Byline: DENNIS ELLAM
THEY are all the mothers of heroes... women who know the cruel cost of war.
Each of their sons was killed in Afghanistan.
And now, in memory of the boys they lost, these four mums have banded together to create a lasting legacy - a charity which has raised pounds 1million.
The money is being used to send "home comfort" parcels - containing goodies like sweets, biscuits, crisps, deodorant and socks - to troops on the frontline, and to set up support groups for families at home.
"One thing united us, and that was grief. But we were determined that something better had to come out of it," said Denise Harris, 47, founder of Afghan Heroes.
"Our sons were never coming home. But we realised we could do something for others - and discovered there was an overwhelming wish among the public to show they care."
It will be two years next Saturday and Sunday since the women's sons were killed, among eight who died during the bloodiest 24 hours in the war.
They all met for the first time as they waited at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire for their sons to be repatriated.
That autumn they got together again to launch the charity and it quickly soared, thanks to corporate sponsors, private donations and public collections. The Afghan Heroes stand has become a fixture around the country.
And it will soon be boosted by a music festival in the "homecoming" town of Wootton Bassett, the launch of a beer called Heroes Lager, and even the auction of a wing section from a decommissioned Harrier jet, signed by all of 800 Squadron.
"We've been amazed at people's generosity," said Denise. "We have sent out more than 24,000 parcels so far, and each one has brought a soldier a welcome bit of home."
Denise's son Corporal Lee Scott, 26, of the Royal Tank Regiment, died in an explosion near Nad-e-Ali on July 10, 2009. "I know it was his job, and he loved what he did," she said. "But nothing erases the pain.
"The war might seem a long way away, but we are mums who lost our boys there, and it was brought home to our own doorsteps in the most terrible way.
"We had words of comfort for each other and that helped us through those first days.
"Then we began to think... our boys had done their bit, it was time for us mums to do ours."
Carol Brackpool, 56, lost son Private John Brackpool, 27, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards - killed by gunfire near Char-e-Anjir, on July 9. She says: "John was a reservist, who had been called up because the regiment had lost so many at the start of their tour.
"The fact is, he was a soldier through and through. I can speak to the other mums about him, in a way that no one else, not even family or friends, can really understand. …