My muscles tightened like stretched elastic, restricting blood flow and air. The other gentleman without the clerical collar demanded to know whether I was next of kin to my son and asked me to tell him my son’s name and rank. A sentence was on replay in my head ‘surely this couldn’t be happening to us?’ They announced what they believed to be his rank. It was wrong. I moved my neck to open my throat just enough to find space to inhale air. They quickly went through their paperwork. I stood there feeling helpless, frightened. My head cried out silently, have we escaped? The confusion which his ranking seemed to cause gave me time to take a breath. They had him listed as Lance Corporal. A seed of memory burst into action and I recalled that the Royal Marines drop a rank when they change units. He served as a Lance Corporal in Faslane, Scotland where he had been serving for a couple of years. When he joined 40 Commando in the autumn of 2009 he returned to the rank of Marine. My mind was working overtime. Surely if they got his rank wrong – then maybe, just maybe – they have got the wrong address and this is just a case of a mistaken identity. And however bad this sounded, perhaps I was in the clear. It was not me they were searching for but another ill-fated family.
I corrected them in an almost confident manner saying, no, he was Marine Ed Hawkins. I was desperately hoping that my correction would end this ghastly situation and my responses would satisfy them and make them go away. That edge of courage was dissipating fast. The inquisition continued. They asked if I could please confirm his date of birth. After my response to this question, they deduced that they had the right person. I was alternating from feeling that the two men were so close there was no escape, to watching the situation as if from above – a kind of out of body experience. At that moment in time, I equated escape with turning the clock back and pretending I had never heard the doorbell ring, that Edward had not been injured. I remember being told at the pre-deployment briefing at 40 Commando in February, that if two men in full military uniform knocked on the door then it meant that your loved one had been killed. If they were wearing ordinary civilian suits, then your loved one was injured. I did not appreciate it at the time but in either case, these were life-changing ordeals personally delivered by Casualty Notification Officers. They had a gruesome task.
I felt physically sick and began to shake uncontrollably. For a moment or two I lost my composure. My legs went fuzzy; my head began to spin while the adrenalin pumped around my body. Agreeing to sign the ‘Next of Kin’ form a few months ago before Edward deployed did not prepare me for handling this news. I had been living on the edge since 40 Commando’s tour of Afghanistan began, but this was obviously in a league of its own. I could not believe that this was happening to us. My vision narrowed down to just them and me. I noticed nothing else.