REMEMBRANCE FEATURE: How Scotty lives on with his little soldiers
NIKKI Scott has honoured her husband’s memory by setting up a charity to help the children of servicemen and women who have died fighting for their country. She spoke to STACIA BRIGGS, a feature writer for our sister title the Eastern Daily Press, about love, loss and a legacy set to touch the hearts of hundreds of children.
IT had been a ‘down’ day, when the reality of having a husband fighting in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from his family, had hit Nikki Scott hard.
Surrounded by other wives at Tidworth Barracks, near Salisbury, who knew exactly how she felt, Nikki’s friends were quick to rally round and tempt her out of the house for some fresh air.
As she returned to get ready to pick up son Kai from school, she saw two Ministry of Defence cars pulling into the cul-de-sac where she, husband Lee ‘Scotty’ Scott and children Kai and Brooke lived.
“I knew what those cars meant,” said Nikki, “I watched them drive slowly up the road and as they did, I was mentally working out which house they might be stopping at – a neighbour was on tour in Afghanistan, but then I remembered he was on R&R. Another neighbour’s husband was still at home.
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“In my heart, I knew the car was heading for my house. I thought: ‘Lee’s been hurt’. I was crying; I knew the news would be bad. When the drivers got out of the car, I said: ‘Are you looking for me?’.”
Cpl Scott, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was killed on July 10, 2009 in an explosion while taking part in Operation Panther’s Claw, just north of Nad Ali, Helmand Province.
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Passionate about his job, he had taken the Challenger 2 crew commander’s course several years early and had qualified as a troop corporal and one of the youngest tank commanders in the Royal Armoured Corps. Lee was 26 when he died, his youngest child just seven months old.
“I remember saying that there was another Scott in Afghanistan, and that they must have got the wrong one – my Lee couldn’t be dead. The news just wouldn’t sink in,” said Nikki, who married Lee in 2008 having first met him years previously when she worked in a pub at King’s Lynn.
“I remember thinking: ‘How am I going to tell Kai?’ It was heartbreaking – I had to tell him that Daddy couldn’t come home because he had to go to heaven instead. It felt like the end of the world.
“Lee was my husband, my best friend and the best father you could ever ask for. Everyone who knew him loved him.”
Although Lee adored his life in the Army, it paled into insignificance when compared to his love for Nikki and their children.
“When Lee said he was joining the Army, I laughed because he was so cheeky – I said: ‘there’s no way you are going to do what you’re told!’ but he was brilliant,” she said.
“Every time he came back on leave we got closer and closer. The Army made him grow up and I realised that when he was away, I really missed him and wanted him to come home again.
“Lee never really talked about the tours, but when he was in Iraq I wrote to him as often as I could and he loved getting my hand-written letters. It was old-fashioned, but romantic, and I think it made our relationship stronger.
“I still have all the letters we sent each other and they’re lovely, something I can show the children when they get older. When I read them, I can hear Lee’s voice again.”
At Halloween in 2007, Lee lit a path to the back garden with candles leading to a table set for two. He proposed, and after Nikki accepted, lit fireworks in celebration.
In the following January, the couple moved to Tidworth in Wiltshire, married shortly afterwards and spent “a really special year together” during which Brooke, now nearly three, was born.
“I remember Lee telling me when he was on a tour that a friend had become a dad but that he felt sorry for him, because he’d never know what he’d missed by not being at the birth,” said Nikki.
“Lee was there when Brooke was born and it meant so much to him. He lived for the kids – did everything he could for them. You never had to ask him to make up bottles or play with the children, he loved being with them more than anything else.”
In June 2009, Lee left for a tour of Afghanistan. Parting was difficult and Lee would later tell his wife that it was the hardest tour he’d ever taken part in.
“When they’re away, you’re left with the constant feeling of not knowing if they’re OK. Worrying all day, struggling to sleep, running for the phone in case you miss their call and then can’t speak to them for days,” said Nikki.
“The last time I spoke to him was a few days before he died. One of his troopers, Joshua Hammond, had been killed and he was really down, not like Lee at all. He said he felt as if they were fighting in world war two and that he desperately needed to come home for R&R.
“I’d already had a phone call to say that Lee had been involved in the incident but that he was fine, and in my mind I thought ‘that was Lee’s close-call’. I spoke to Lee twice that day, and on the second occasion he was a lot perkier.
“I remember telling him to keep going, that we were all worried about him, were proud of him and that we missed him. We said we loved each other and then said goodbye.”
Lee was repatriated a week before he was due to have started his longed-for break.
The following weeks and months followed in a blur as Nikki and the children struggled to come to terms with their loss.
“His toothbrush wasn’t in the holder, his shoes weren’t by the door, it wasn’t like he’d just gone out that morning and never come back – I’d already been missing him, feeling sick with worry,” said Nikki.
“When I heard the worst, I was still missing him and crying. In a way, it felt the same.
“It wasn’t until the regiment came home in December and I went to the medal parade that it finally sunk in that he was never coming back. Even now, it sometimes hits me – I just can’t believe that I’m never going to see him again.”
A year after Lee’s death, Nikki was inspired to create something positive out of a devastating loss.
Having seen how son Kai, now seven, responded to a family holiday in Turkey, she decided to set up Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity which provides respite and treats for the families of servicemen and women who lose their lives in action.
“When we were away, I saw Kai laughing the way he’d laughed before Lee died,” said Nikki, who moved back to West Norfolk last November and now lives at Walpole St Andrew.
“I realised it was the first time I’d really seen him laugh for months. He hadn’t been the same little boy – there was a constant sadness in his eyes, even when he was smiling.
“It was as if getting away from the house meant that we could put our grief on hold and relax for the first time, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and for the first time, that there was hope for the future.”
Back at home, Nikki channelled her grief into helping people in the same situation. With friends and family, she set up the charity using Lee’s own nickname and the ‘little soldier’ nickname he gave Kai.
The charity hopes to buy holiday homes for the use of bereaved families and will provide gifts and day trips for children coping with the loss of a parent.
Nikki hopes to raise �450,000 to buy three holiday homes and now has an office in Railway Road, King’s Lynn, where the day-to-day business of fund-raising can be orchestrated.
“It’s hard work, but it’s great because it gives me something to focus on that’s positive and it’s been wonderful to see how people really care and want to help,” she said.
“Nothing will ever make the pain go away, but you learn to cope with things and it helps to know that Lee would be so proud of what we’re doing. I miss him every day, but he has inspired something that I hope will help lots of other families – I know he’d love that.”
• To find out how you can donate visit the website at scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk