Hero of the Month: Major Matthew Titchener (1970 – 2003)
Major Matthew Titchener was a loving husband, attentive father and intelligent soldier in the Royal Military Police. Over his 12-year Army career, Matthew completed multiple operational tours of Iraq and Northern Ireland.
On the 23rd of August 2003, Matthew was killed in action in Iraq. He was 32 years old.
His son, Matheson, was only two years old. His daughter, Angel, had not yet been born.
“Matt was very kind, had an amazing sense of humour, sporty and brilliant with kids,” says Raqual, Matthew’s wife. “Outside of work, he was massively into football. He always used to say LFC was his first love. There was also a side to him that loved his arts and crafts, especially when he was with children. I remember coming home from work one day and finding him and our son, Matheson, with their hands and feet covered in paint and putting prints all over the wall of our quarters. He was very emotionally intelligent and always took account of everyone’s feelings. He could sometimes be a little moody, but because he was very aware of himself, he was good at dealing with them, and knew how to let everyone know when he needed space. He sometimes said that, if he ever left the military, he’d like to train as a teacher, which he would have been amazing at. He was a really caring guy with a great laugh who loved his family and always knew how to make the best of everything.”
Matthew was commissioned into the 1st Battalion the King’s Regiment in April 1992 and served worldwide, including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt and Canada. In May 1999 he transferred to the Royal Military Police.
“Matt loved the military and really enjoyed the lifestyle, but after we got married and started a family, he started to find it more difficult. I fell pregnant with our daughter, Angel, before he was posted to Iraq. He had talked about leaving after that tour and doing a teaching degree at the Open University so that we could spend more time together as a family. Sadly, that didn’t happen, as it’s during that tour he was killed.”
Maintaining a military connection is hugely important to Raqual and the children, and they are still in touch with many of Matthew’s friends from the Army.
“Keeping that military connection means so much to us. The military was our life for a long time, and it remains a massive connection we have to Matt. Especially for the kids. Sometimes we’ll meet someone from the military and it will turn out they knew Matt. It gives the kids an insight into a side of their dad I can’t really give them and always means a lot. When Matt died, I donated a football cup to Catterick, where he was last based, for them to hold an annual match in his memory. Last August marked the twentieth anniversary of his death and they asked us if we would come down for the match. Matheson got to play in honour of his dad and Angel presented the cup. We got to have a look around the mess afterwards, visit Matt’s old office and then spend some time in the memorial area. It was a really lovely day and it meant so much to the kids and I. Being able to have that kind of connection to their dad is irreplicable.”
Matheson was only two when his dad died, while Angel was born four months later. Because of this, they have no memories of their dad, but they’re able to find other ways to help them feel connected to him.
“Matt died when I was pregnant with Angel, so she never got to meet her dad. My first scan was originally meant to happen after he left on tour, but the hospital was really good and brought if forward a week so that he could be there. He was convinced from the start that it was a girl and always called my bump ‘Daddy’s Little Angel’, which is how she got her name. In that way, her name itself is something that really helps her feel connected to him. Matheson was two when Matt died, so he has lots of pictures of them together, and the three of us talk about him all the time and have photos all over the house.”
Raqual, Matheson and Angel all like to remember Matthew in different ways, but there’s one special tradition they all share.
“Matt loved McDonald’s and he’d use any excuse to get one. In fact, when he left to go out to Iraq, they had stopped at Kuwait and I got a happy message from him saying they’d managed to track down a McDonald's. On his birthday and anniversaries, we always have a McDonald’s to remind us of him. With the kids getting older, it’s harder to have everyone in the same place at the same time, but we always find a way to make it work. Last year, my parents took the kids away on holiday to Italy, but we all arranged a time and Facetimed each other with our McDonald’s anyway. We also have a memorial bench at my parent’s house which we can all visit whenever we want. Matt always loved my parents’ house, so he would have liked it there.”
Matthew may no longer be with them, but Raqual sees him shine through in both the children, from the way they look to their personalities and the kind of things they’re interested in.
“Both kids are like mini-mes. Matheson is Matt’s absolute double, and Angel just looks like a younger version of me. Matheson is also very sporty, which he gets from his dad. Last year he graduated from his degree in sports development and coaching and is now coaching in a primary school, which would have made Matt very proud. It’s funny, in a way, because Matheson is basically doing everything Matt said he wanted to do had he not joined the military. Angel has an artistic streak which she inherited from her dad, as well as a passion for history, in particular military history, which Matt also had. They both inherited a lot of his traits.”
Since joining Scotty’s in 2013, Matheson and Angel have benefitted from Scotty Breaks, grants, group events and the option to access one-to-one bereavement support. Through these opportunities, they have been able to meet lots of bereaved military children who can understand and relate to what they’ve been through.
“The Scotty Breaks were like a godsend for us. Being able to just get away with my parents and the kids and spend some quality time alone together, enjoying ourselves and remembering Matt really helped put everything back into focus. It was a very precious time."
“Scotty’s really came along at the right time. Knowing you having that safety net – that if the kids are ever struggling there’s always someone on the other end of the phone – makes such a difference. As a mum, all you want is for your kids to be happy and healthy, and Scotty’s help them be that.”