Hero of the month… Corporal Matthew Cornish 1977 – 2006
Once a year in November the whole world comes together to remember our fallen heroes, however at Scotty’s Little Soldiers we know that for families who have lost someone who served in the Armed Forces, Remembrance Day is every day.
Every one of our members has lost a parent who served in the British Armed Forces, and we believe their lives and sacrifice should always be remembered. In our hero of the month posts we celebrate the lives of our members’ fallen heroes every month of the year.
This month we honour Corporal Matthew Cornish, who was killed in Iraq on 1st August 2006. Corporal Cornish was three months in to a six-and-a-half-month tour when he was killed. He left behind his wife Abby, and two young children, Ethan, and Libby, who were just three years and 16 months old at the time of his death.
Brought up in Yorkshire, Matthew enlisted in the Army in Leeds and started his career in Cyprus. Over the years he held a series of postings including operational deployments to Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Iraq.
It was during his third posting to Iraq in 2006 that Matthew was struck by shrapnel from an enemy mortar. He sustained serious head injuries from the explosion and was evacuated by helicopter to the Field Hospital at Shaibah Logistics Base where tragically he subsequently died from his injuries.
Matthew was serving with The Light Infantry, normally based in Paderborn, Germany at the time of his death.
Regarded by many as a ‘safe pair of hands’, Corporal Cornish or ‘Pastie’, as he was known to his comrades, was an exceptional soldier. His Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Bowron, gave the following tribute at the time of his death: “Matthew was a great soldier, a fine friend and a marvellous husband and father. He will be remembered for his heart and his great character. And as a Fire Support soldier, he clearly added to the strength of the Company in a difficult location. A Yorkshireman through-and-through and an enthusiastic follower of Leeds Rhinos Rugby League, he was constantly teased for his inexplicable loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. His true passion, though, was for his family. His wife Abby, daughter Libby, and son Ethan were what lay closest to his heart – the rest was irrelevant. He spoke of them often and loved them dearly.”
Matthew’s wife Abby can still remember the night the ‘smartly dressed’ officers arrived at her door to explain that her husband wouldn’t be returning home.
She recalls it being about four in the morning and things happening so fast, she explains: “It was very early in the morning and Ethan had come into my room and got into my bed. It was then that I noticed figures arriving at the door and I didn’t know what to think. Matthew’s aunt was also staying with us at the time and they asked if she could join us.
Abby explained that at this point the officers where not aware that Matthew had in fact passed away but explained to Abby that he had sustained serious head injuries, and that was all they knew.
Abby received another knock at the door two hours later. “At 6am the officers came back” she said, “and as soon as they arrived at the door I screamed; I knew what had happened otherwise they wouldn’t have come back.
The children were just three years and 16 months olds at the time. She recalls not know what to tell them. “They were so young” she said, “Ethan, although he was only three understood more than I expected him to. I explained to them both that daddy had died, and he was now the brightest star in the sky.”
A loving family man, Matthew absolutely adored his children. Abby recalls, they had him wrapped round their fingers. Remembering their time together, Abby said: “Matthew always had a cheeky smile on his face and was forever a joker. There was always lots of laughter from the silly things he did.”
In a message to their dad, both Ethan and Libby, who are now 18 and 15 years old, describe how much they miss him. Ethan (18), who has followed in his dad’s footsteps and recently joined the Army, said: “Dad, I miss you and I hope you are proud of me.”
Libby (15), who was no memories of her dad, said: “Dear Dad, I really miss you, I wish you were here with me now and unfortunately that isn’t possible, however I am trying my best without you. I have so many exciting things happen that I wish you were here to see; I think about you everyday and I know you are up there watching me. Love Libby.”
Abby also describes how their lives changed forever when Matthew was taken from them. In a letter to her husband, Abby says: “Our lives changed forever when you went away. We have learnt to live without you and have adapted to our situation. That hole that hurt is always there, it is just part of us now. We treasure our memories of you and talk about you often. You are most definitely alive in our hearts. We love and miss you more than you will ever know. Love Abby.”
With both children being so young when they lost their dad, Abby is keen to keep Matthew’s memory alive and when they were young she made them a memory box which included CDs and DVDs that Matthew created for the children when he was away on tour. Abby said: “Matthew would record himself reading books to the children, which I’d play to them at night when he was away, so they knew his voice.
“We also talk about Matthew all the time; we watch videos and look at his photos and read his letters.”
Abby and Matthew first met in 1999 when they were just 21 years old. They met on a night out. Abby remembers overhearing Matthew’s distinctive Yorkshire accent and immediately went over to chat to him.
The pair got married on 18th August 2001, and in 2002 moved to Paderborn, Germany, where Matthew was based while serving with the 1st Battalion The Light Infantry.
Their first child, Ethan, was born in 2002, followed three years later by their daughter Libby. Both children joined Scotty’s Little Soldiers in 2010. They were amongst some of the first children to join Scotty’s when the charity was set up in 2010, and for them, having someone there when they’ve needed it has been a great help.
Abby said: “Scotty’s has made a massive difference to our lives. They have provided Ethan and Libby with so many opportunities to meet up with other children in the same situation, as well gifts and holidays throughout the year which make them feel remembered.”
Over the last year, Libby has become part of the Scotty’s Little Soldiers members council, where she has the opportunity to shape the future of the charity.
Commenting on Scotty’s, Libby added: “Scotty’s Little Soldiers is an amazing charity that not only helped me to meet others who are in the same position as myself, but also helped me to make lifelong friends who I know I will always be able to speak to. If it hadn’t been for this incredible charity and the equally great founder Nikki, I know that dealing with the absence of my dad would’ve been much more difficult.”