“When you’re with other children from Scotty’s there’s no need to pretend or worry as everyone knows what you’re going through.”
15-year-old Erin Nicholls was just a few months old when her dad, Lance Corporal Ross Nicholls was killed while on tour in Afghanistan. Here, Erin talks about remembering her dad, and how Scotty’s Little Soldiers helps reassure her she’s not alone in her grief.
15-year-old Erin Nicholls never got the opportunity to get to know her dad. Lance Corporal Ross Nicholls was killed just a few months after she was born, leaving her with no memories of the man he was, or the limited time they had together.
Lance Corporal Nicholls died on 1 August 2006 while serving with the Blues and Royals regiment in Afghanistan. He was deployed just three weeks after his baby girl was born and never got the chance to see her grow up. He also left behind his wife, Angela and son Cameron who was two years old at the time.
Over the years, Erin has struggled with not being able to remember her dad and has found talking about him incredibly hard to do, something that many children in her situation can relate to.
But as she’s grown up, Erin has found comfort in being part of a community that understands what she’s going through. That sense of community for Erin comes from Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity set up to offer integral support to children and young people who have experienced the death of a parent who served in British Armed Forces.
Erin and her older brother, Cameron (17), were amongst the first bereaved Forces children to join the charity when it was set up in 2010, and Erin talks here about how the support from Scotty’s has helped her through her childhood and has encouraged her to want to learn more about her dad.
“Scotty’s is like a feeling I can’t describe” said, Erin. “It’s like being part of a special club, but a club you don’t really want to be a part of, as to be in it means your mum or dad is no longer with you.
“Many of my friends say to me, ‘you’re so lucky being part of Scotty’s’, but what they don’t understand is that everyone who is part of Scotty’s will never get to see their mum or dad again.”
For Erin, being a member of Scotty’s Little Soldiers is the only remaining connection she has to her dad. “Scotty’s is my military connection” she said. “It reminds me of my dad. Everyone at Scotty’s has gone through the same thing and understands what you’re going through. When you’re with other people from Scotty’s you don’t need to pretend or worry if you do want to talk about your mum or dad, or even if you don’t want to talk about them. Everyone just gets it.”
Over the years, Erin has benefited from the support programmes Scotty’s provides, including respite holidays away with her mum and brother, grants that have been used for her music lessons and events including the annual Scotty’s Christmas party which has enabled her to build a strong network of friends she can turn to when she needs them.
One of the events Erin finds beneficial is the annual Scotty’s Christmas party which gives members the opportunity to come together and have fun knowing that they are amongst other children and young people who understand what they are going through.
Erin said: “What’s great about the Scotty’s Christmas party and other events is that it’s all families like ours who are missing someone. I used to think that when you go to events like that, it would be wrong to laugh and be happy, but I know now that it’s not, it’s better to be happy and laugh. It’s good to laugh and remember things and talk about it."
As well as organising events which bring its members together, Scotty’s provide respite breaks to give bereaved Forces families the opportunity to have some much-needed time away. Erin has found these holidays a key part of the support provided by the charity.
She said: “Going away to one of the Scotty’s lodges is not just a holiday, it’s also a space to get away from all the happy families you see around you, those with dads. When it gets too much there is still lots to do in the lodges. It’s also a good opportunity to spend quality time together as a family.”
One of the events Erin took part in recently that made her feel more connected to her dad was the national Remembrance Day parade in London. Erin marched alongside 45 other members of Scotty’s Little Soldiers wearing her back and yellow scarf with pride.
She said: “It made me feel so proud of my dad and walking next to other Scotty members made the day a lot more special.”
In 2019, Erin also had the opportunity to attend the Good Grief Camp in Washington DC with Scotty’s and the US charity TAPS (The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors).
Erin returned home from the trip wanting to learn more about her dad. She said: “Before we went on the trip to America I didn’t really know that much about my dad; I didn’t really want to ask because I didn’t really want to talk about it. But then when we went on the trip, everyone else was talking about their parent who had died and I didn’t really have that much to say, so it made me ask my mum more about my dad.”
Scotty’s Little Soldiers was set up in 2010 by war widow Nikki Scott. Nikki saw the devastating impact the death of her husband, Corporal Lee Scott, in 2009, had on their two young children and wanted to help others in the same situation.
The charity is currently providing assistance to hundreds of bereaved Forces children and young people around the UK and services offered include guidance to parents and carers, access to professional child bereavement support, personal education and learning assistance (including grants) and fun activities such as holiday respite breaks and group events. These are all designed to remind the children and young people supported by Scotty’s that they are not alone.
Erin said: “I can’t put into words what Scotty’s means to me, it’s just amazing. I always feel proud when I wear my Scotty’s hoodie and it makes me feel proud of my dad.”