A DEVASTATED mum has told of her "excruciating heartbreak" after her son became the eleventh soldier from a single infantry battalion to take their own life.
Lance Corporal Andy Francis' unit saw some of the Army's bloodiest combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many left with PTSD or severe mental health problems.
Tragically, Andy died in Scotland on May 23 – making him the eleventh veteran who served with or was attached to 2nd Battalion the Rifles to have killed themselves.
The 30-year-old's heartbroken mum Sharon Garton has pleaded for more to be done to help soldiers with mental health issues after they leave the Army.
"Andy’s beautiful four-year-old daughter Scarlett will grow up without her wonderful dad and we’ll have many difficult days explaining this to her," she told the Mirror.
“Please don’t let my son’s death be for nothing. We have to stop this.
“The heartbreak and pain is excruciating. His girlfriend (Sarah) is broken, his sisters are struggling – and that, for us, is heartbreaking alone. I can’t take my babies’ pain away.”
Andy's unit, the Rifles, had the highest regimental death toll of any that served in Afghanistan in 2009 at 55.
Please don't let me son's death be for nothing. We have to stop this. The heartbreak and pain is excruciating
That year, more soldiers were killed or injured in action than in any other in the country.
The Rifles witnessed some of worst conflict on tours of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
They were deployed in Sangin, in the country's Helmand province and came under daily attack – with many losing limbs at the hands of explosive devices.
The colleagues of Andy who also took their lives after struggling mentally were Jamie Davis, 30, Captain Gary Case, 50, Kevin Williams, 29, John Paul Finnigan, 34, Jonny Cole, 39, Kevin Holt, 29, Jonny Mather, Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, LCpl James Ross, 30, and Rifleman Alan Arnold, 20.
Ex-veterans' minister Johnny Mercer slammed the deaths as "appalling" and branded the lack of care for ex-soldiers "a stain on the country".
You’re Not Alone
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm
Sharon, of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, said Andy had been at his "happiest" in recent months, and was about to ask his girlfriend Sarah to marry him.
"I know Andy wouldn’t have wanted to put everyone through the pain and suffering we’re now going through," she added.
“But this is now our nightmare – the demons of Helmand have moved on to us through the loss of our wonderful handsome young man.
"I’ve been with Andy through lots of ups and downs.
“This time of year has always been hard for him following the devastation left behind from Herrick 10.
"But he was the happiest I’ve seen him for a long time – financially sound, good job, deeply in love and looking forward to popping the question.
“On Thursday he was off to Bath with Sarah for a romantic weekend.
“Then on Sunday the demons, for whatever reason, got too much and took him away from us.”
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans for free on 116123.
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