Prince Harry has told of his dismay at no longer being able to help veterans after being stripped of his military titles.
The Duke of Sussex made the disclosure in an emotional letter to the family of a fallen comrade, who are fighting to have their son’s name on the national Armed Forces Memorial.
The parents of decorated soldier Nathan Hunt had turned in desperation to the Duke of Sussex to get their son the lasting honour.
Nathan served with Harry in Afghanistan in 2008 but took his own life in 2018 after suffering from severe mental health problems thought to be linked to his military service.
In an official letter bearing his distinctive logo, Harry said he wishes he could help… “had I been in the same role I once was”.
Dilantha Dissanayake / MERCURY PRESS)
Although Nathan was a serving warrant officer when he died, defence chiefs have ruled that his name should not be added to the memorial.
The family told the Sunday People that Harry’s letter begins by thanking the family for writing to him and sharing what they were trying to achieve in memorialising Nathan’s life.
They said Harry then writes that it was an honour to serve alongside many exceptional men and women, and that he was proud to have met Nathan as one of them.
Harry adds: “I deeply empathise with what your family is going through and so wish I could assist formally, had I been in the same role I once was.”
Dilantha Dissanayake / MERCURY PRESS)
Before stepping down as a working royal and moving to California with wife Meghan, Harry was Captain General of the Royal Marines.
After 10 years in the Army he launched the Invictus Games in 2014, an international sporting event for injured personnel and veterans.
The prince took part in expeditions with the Walking with the Wounded charity and followed in his mother’s footsteps by becoming a patron to the Halo Trust charity, which helps clear landmines.
Last February it was announced that he would give up his position with the Royal Marines along with other honorary military titles.
But he remains patron of Invictus and other good causes – and his public support for war-damaged veterans has resonated with many survivors of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.
The family says Harry told them Nathan’s dedication and service is “indelible” and that he will forever remember Nathan as a hero.
They say he wrote: “Grief can be a long and burdensome road.
“Please know you and your family remain in my thoughts.”
Derek Hunt, 70, and wife Maria, 68, wrote to Harry last month explaining that the Ministry of Defence had twice refused to add Nathan’s name to the memorial in Staffordshire, despite his record for bravery.
Harry and Meghan met the Hunts in 2018 during a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
Harry hugged Maria at the event and he and Meghan said how sorry they were to lean of Nathan’s death.
Derek, from Lincoln, told how he was deeply moved by Prince Harry ’s letter.
He said: “I think the letter shows how much Harry cared about Nathan. He described Nathan as a hero and I think he is very sympathetic to our cause of trying to get Nathan’s name on the memorial.
“I didn’t expect a response but after the article appeared in the Sunday People and we sent a letter, someone from his office contacted us and said that Harry would be responding.
“I know he has had a tough time in the UK but I don’t care about any of that. You can see from the letter that Harry still cares about the armed forces and if he was able to he would use his influence to help get Nathan’s name on the memorial.”
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former infantry commander, added: “Most retired soldiers and officers never forget their service and those they served alongside and will often do whatever they can to help each other after they have left the forces.
“Prince Harry is no exception, as this letter shows. Harry deployed on two tours in Afghanistan and fought to do so against great pressure from the Government and resistance from within his own family. For this and his hard work for wounded soldiers – including creating the Invictus Games – he was deeply respected and admired by servicemen and veterans.”
Nathan served alongside Harry in 2008 in Helmand as part of a bomb search team in a desert reconnaissance unit while attached to the prince’s Household Cavalry regiment.
He was a Royal Engineers Warrant Officer when he died aged 39. He was found hanged at home in Lincoln on January 2, 2018. His parents insist Nathan should be included on the memorial, alongside 16,000 killed in action or from disease since the end of the Second World War.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Derek said: “Nathan risked his life almost every day in Afghanistan and his actions saved the lives of many soldiers. But it took a toll. He was mentally wounded and those wounds took his life. He was a casualty of war.
“The very least the Ministry of Defence could do would be to add his name. Prince Harry appreciated the sacrifice Nathan made, it’s just a shame that the MoD can’t do the same. I can’t understand why they are being so heartless.
“I don’t want Nathan to be forgotten. I want his daughter to be able to visit the wall, see his name and say, ‘That’s my daddy’.”
The names of three other soldiers who served in Afghanistan and died after taking their own lives are on the memorial in Staffordshire. A psychiatric report produced after Nathan died said he had experienced “traumatic exposure” in Afghanistan and had “some elements of PTSD.”
But defence chiefs have ruled that “on the balance of probabilities’ Nathan’s mental health and subsequent death was not linked to his 23 years of military service.
During his six months in Afghanistan the soldier received a Mention in Dispatches. The citation for his award described him as “a superb example of leadership, professionalism and a fantastic ambassador to his corps.”
The MoD said: “Every suicide is a tragedy and deeply felt within the defence community. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of WO Nathan Hunt.
“Careful consideration is given to each case and the decision not to include WO Hunt’s name on the Armed Forces Memorial does not detract from his service in the Army.”
It added: “We are eternally grateful for his service.”
Hero braved bombs peril
When he served with Harry in 2008, Nathan had one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army.
His role was to search for home-made Taliban roadside bombs in Helmand. One wrong move could have resulted in death or serious injury.
Then a Lance Sergeant, Nathan always insisted that he should be the main searcher because of his experience, even though others in his team were also trained to detect bombs.
During his six months in Afghanistan he found numerous homemade devices and carried out searches of roads and tracks while being watched and occasionally attacked by the Taliban.
The citation for his Mention In Dispatches, reads: “Lance Sgt Hunt has shown exemplary behaviour and a very good example to all.
“He demonstrates selfless commitment time and again, putting himself at greater risk to provide the security for the squadron in the face of a very lethal and hidden enemy.”
During his 23 years of Army service, Nathan, a married father of one daughter, also completed tours of Iraq, Northern Ireland and Kosovo.
350 taken their lives since 2017
Up to 350 soldiers and veterans are believed to have taken their own lives since 2017. In reality the number of deaths is probably higher because no government body officially records the grim toll.
That means no one knows why so many have killed themselves.
Many of those who died were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had been medically discharged from the Army after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other veterans developed mental health conditions such as depression and severe anxiety.
Soldiers who served with distinction on the front line struggled to cope with life on civvy street.
Many lost their jobs, watched their marriages crumble and turned to drink. It is not surprising that the regiments which suffered the highest casualties in Afghanistan – such as the Rifles – also have the highest rates of suicide amongst veterans.
The Sunday People began its Save Our Soldiers Campaign when it became clear that veterans with mental health problems were being failed by the Government.
Although the access to mental health support for veterans has improved, the number of suicides continues to rise. So far this year at least 72 have died.
Former Army Warrant Officer Jim Wilde, a founder of Veterans United Against Suicide, said much more needs to be done to reduce suicide rates amongst veterans.
He said: “There have been at least 72 deaths this year but the real number is probably far higher. Many were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and went on to develop mental health issues.
“The fact that the MoD has no idea how many veterans are taking their lives every year is shameful.
“Once the size of the problem is known people can set about trying to find a solution. Until then many more members of the military community will take their own lives.
“Sadly, this is a time of year when our losses increase due to a sense of isolation many veterans feel.”
*If you’re struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operate a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or visit their site to find your local branch