who served in the same regiment as Prince Harry – tried in vain to get help in the days before his death, his family said.

Today, as Jan bravely tries to navigate the fallout of the double tragedy, she calls for an overhaul of how the Ministry of Defense handles mental health.

She shares her story as the Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign continues – with exactly the same aim.







Jan is grieving the loss of a son for the second time
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Alex with Army comrades in Afghanistan

Jan said: “Alex’s death hit Nigel very badly, to the point where he almost blamed himself because he couldn’t say good luck before he went to Afghanistan.

“He told me that he wished he had died instead of his brother.”

The two brothers had both served in the Army at the same time, but in different regiments. Alex was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Anglian Regiment while Nigel served alongside Harry in the Blues and Royals for 12 years.

Alex was killed and two comrades were wounded in Sangin in July 2007 after the Vector vehicle they were traveling in was blown up by a home-made bomb during a routine patrol.

He survived the blast but died later the same day, aged 22.

Nigel, a 34-year-old divorced dad with two children and a stepson, was buried on May 3 and his inquiry is due to take place in September.

His body was found at a friend’s home in Dorset. Nigel, who was living in Alton, Hants, left the Army in 2015 and had been working for a transport company.

He was one of more than 350 veterans and service personnel believed to have taken their own lives since 2017. Most of those who died were combat veterans struggling with mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jan said Nigel had struggled during lockdown, fallen into debt and been trying to get help for his mental health problems.

The mother of four, whose two daughters also served in the Army, says veterans with mental health issues should receive priority treatment.

Jan, who lives in Dereham, Norfolk, with husband of 33 years Bob, added: “Too many veterans are taking their own lives. Nigel had been diagnosed with PTSD by a counselor, caused by his brother’s death.






Nigel is believed to have taken his own life

“He asked his GP for help and was told that someone from a mental health team would contact him but that never happened. Instead of getting help he was asked to fill in forms. What he needed was to speak to someone face-to-face, who would listen to his problems and help him. But that never happened and he finally decided he couldn’t go on.”

Jan fondly recalled how her two sons were very close as boys.

She said: “Alex was the most serious one. He was an easy child to raise and never caused any concern. Nigel was the joker, always making everyone laugh. I always said he should have been on stage as he was a very good mimic and he could tell jokes in any accent, which made them even funnier.

“Nigel was dyslexic, which meant that although he could read and write well, his short-term memory was almost non-existent. The dyslexia wasn’t picked up until he was starting his GCSE exams, which didn’t help him.

“He did well with everything he undertook in the Army and he was a great organizer who would help anyone.







Nigel serving with the Blues and Royals cavalry regiment
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“The boys were very close, although they were very much chalk and cheese. Alex weighed things up before acting, Nigel threw himself in head-first and trusted in luck.

“Nigel was bullied as a child because he was big for his age. Alex always was there for him and got him out of harm’s way. Above all else they were brothers and proud of each other.

“I feel blessed that these two brave young men were my sons.”

Alex went to Wisbech Grammar School in Norfolk, where he excelled at sports and wanted to be an RAF fighter pilot, while Nigel went to a comprehensive.

Jan added: “Alex had poor vision in one eye and his dream of being a pilot wasn’t going to happen, so instead he said he wanted to join the local regiment, the Royal Anglians. We got all the brochures and looked at all of the opportunities the Army had to offer but he insisted on the Royal Anglians.”







Nigel was proud of his service but suffered PTSD
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Prince Harry at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan
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Alex joined aged 18 in 2003 and fought in Iraq as a Rifleman in 2005. Comrades in the regiment’s 1st battalion described him as a model soldier – and within two years he had been promoted to lance corporal and trained as a sniper.

He deployed to Afghanistan with his battalion in April 2007.

Jan added: “Alex said Afghanistan was very different to Iraq. The fighting was more intense and although he had been looking forward to getting stuck in, he didn’t think he was going to survive.

“When he came back on two weeks’ leave he said, ‘Mum, I don’t think I’ll be coming back. If I get killed, I want to be buried and not cremated’.

“He let me give him a hug, which he hadn’t done since he was a small boy. I asked him whether he wanted a full military funeral and he said yes.

“He wasn’t being morose – just very practical. He said that his unit was being attacked all the time and 16 days later he was dead.

Jan was working as a volunteer with the Army Cadets on a summer camp in Yorkshire when she was given the news that Alex had died.

She added: “Nigel blamed himself for Alex’s death. He wanted to wish him luck but he was on exercise and could not and somehow thought that it was his fault. I don’t think he ever really got over what happened.

“I think from that moment on he was traumatized. I was devastated when I lost Alex and it took me nine years to get over it. Now I’ve lost Nigel as well. Not so long ago he said to me that he wished that he had died and Alex survived.

“I think he just couldn’t cope any more and he didn’t know how to get any help.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said: “Every suicide is a tragedy and our thoughts are with the Hawkins family.

“We are committed to the health and wellbeing of all our serving and former personnel, and encourage any veteran who may be struggling to access the support they deserve.

“Veterans in England can receive specialist support from Op Courage, the veterans mental health and wellbeing service.”

The Samaritans is available 24/7 if you need to talk. You can contact them for free by calling 116 123, email [email protected] or head to the website to find your nearest branch. You matter.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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