Ex-MLA pens memoir about husband lost in Afghanistan
A CO Down former MLA whose soldier husband was killed on patrol in Afghanistan has penned a memoir of her loss and how it drove her to follow a path to politics.
Brenda Hale from Hillsborough has relived her heartache in a bid to keep the memory of her late husband, Captain Mark Hale, alive but also to highlight the plight faced by army families.
The former DUP MLA said she faced a battle with the Ministry of Defence, which almost left her "penniless", following her husband's tragic death in Helmand Province in 2009.
Her book, 'I Married a Soldier', relives the "grief, distress and financial confusion" and documents her "fight for the rights of her two daughters and their futures".
Aged just 16, she met Mark, then 17, at a disco in Bangor before he was deployed to Berlin.
They "lived their relationship through letters" before marrying in 1987. He served six tours of duty in Northern Ireland and was deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan in 2009.
"We talked about if he didn't return home, but we knew he had to go," she said.
"When he went he was able to phone twice a week and would call when the girls were going to bed and tell them a bed-time story and say their prayers with them.
"He would email every morning, but that particular morning, there was no email.
"I read Ceefax and it said there had been an incident, but there were no details. I knew something wasn't right.
"When I got home about midday I turned the TV on and still nothing. I just kept saying to myself, 'don't let it be Mark'. I sent him an email and told him 'I hope you are OK and I love you so much'.
"I had just literally hit send when there was a knock at the door.
"I went to the door and saw a man and a woman there. The man asked me if I was the wife of Captain Mark James Hale, I couldn't face what they had to say so I shut the door.
"But then I thought I can't leave army personnel on my doorstep and I opened the door. They ushered me into the sitting-room and said he had been killed that day at 9.10am."
Captain Hale died with two other soldiers when improvised roadside bombs exploded as his unit provided security for a meeting of Afghan leaders.
But further heartache was to come when she faced issues over her late husband's will.
"The MOD said Mark didn't have a will, but in reality it was because they couldn't find it," she said.
"Everything went to probate and I was left with nothing at a time when I was dealing with the pain of losing my soul-mate. They seemed happy enough to let my girls and I live in quiet poverty."
Mrs Hale said shortly after DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson visited and "I just broke down and told him, 'I have no money'".
"He put the wheels in motion, he helped us so much. It was such a relief to have someone on our side."
Mrs Hale began campaigning for bereaved army families, eventually leading her on a journey into politics serving as a DUP MLA from 2011 to 2017.
She added: "I hope this book will help others like me, but I want to keep Mark's memory alive."