One by one, they took it in turns to light a candle for their lost boy.
Five women united in grief – and fury – over the bestowing of a knighthood on the man they blame for sending their soldier sons to their deaths.
Last week the Daily Mail published an open letter by Carol Valentine, Hazel Hunt, Caroline Whitaker, Caroline Jane Munday-Baker and Helen Perry to the Queen, begging the monarch to revoke the honour awarded to ex-Labour prime minister Tony Blair on New Year’s Day.
On Saturday they hugged and shed tears as they met for the first time to share stories and light a candle for their brave sons, each killed in Afghanistan before their 30th birthday.
Amid the solemn surroundings of Coventry Cathedral, these ‘mothers in arms’ spoke about their collective anger that Sir Tony – as they will never call him – had received the highest award in the land.
United in their grief: From left, Caroline Whitaker, Carol Valentine, Hazel Hunt, Caroline Jane Munday-Baker and Helen Perry at Coventry Cathedral at the weekend, each holding pictures of their sons who died in action in Afghanistan. From left: Gareth Thursby, Simon Valentine, Richard Hunt, James Munday and Michael Pritchard
Mrs Valentine, whose son Sgt Simon Valentine, 29, was killed while trying to clear land mines near Sangin in August 2009, said: ‘We may never be able to stop Blair’s knighthood, but together we can show the world the devastation he has caused to us and countless other families.
‘When we come together, it brings us unity, strength and hope. Our boys were once all part of a loyal band of brothers – now it’s our turn to become mothers in arms to fight for their honour and ensure their sacrifice is never forgotten.
‘What did Tony Blair get for starting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? He got a knighthood of the highest order. What did we get? We got to bury our sons.’
In the letter the women appealed to the Queen – as a mother and grandmother – to revoke the honour which they say ‘tramples on our sons’ sacrifices’.
Although regularly in contact via social media, the five women had never met all together in person before deciding to drive hundreds of miles from their homes in different parts of the UK to gather at the cathedral this weekend.
Mrs Whitaker, whose 29-year-old son, Sgt Gareth Thursby, was shot dead by an Afghan policeman at a checkpoint in Helmand in September 2012, admitted the bereaved mothers were all members of a ‘wretched club’ none of them wanted to belong to.
‘Today was very emotional but hugely significant,’ she said. ‘We are only a small snapshot of the catastrophic grief suffered by thousands of loved ones because of these wars.
‘But our message is this. We are not going away, and we will shout from the rooftops to be heard. Tony Blair took our troops and our country into conflicts that we had no business in. It is unjust and immoral for him to be honoured and rewarded for these seismic disasters.’
The women met just hours after a petition calling for Sir Tony, 68, to be stripped of the gong passed a million signatures.
They agreed with its founder that the former PM should to do the ‘decent’ thing and hand back the award in the wake of so much opposition.
Mrs Munday-Baker said: ‘The online petition has now surpassed more than a million signatures and still he stays silent. If he had any decency, he would hand it back, but this man has no shame or compassion for anyone.’
Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2005 after he won an historic third term in officer. On New Year’s Day he was honoured with a knighthood as part of the Queen’s Honours List
Her trooper son, James, served alongside Princes William and Harry in The Household Cavalry and was 21 when his vehicle was blown up in Helmand in October 2008.
‘Blair is a narcissist who sent our sons to their deaths in a war we should never have been to,’ Mrs Munday-Baker added.
‘If Blair’s son Euan had been a serving soldier at the time, I wonder if he would have been so committed and passionate about sending his own boy to the front line? Sometimes my head and my heart are broken in a million pieces but when you sit with other mums you remember that you are never alone in your grief.’
Mrs Perry, who lost her military police officer son, Michael Pritchard, 22, to a ‘friendly fire’ incident in December 2009, added: ‘Over a million signatures to see him off and yet he does nothing.’
Mrs Hunt said: ‘Every family who has lost a loved one has been betrayed by Tony Blair and his knighthood is the final stab in the back.
‘Our sons lost their lives for nothing. The world is now a bloody treacherous mess because of the meddling of our then prime minister.’
She has already threatened to send back her Elizabeth Cross bestowed on her by the Queen in honour of her son, Richard, who died aged 21 following an explosion while on patrol in Musa Qala in August 2009.
‘I love our Queen and I don’t blame her for this unholy mess,’ she said.
‘Her troops love her, and we know she loves and honours them too, but she has been placed in an impossible position over the protocol of honouring former leaders. Blair could save everyone this misery by handing back the knighthood.’