We remember him every day…

November 2022

WAY member Laura Robbins from Bristol has just been appointed Chair of the RAF Widows’ Association. This Remembrance Sunday, Laura will be heading to the Cenotaph in memory of her husband Nick, who served in the RAF. 

Laura Robbins' husband Nick

“Nick and I met in 1998, we just started chatting in the pub one night at a poetry and pints evening our relationship grew from there. Nick was in the RAF when we met and within a few weeks of meeting him he was deployed to Sierra Leone, so much of our communication at the start of our relationship was through email and letters. But we stuck together and married in February 2001.

As military life tends to unfold, Nick was deployed to Iraq hours after Tanith was born in 2003 and returned when she was five and a half months old. Then in 2005 he was deployed to Afghanistan for six months when Ewan was three months old.

In total, Nick completed three tours of Afghanistan and the whole time he was away you are to some degree prepared for the worst – prepared for that knock on the door.

It was after Nick’s third and final tour of Afghanistan in 2011 that he went to see the doctors. He had ongoing pins and needles and sensation changes in his arms and legs which they initially suspected to be MS, so they sent him for an X-ray. We had a phone call the same day results which showed a tumour in his right lung. They operated to remove the lung but by this point the cancer had already spread.

Nick was a life-long non-smoker and really into his fitness and was never going to let his cancer change his life, he served and worked right up until the day he died in September 2014.

Although the children knew that their Dad was very ill, it didn’t make his death any easier to cope with. Tanith and Ewan have both dealt with Nick’s death in different ways, they were at an age where they understood what was happening and have had to grow up a little quicker than other children their age.

We came together as a family, worked together and supported each other. They have both coped amazingly well and have been my rock since their Dad died.”

Finding support

In 2015, Laura was introduced to the charity Scotty’s Little Soldiers, which supports bereaved British Forces children. Laura explains: “Following Nick’s death I soon realised there were other families out there who were like me. I got in touch with Scotty’s as I’d struggled to find counselling for the children and support in general about raising two bereaved children

We were then quickly put in touch with other military families who, like us, had lost their husband or partner and missed the support network offered by the military community. They got it and understood what my children were going through.

The first thing we did with Scotty’s was go on holiday to one of the lodges, just the three of us. It was really tough without Nick but was exactly what we needed. Scotty’s made us all feel like we were not alone, that there were people out there we could talk to any time we needed them.”

Laura also joined WAY Widowed and Young, which supports people across the UK who’ve been widowed at a young age.

“I joined WAY as soon as Nick died,” she says. “I wanted to ask some questions on the community forum. That was absolutely what I needed at the time. WAY offered for me what Scotty’s offered for the children – that shared ‘getting it’ and knowing that everyone is going through similar route.”

Laura is also a member of subgroup within WAY for military widows and widowers – set up by WAY Ambassador Emma Gray.

“The military subgroup is brilliant because we’re all a similar age,” says Laura. “Because it’s an online community, sometimes you need a bit of support – it’s there and it’s instant. And it’s always welcoming. 

Being a military widow is a bit different – it can be quite isolating. The subgroup makes you feel like you’re not alone. It’s that shared understanding of military loss. It’s a soft place to fall – and it involves all three services, which is absolutely brilliant.”

Moving Forward

Laura Robbins

In October, Laura was appointed Chair of the RAF Widows’ Association, which was set up 30 years ago by RAF widows whose husbands had died in a plane crash.

A former social worker, Laura is responsible for the day-to-day running of the charity and is the primary contact for anyone who joins the association.

“We’re all volunteers and all have other jobs,” says Laura. “We’re all widows ourselves and most of the 255+ members are spouses of people who have died in service. We are aged between 31 and 101.”

As well as supporting its members, the RAF Widows’ Association is also involved in training personnel who are appointed to support families if someone in the military dies. 

Today Laura is juggling her work with the RAF Widows’ Association with helping her children navigate their ongoing grief.

“The children’s grief changes massively,” she says. “When my daughter went off to university last year, it was a massive thing for her. He died when she went into secondary school. Now she’s working in biomedical science looking for cancer cures.

My son is struggling with facing turning 18 – he didn’t know his Dad as a man. When the world stopped after the Queen died, he said it would have been nice if he world had stopped when his Dad died. That grief is never going to go away – you just learn to live with and learn to live around it.

Ewan is planning to motorbike across Europe after he’s done his A-levels. His Dad wrote him a letter before he died saying: ‘Life’s an adventure, grab it with both hands.’ So it’s a kind of pilgrimage for him.

"He’ll always be their Dad – we remember him every day...”

With thanks to Scotty’s Little Soldiers and RAF Widows’ Association.