THIS is the touching moment when schoolgirl Brooke Scott met Army sergeant Paul Howard – one of the last people to see her dad Lee alive.
She was only seven months old when he was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2009, so she had no memories of him to cling to.
But by chatting with Paul, ten-year-old Brooke has been able to piece together a mental picture of her treasured dad, Corporal Lee Scott, who was just 26 when he died in the blast in Helmand Province.
During their emotional meeting, brave Brooke fought to hold back tears as she told Paul of the heartbreaking moment her mum Nikki realised Lee’s fate. She said: “When my dad died, Mummy told me he hadn’t phoned home for a while.
“When two cars came into our cul de sac, she knew he hadn’t phoned home because he had died, and that was when stuff started getting bad.”
As she broke down in sobs, an emotional Paul leaned forward to comfort her.
But as Brooke recovered and the mood lightened, the pair shared photos of Lee in Afghanistan.
Talking about one, Paul told her: “He’s just having a pose, as he was a bit of a poser in front of the camera.”
Retired soldier Paul, 48, volunteered to meet Brooke as part of the Reconnect campaign, which aims to help bereaved Forces children “reconnect” with the military.
It was launched by the charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers, which Nikki set up after Lee’s death.
Here, Brooke and Paul tell what it meant to them to share their stories.
For more information on Scotty’s Little Soldiers or to get in touch, go to scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk.
Paul’s story: ‘I wanted to help Brooke see a side of her dad she’d never have seen’
“FOR me, it was as if Lee was there,” said Paul. “Brooke looks so much like him — she has so many of his characteristics, her cheeky smile, and she’s very jovial.
“It definitely took me aback a bit. I always thought it would be an emotional meeting, but it was important to me because it was about Brooke knowing her dad.
“I wanted to help her to see him through my eyes, to see a side she would never have seen.
“I told her about the times he would borrow the other lads’ phone credit to call Nikki at home one more time, how he talked about how much he missed them.
“Then it was just me recounting the good side of the things that happened during the tour — it wasn’t all about the bad things.
“There were a lot of good times happening on the ground in that period, which the lads remember.”
Troop Sergeant Paul had joined the military in 1992, before leaving in 1999. He then re-joined in 2003 and finally retired in January 2018 after 22 years of service.
He was part of the “tight-knit” 2nd Royal Tank Regiment that was left reeling after Lee’s death in July 2009 — the second fatality to hit the unit in ten days.
But Paul — who suffered PTSD after returning from the tour in 2009 — told how meeting his old comrade’s daughter face to face brought the good memories of the tour flooding back, as well as the more difficult ones.
During their meeting he told Brooke a story about Lee getting the tank “bogged in” [stuck in a hole].
He told her Lee would always make fun of people when this happened to them and said he was too good a driver to fall victim to it.
But he went on to say how Lee was teased mercilessly after getting stuck twice in the same day. He also told her Lee would jump at the chance to go on missions and be the boss — as he loved being in charge.
Paul added: “But Lee was one of ours and he was very well respected in the squadron. We were such a tight-knit group and it’s something I’ve never experienced before and never will again.
“I always said that if Nikki ever needed anything, all she had to do was get in contact. Everything she has done for Scotty’s Little Soldiers has been about showing how much Lee loved children. He absolutely adored his kids.
“And this meeting was always about helping Brooke.
“She was so brave to talk to me. I thought she might have got a bit more down and I might panic a bit more, but we didn’t. We had a good conversation.
‘FELT LIKE MY OLD SELF’
“Afterwards I could see how much it had helped her — she was so bubbly and excited. And for a couple of hours afterwards I felt like my old self again.
“I want other soldiers to know that if they put aside their difficulties and help children like her, the same could happen to them.
“This campaign, and Scotty’s Little Soldiers, is so vital because it should be all about these children and helping them as much as we can.
“I think Nikki set it up also to keep Lee’s memory alive and the love she has for him.”
Nikki added: “We’ve seen the difference the campaign makes to families to reconnect with the military.
“If you served with someone who lost their life, please contact us so we can try to help reconnect with their family.”
Brooke’s story: ‘I did get upset but it was a happy experience. I felt really connected to the military’
“I WANTED to meet Paul because he was my dad’s sergeant and knew a lot about Dad, and I wanted to know more about him,” said Brooke.
“My mum had told me funny stories about Dad, but I wanted to know if there was a different side of him — a more serious side.
“I just really wanted to know what he was like, and about the things he did in the Army.
“It felt very nerve-racking to walk up to a stranger and have him know all about you. But then it felt easier when we started talking.
“One of my favourite things was hearing about all the things me and my dad have in common.
“Paul said Dad did have a serious side and that when something needed to be done he got it done. That’s like me at school, when they tell me to do something I’ll try to get it done.
“He showed me photos of Dad pulling poses, and they are the same poses I like to do with Mum or at school. I have those photos in my memory box.
“It was really nice to hear that I’m like Dad, because I don’t have many things to remember him by. I have pictures but I don’t remember him.
‘JUST LIKE MY DAD’
“So it’s nice to know I’m doing the things that I do, and that’s sort of giving more memories of Dad, because I’m very much like him.
“If I hadn’t met Paul I wouldn’t know all the stuff I know today — knowing he knew my dad and he served with him was very special. Before, there was this gap where I didn’t know what was going on, and having Paul tell me things was really nice, because it filled the gaps of not knowing stuff about Daddy.
“I think it was hard for Paul to talk to me because he feels he let Dad down. I don’t think he wanted to feel guilty all over again. But I don’t want him to feel like that, it wasn’t his fault my dad died.”
Brooke lives in Cambridgeshire with Nikki, 37, stepdad Joe, brother Kai, 15, and four-year-old sister Tilly. While she does not remember her dad, her family home is full of photos to keep his memory alive.
Brooke also has a recording of him reading her favourite childhood book, Giraffes Can’t Dance, and also a collection of letters he wrote to her mum from Afghanistan.
And in their meeting she told Paul it is those letters, in which Lee talked about coming home and giving them “lots of cuddles”, that upset her.
‘SETS ME OFF CRYING’
She said: “That’s what sets me off crying because it reminds me he never came home.”
Brooke also broke down as she told Paul about the day officials came to break the news of the tragedy.
But she insisted that despite her tears, the latest meeting was a happy one, and she said she hopes the Reconnect campaign gives more people the same opportunity.
She went on: “I did get upset when I was talking to Paul, but it was definitely a happy experience, and I felt like I was really connected to the military.
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I have been to camps before — my mum has a photo of me sitting in a tank like the one my dad drove — but the military don’t do that much with us.
“I think it’s really important that children like me can learn about their mum or their dad, and it makes them feel remembered, like they have their dad around again.
“I can thank Paul for that.”
- See a video of the meeting at youtube.com/watch?v=MwunJkVBaIA
Help to make a child smile
LEE’S widow Nikki founded Scotty’s Little Soldiers in 2010 to honour her husband’s memory – both as a loyal soldier and a loving father.
The charity is dedicated to supporting bereaved British Armed Forces children such as Brooke and her brother Kai.
Nikki had noticed it was nine months after Lee died before Kai smiled.
Today the charity is dedicated to helping those children to smile and laugh again – which is achieved with three programmes.
“Smiles” offers kids fun activities and gifts at hard times of the year, “Support” gives access to counselling, and “Strides” helps with children’s personal development.
- For more information on Scotty’s Little Soldiers or to get in touch, go to scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk.
Brooke, from Cambridgeshire, with the memory box she has to help her remember her dad[/caption]
The funeral of 26-year-old Cpl Lee Scott took place at St Faith’s Church Gaywood, Kings Lynn[/caption]
British troops killed in Afghanistan and repatriated to RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire: (top, from left) Private John Brackpool, 1st Prince of Wales Company, attached to 1st Battalion Welsh Guards; Rifleman Daniel Hume, 4th Battalion The Rifles; Corporal Lee Scott, 2 The Royal Tank Regiment; Rifleman James Backhouse, 2nd Battalion The Rifles; (bottom from left) Rifleman Joseph Murphy, 2 Rifles; Rifleman Jonathan Horne, 2 Rifles; Rifleman Daniel Simpson, 2 Rifles; and Rifleman William Aldridge, 2 Rifles[/caption]
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