He died a true Scottish hero in an “act of great courage and selflessness” which showed the “finest traditions of the Black Watch”.
Aberdonian Sean Binnie – who boasted to his family: “I will show you what a good soldier is” before going to the frontline – ran into a hail of gunfire to help his comrades.
The 22-year-old was shot as he fought with Taliban insurgents, desperately trying to rescue one of his Afghan brothers in arms.
Now, his mum Janette has tried to rebuild her life by helping veterans of the Afghanistan campaign who are suffering from physical and psychological wounds as she questions the entire Afghan conflict and the toll taken on troops and their families.
Janette, 54, from Crimond, near Fraserburgh, launched a fundraising bid backed by Poppyscotland chiefs – to help ex-military men and women across the country. She said: “I wanted to do something to keep Sean’s memory alive.”
‘I wanted to keep his name alive’
Janette is desperate to get back on track after her life descended into chaos following Sean’s death.
She admits she spun out of control after she was so traumatised by his death in 2009.
Five years ago, she apologised for claiming £25,000 in benefits while under a “cloud” of grief, receiving a 250-hour community payback order after she admitted fraudulently claiming employment support allowance over a four-year period.
At the time, she said: “The thought that I’ve let my son down, that I’ve dishonoured him, was hard.
“So many things happen when you lose a child, and I don’t have any real, close family members.
“I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong – I just didn’t keep on top of paperwork, to be honest. But it’s done now, and I’ve been punished.”
Now, amid the fundraising efforts, she has been left questioning her only son’s sacrifice as British troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
She said: “Due to the fact that the social security had pursued me for fraud, I obviously can’t fundraise properly and I can’t be an actual fundraiser.
“I need someone to be able to handle cash, hence why one of Sean’s pals is involved. I wanted to keep his name alive as he was my only son.”
It is really a hard one when you lose your only child.”
She added: “Everybody has mixed feelings about it. They weren’t just there to fight a war, they were there to help the people of Afghanistan.
“I remember a phone call with Sean – he said to me: ‘Look mum, we are here helping people who are being treated badly by the Taliban, I can’t even begin to explain to you what goes on here. What we are doing doesn’t only stop the terrorism coming to the UK, it helps rebuild schools and other things here’.
“It was quite intense. I am not sure how I feel about it. I believe that what they have done has lessened the threat of terrorism in the UK.
“It is really a hard one when you lose your only child.”
‘Sometimes I feel like he is just like a number to them’
Sean, who was born in Aberdeen, was an acting sergeant in the Fort George-based Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, when he was killed near Musa Qala in Helmand in May 2009.
He had also served in Northern Ireland and Iraq. He died just five months after marrying Amanda, the love of his life.
Sean had always dreamed of being a soldier.
She said: “Sean comes from a military background, his dad, his uncle, were in the Army.
“It was something he always wanted to do from the age of five. Nothing changed his mind throughout his childhood.
“When he went down to the Army office to sign up, and he came back with the form. He said: ‘Sign that, mum’ but I said: ‘You are only 16’.
“He said: ‘You have two choices – you brought me up to be a strong person, either sign that now and let me go on with my life or I will do it myself and I will never forgive you.’
“Sean died how he wanted to die: In the thick of a battle. He went in to defend his men and get them out of the situation they were in.
What was the point of our boys being there fighting and giving their lives if, when they pull out, the Taliban is just going to take over again?”
“They got pinned down and he went in to deploy a grenade.
“The barrel of the gun apparently came out of a doorway and shot at him and just missed his body armour by inches.”
She added: “I would like to think that the lives that have been lost have made a difference.
“It would upset me if the Taliban just walk back in because then what was the point?
“What was the point of our boys being there fighting and giving their lives if, when they pull out, the Taliban is just going to take over again?
“It just would not make any sense. I am not against the Army or the government. The Army was there for a reason to defend us in the UK.
“I do think Afghanistan is overlooked at times. Our kids have died. Sometimes I feel like he is just like a number to them. He was the 154th soldier to be killed.”
‘Sean fought for our safety and our freedom’
Now, Janette aims to raise £20,000 for Poppyscotland to help men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues.
She said: “I want to do anything I can to help veterans. Through this pandemic, the amount of veterans taking their lives has been overwhelming to say the least.
“That pushed me towards Poppyscotland to help the troops.
“There isn’t enough up here in Scotland for them. We have had quite a lot of things planned but, due to Covid, we’ve not been able to do much apart from share the fundraiser online.”
In a previous interview, Janette explained how her military family had helped push her towards the idea of fundraising to help former service personnel.
“I’m an army wife and mother so I’m aware of what these guys go through,” she said.
“When Sean returned from Iraq he was very quiet and I knew something was bothering him.
The pain of losing your child never goes away, I’ll never stop missing him, but life goes on.”
“He had a really strong bond with his squad mates so I can’t imagine what they must have gone through when Sean was killed as they were there with him.
“Sean saved the lives of his friends who were pinned down, and saved the lives of a lot of men, women and children that day.
“The pain of losing your child never goes away, I’ll never stop missing him, but life goes on.
“Sean fought for our safety and our freedom, so I’m asking that people donate the price of a pint, or even only a pound or two, to honour his memory and to support other veterans – if everyone chips in we can raise the cash in no time at all.”
Gordon Michie, head of fundraising at Poppyscotland, said: “Janette’s fundraising efforts are truly inspiring, and the money raised will help us continue our work supporting those who have served, those still serving, and their families.
“We’d like to extend sincere thanks to her for continuing to champion Poppyscotland as without the vital support of our fundraisers and volunteers we wouldn’t be able to provide our life-changing assistance to the Armed Forces community.”
Despite her positive outlook and desire to help others, Janette still has bad days.
She says: “You are having to live on. It is hard. Sean was the only one we had.”
Scotland’s Forgotten War
Scotland’s Forgotten War is an in-depth investigation into one of the country’s longest running conflicts – the campaign in Afghanistan – and how it forever changed our local families and communities.
From Dundee, Angus and Fife to Aberdeen, Inverness and the Highlands, the combat thousands of miles away in Afghanistan has cast a long shadow over people’s lives in the last 20 years.
The Impact team
- Words by Stephen Stewart
- Design by Cheryl Livingstone
- Graphics by Roddie Reid
- Data visualisations by Lesley-Anne Kelly
- Photographs, video and audio by Jason Hedges, Mhairi Edwards, Drew Farrell, Blair Dingwall and Morven McIntyre.