“My Dad and other soldiers just like him made the ultimate sacrifice for us and our country and it’s important that we never forget that”

2021-11-14

21-year-old, Aidan O’Donnell, was just eight-years-old when his dad, Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell was killed while on tour in Afghanistan. On Remembrance Sunday Aidan speaks about what Remembrance means to him and his family, why it’s important that we never forget, and how support from Scotty’s Little Soldiers has helped him through the pain

On Remembrance Sunday, 45 bereaved Armed Forces children and young people, all members of bereaved Forces children’s charity, Scotty’s Little Soldiers, took to the streets of London to march as part of the national Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph to honour the huge sacrifices made by their parents and members of the Armed Forces all over the country. Amongst them was 21-year-old Aidan O’Donnell who was marching in honour of his hero, his dad, W02 Gary O’Donnell who was killed on 10th September 2008 while on tour in Afghanistan.

Aidan and his dad

Aidan was just eight-years-old when his dad was killed trying to disarm an IED in Helmand Province, and although Remembrance Day is a painful time for him and his family, he’s determined to never forget the sacrifices his dad and others made.

The day his dad died changed Aidan’s life forever. At eight years old Aidan understood exactly what had happened to his dad and that he wouldn’t be coming home. Unlike his brother Ben, who was just nine weeks old at the time, Aidan had eight precious years with his dad, and as he’s grown up has really felt his absence.

13 years on and Aidan’s hero is always in his thoughts. Every day is Remembrance Day. But it’s at this time of year that Aidan really reflects on the hero his dad was and feels proud as the country comes together on a national scale to pay tribute for the sacrifices, he and many just like him, made.

“Remembrance Day is such an important time for everyone to remember,” said Aidan. “Whether they have experienced the loss of a loved one or not, it’s important the nation comes together and remembers. For me and my family it’s a really important time to reflect on what my dad, and others, achieved and what they did in order to protect us and our country.

“I’ll admit, Remembrance is never an easy time of year, as everyone is talking about it, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt to understand how important it is that we do keep talking and remembering those like my dad who died serving their country. It’s a tradition that as we move through the generations we shouldn’t lose. My Dad and other soldiers just like him made the ultimate sacrifice for us and our country and it’s important that we never forget that.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary O'Donnell

The last 18 months in particular has been incredibly challenging for Aidan and other Forces children and young people in a similar situation. With Remembrance Day ceremonies cancelled across the country due to the pandemic, and more recently the ongoing issues in Afghanistan, Aidan has found the support of his friends and family even more important. He said: “The last year has been very strange, but I’ve always had my family there to lean on. Not being able to mark Remembrance as we normally would have last year was hard, but instead we came together as a family and marked it in our own way.

“My friends have also been incredibly supportive, they know my situation and always send me messages of support, particularly with everything that’s going on in Afghanistan at the moment. I have really tried to distance myself from it as much as possible as it just brings back bad memories, but when it’s constantly in the news it’s sometimes hard to. I’ve really tried to focus on the here and now and having my friends and family around me has helped me do that.”

Aidan’s younger brother Ben (13) and mum, Toni, were by his side at the 2021 Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London. Aidan marched past the Cenotaph alongside other members of national bereaved Forces children’s charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers, recognisable in yellow and black scarves.

Aidan was one of the first members to join Scotty’s Little Soldiers when it was set up in 2010 by war widow, Nikki Scott. The charity was set up in honour of Nikki’s husband and father to her two children, Corporal Lee Scott, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Nikki saw the devastating impact the death of her husband had on their two young children and wanted to help others in the same situation.

Aidan with his dad and baby brother

Aidan has been a member of the charity since he was nine years old, and it’s been a constant pillar of support for him as he’s grown up. When he turned 18, Aidan transitioned to Scotty’s Springboard Programme, which provides support to young adults ages 18-25 and assists with opportunities to develop their education and learning, build a career and enhance life skills.

Scotty’s is dedicated to supporting children and young people, just like Aidan, who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the Armed Forces.

The charity played a big part at this year’s Remembrance Sunday parade. Scotty’s Little Soldiers took a group of 18 to the Cenotaph march in 2019 and this year the charity had a much larger group of 76, of which 45 were children and young people supported by the charity.

A recent picture of Aidan

It was the first time Aidan joined the Cenotaph march on behalf of Scotty’s Little Soldiers. He attended the ceremony with his mum many years ago, but never as part of such a large group.

Before the event, Aidan said: “I’m really excited about this year’s parade and feel very proud to march alongside so many other Scotty’s members. Every member of Scotty’s knows exactly what you’re going through and I know we can all be there for one another on the day.

“This year will also be extra special as I’ll be marching with my brother. Ben took part in the march in 2019, but I wasn’t able to, so being able to march and pay tribute to dad together will mean everything.”

As well as supporting its members on the Cenotaph march, Scotty’s ensured their members knew support was available to them and offered guidance. The charity also sent vouchers to all its members ahead of Remembrance Day so they could take some time out and enjoy a meal together as a family.

Aidan said: “Scotty’s means so much to all of us, they’ve really helped over the years, and everything they do just helps reassure us that we’re not alone and that someone is thinking about us. They know exactly what we are going through and tailor their support to what they know we need. Around Remembrance, having the opportunity to have fun as a family is sometimes all you need.

“With Remembrance Day quite prominent in the news in the weeks leading up to it, it’s sometimes hard to shut off particularly if you’re in school and it’s constantly being talked about. However, Scotty’s understand that and are always at the other end of the phone if you need to talk.”

Aidan and Ben at a Scotty's Christmas Party

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