Little boy who held the fort while Daddy went to war: The diary of how Kieran, 6, held his family together until that special homecoming
Thousands of soldiers are returning from active service in Afghanistan
22:50 GMT, 6 December 2012
As the countdown to Christmas begins, thousands of brave soldiers are returning from active service in Afghanistan to enjoy tender reunions with their loved ones. But during those tough months away, what has life been like for the families left behind
RAF Sergeant Chris Everett, 35, an avionics technician from II (AC) Squadron, was one of those reunited with his family at RAF Marham, Norfolk, last month. We asked his wife Carly, 33, who lives in Norwich with their two children, Kieran, six, and Kyara, four, to share her poignant diary of the five months she and the children endured while Daddy was at war . . .
Daddy's home! Kieran Everett, in his own 'uniform', welcomes his father Chris Everett back from Afghanistan
A LAST HUG AND HE’S GONE
Friday, June 29 — 144 days until Daddy’s home
Chris left today. It seems harder this time. Since he joined the RAF when he was 21, he’s been on tours to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, but he’s never been away for more than two months at a time.
And now the children are older and so much more aware of what’s going on, it’s tough.
We tried to make this morning as normal as possible. I dashed into town to buy last-minute toiletries for Chris while he walked Kyara to nursery and Kieran to school, where they said their goodbyes. If I was there, I don’t think I could have held it together. This is the last time the children will see their Daddy for almost half a year. He’ll miss so much.
After a whirl of packing, suddenly it was time for Chris to go. After one last hug, I got into my car to pick up the children and he got into his. I was only minutes from school and had to stop myself from crying because I couldn’t let Kieran and Kyara see me upset. All the fellow mums knew Chris had gone, but thankfully they didn’t ask too many questions.
The children are in bed now, and I’m trying so hard to keep busy. It’s just hit me that this is the first of many nights on my own. I just wonder how I’m going to get through them all.
Five months without his daddy: Chris has been on tours to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and had never been away for more than two months at a time
Stepped in: Little Kieran stood in for Chris as best man at his father's best friend's wedding and a RAF uniform was made up for him with his father's medals pinned to it
LEGO LINK OF LOVE
Thursday, July 12 — 131 days until Daddy’s home
It’s strange getting used to my husband as a voice at the end of the phone. We’re managing to talk two or three times a week, though I know he can never guarantee to call when he says he will.
I’m trying to tell myself that, as he is on a base in Kandahar, he’s probably safer there than on the roads in Britain. But generally, I try not to think of him in a war zone or it would drive me crazy.
The children are handling their dad’s departure very differently. Before Chris left, he stuck two Lego men on to a globe on the coffee table, one on England and one on Afghanistan, so they can see where Daddy is in relation to us. And on the wall in the kitchen is an RAF countdown wall chart, so we can tick off the weeks until he gets home.
Kieran is being very brave: he tells people: ‘I’m looking after Kyara and Mummy while Daddy’s away’.
He makes Chris laugh with questions about life on camp — he’s thrilled to hear he’s sleeping in a bunk bed. But Kyara is getting a bit bored with being called to the telephone. ‘I’m busy playing!’ she’ll complain, and has to be bribed with chocolate. Although my conversations with Chris involve my usual rabbiting about my day, we make sure they finish with a ‘I love you’. There’s always the painful reality that each conversation could be our last.
I’M A BIG BOY NOW
Monday, July 30 — 113 days until Daddy’s home
Today, our little boy turned six. He celebrated last week with a party in our village hall. I’d been planning it for months: there was a bouncy castle and an inflatable football pitch, and my mum Kathy and younger sister Laura made an Angry Birds cake.
It was a lovely day, but part of me was so angry Chris wasn’t there. Other little boys had their daddies there, and Chris would have been playing boisterously with the kids. My dad, Martin, and Laura’s fianc, Andrew, are being surrogate fathers, for which I’m so grateful, but it’s not the same.
Drying Mum's tears: Kieran stands waiting for Chris with mother Carly Everett and would tell people that he was 'looking after (sister) Kyara and Mummy while Daddy's away'
We gave Kieran his main present, a shiny new bicycle, before Chris left, so he could watch him open it. Chris did manage to be involved today too. He’d ordered Kieran a toy Tornado (the jet Chris works on) from the internet while he was away. Kieran loves it.
There’s also a card, a surprise even for me. Chris has written: ‘I wish I could be there with you’.
Kieran has taken it to bed; I don’t think it will leave him until Chris comes back. As I watch him sleep with the card peeking from under his duvet, tears prick my eyes. They mean so much to one another.
Why do they have to be apart
PRIDE ON PARADE
Saturday, August 18 — 94 days until Daddy’s home
Today was a wonderful day, but also the hardest since Chris went away. Sister Laura got married to Chris’s best friend, Andrew. Chris was meant to be the best man, and was devastated to let him down.
Instead, Kieran stepped in. It was my mum’s idea to have a RAF uniform made up for him, with a perfect little hat. When he got dressed, he looked so proud with his father’s medals pinned on. Chris was sending me messages all morning, begging to see pictures — he’s feeling very left out.
Kieran travelled to the church in the wedding car with Laura, and when he walked in, head held high, there was a collective gasp followed by a round of applause. My aunties couldn’t stop crying. It was the hottest day of the year, 33c, but Kieran never once complained.
Chris had filmed a speech for the reception. I hadn’t seen it, and nobody — not even the children — knew it was coming. Although it was so funny and fitting, I was laughing with tears in my eyes, and even the groom welled up.
Part way through, Kieran stood up and ran away in tears, yelling: ‘I want my Daddy’ and hid. I know how he felt. Chris should have been there. In all the photographs, he’s the missing piece of the jigsaw — and that’s something we’ll never get back.
Together again: Chris said that this was 'the hardest trip' because the children are older
The long wait: Carly, with Kieran and Kyara, said that they spoke to Chris two or three times a week on the phone and said it was a 'painful reality that each conversation could be our last'
A BITTERSWEET ANNIVERSARY
Friday, August 31 — 81 days until Daddy’s home
When we arrived back from the school run today, there was an enormous bouquet of cream roses in a violet vase sitting on the doorstep. Even in a war zone, Chris had remembered our tenth wedding anniversary. He had taken me away for a romantic weekend in Rome before he left, but I was delighted that I had something from him on the day itself.
Ten years ago, we got married on a beautiful sunny day in the local church, near our home in Norfolk, the same place that Laura and Andrew had their wedding. It was such a happy day.
But it is getting harder, him being away. Everything is going wrong — physically, things he would normally deal with are breaking down. Only days after he left, the washing machine stopped working, leaving me up to my elbows in sodden laundry.
And a couple of weeks ago, the clutch went on my trusty seven-year-old red Citroen. I had to leave it on the side of the road until my dad could tow it the next morning, but I still got a call from the police about moving it, which infuriated me. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m holding my family together, but I can’t single-handedly push my car down the road! It feels like everything’s against me.
Friday, September 14 — 67 days until Daddy’s home
Kieran usually loves school, but he seemed funny about going back last week. I’m sure he’ll be fine in the end. We live 45 miles from the RAF base, so Kieran doesn’t go to school with other military kids who would understand what he’s going through.
There’s another worry to add to the list today. There’s been a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, two men have been killed [The victims subsequently turned out to be U.S. marines]. I know Chris isn’t there, but the only way I usually keep sane is by telling myself he’s not on the front line.
But this just brings home the fact that, with two months to go, nowhere out there is safe.
HEARTBREAK AT PARENTS’ EVENING
Thursday, October 25 — 26 days until Daddy’s home
has been the worst month so far. The strain has really got to me, I’m
fed up, and I just want Chris home. It was Kyara’s birthday last week —
Chris has now missed all our birthdays, including mine and his back in
Today was the final
straw. It was Kieran’s parents’ evening. He’s the youngest in the year,
but he’s bright and does well to catch up with the older children, so it
was a shock to hear that he has taken a step back academically this
For Daddy: Kieran chose to wear his RAF uniform to show Chris on the 'Daddy Home' day on the RAF countdown wall chart
His teacher said he’s become emotional and easily upset in class. It’s only now I realise how deeply affected he is by Chris being away.
I feel so guilty — I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I’d like helping with his homework as I do when Chris is around, so can’t help but blame myself. I tried to hide my upset from the teacher, but it poured out on the phone to Chris.
I could hear him struggling too as I described how Kieran had taken his medals into class two days ago for Show and Tell. He told his classmates that his Daddy was a long, long, long way away. I know how he feels.
COUNTING DOWN — IN CHOCOLATE
Monday, November 12 — 8 days until Daddy’s home
Tonight was another missed milestone: Kieran has lost his first tooth. He’s been wobbling it all day, and he walked downstairs with a big gappy smile and his tooth in his hand. I had three friends and my cousin over, so they all whooped and clapped. I took pictures before he put it in a pot by his bed, but he’ll never get to show Daddy — the tooth fairy will have taken it by the time he’s home.
I desperately spent the start of the month trying to avoid firework displays — we have told the children Daddy will be home soon after Bonfire Night. Now, Kieran relentlessly asks when exactly he gets back.
So I bought them their advent calendars early, and we’re using them as a countdown, opening the little windows to reveal chocolates inside.
Kyara didn’t quite get the idea, and ate six chocolates on the first day. I’d like to think she was trying to bring him home quicker.
'Look Daddy!' Carly watched as Chris lifted Kieran up and a tear ran down his face. Kieran gave him a toothy grin, showing his the gap after losing a tooth
Tuesday, November 20 — The day we longed for . . .
From the moment they woke up this morning and saw ‘Daddy Home’ on the calendar, the kids have been driving me crazy, they’re so hyperactive. I piled them and my mum into the car to get to RAF Marham for midday, determined not to be late.
But it was a mistake, as waiting for the plane to land at 1.35pm was the longest hour-and-a-half of my life. Kieran kept asking, ‘How long now, how long now’.
He chose to wear his special uniform to show his Dad.
We hadn’t experienced a group arrival home before, and it was so moving to see smiling children with pictures of their dads on their T-shirts. It made me feel part of something: other families had been going through the same thing as us.
When we saw the plane land, everyone was desperate to catch a sight of their loved one.
I felt inexplicably nervous. As soon as we caught a glimpse of Chris, the kids broke away from me and ran to him. I hung back with a lump in my throat and let them have their moment with their father.
Chris lifted Kieran up and I watched a tear run down his face, while I was failing to hold back my own.
Kieran gave him a big toothy grin: ‘Look Daddy!’ he said, showing him the gap.
Then I stepped into the hug, and Chris wrapped his arms around me. I can’t remember what we first said to each other, it was such a blur. It had felt like this day would never come.
When we got home, there was no fancy dinner, just beans on toast at Chris’s request. And tomorrow morning, he wants to plunge straight back into family life, getting up and taking the children to school as normal.
I know some couples take each other for granted, but I can truly say that I appreciate every moment I have with Chris. I know he might go away in the future, but I don’t want to think about that.
Right now, I’m just so grateful to have him home for Christmas. It wouldn’t be complete without him — now we can be a family again.
CHRIS SAYS: I admire Carly so much for what she does when I’m away. This was the hardest trip, as the children are older.
People know all about what we do in Afghanistan, but she’s the one who keeps life normal for me and keeps me from worrying too much when I’m away. I don’t know what I’d do without her.