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The club no-one wants to belong to

So for another six families, life will never be the same again.

But as they suffer a pain of losing a son in combat which few of us will thankfully never comprehend - there are sadly many who know only too well the tunnel of grief they’re now entering.

Four hundred and four British lives have now been lost in Afghanistan. For each of that number - there are countless others whose lives have been effected. Families, friends, colleagues.

To mark the day the death toll in Afghanistan passed the 400 mark - I went to meet three parents who lost their sons, who travelled from all corners of Britain, to reflect on the sacrifice.

Tom Cuthbertson’s eldest son Nathan was the 100th to die - in a suicide attack in 2008. Hazel Hunt, who farms in Wales - lost her son Pte Richard Hunt to a roadside bomb. He was number 200. And Jane Duffy from Fife lost her son just last year.

You’ll probably remember him clearly - he was Army Dog Handler Corporal Liam Tasker. He was shot by a sniper - and just a few hours later his dog Theo died too.

To see the three together was extremely moving. As they shared their stories of grief, they nodded heads in recognition of each other’s pain, shared memories - and comforted one another when the tears flowed.

Tom had lived with the grief the longest of the three - but says each new death takes him back to square one.

"It’s unreal to think the figure has risen - it’s beyond our wildest imaginations. To lose a son was so horrific - and then to think there’s another three hundred since then is unreal. Every life lost hits us hard - my wife always rings to tell me and it upsets us. The knock at the door - you re-live the nightmare."

The losses prompt all of them to question whether the war is worth it - but they all find it difficult, as Jane admits.

"We are all military families - I know the wives and the mums don’t want them out there. But for those of us who’ve lost someone - we do want them there otherwise it’s a betrayal of their memory. I don’t want my son to have died in vain."

She reflects on her own raw loss too.

"For me the clocks stopped on March 1st (2011) - Sometimes I even get angry thinking that time has moved on. It’s hell. Pure Hell. I haven’t even been able to open any of Liam’s boxes. It affects the whole family."

All of them are desperate to reach out to the newly bereaved families - physically and emotionally - because they all know the difference the support makes. As they offer heartfelt words of comfort, Hazel - who still wears her son’s dog tag fashioned into a pendant around her neck, looks down at her hands.

"It’s a different way of life. Nothing will ever be the same again. Sometimes you’ll laugh - sometimes there will be floods of tears. It is a long dark tunnel - and no-one understands except another parent. I hate to say it - but it’s almost like a club."

Tom nods.

"But it’s a club nobody wants to be a member of."

SSAFA is the UK's oldest Armed Forces charity. We provide practical help and assistance to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served, even if it was only for a single day.

And Welsh Warrior is the foundation set up in memory of Pte Richard Hunt.

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