THE FATHER of fallen paratrooper Conrad Lewis has made an emotional journey to Afghanistan to try and understand what it was his son died fighting for.
Private Lewis, from Claverdon, was 22 years-old and serving with 3 Para when he was killed by a Taliban sniper’s bullet on February 9, 2011, while on foot patrol in one of the most dangerous areas of Helmand Province.
A ceremony at Camp Bastion in Helmand saw the union flag lowered on Sunday (October 26), bringing an end to Britain’s 13-year war in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 453 British servicemen and women.
Tony travelled with the BBC to the Afghan capital Kabul – Helmand remaining too dangerous to visit – to see for himself the country 3,500 miles from home where his son lost his life.
While Tony believes Conrad fought for a just cause, it is also clear he realises Afghanistan still has a long way to go on the road to peace, as he travelled through streets scarred by war, and which remain a regular target of suicide bombers.
But during his trip he found many reasons for hope.
In a makeshift school of cramped rooms and old refugee tents he found girls hard at their lessons – something which would have been unthinkable under the Taliban regime where girls were not allowed an education.
Tony is clearly moved when a 15 year-old girl tells him in fluent English that she wants to one day become a doctor.
And while the teachers have not been paid for two months, and 4,500 girls have to be taught in shifts, this is still progress compared to the dark days of 2001.
Conrad adopted a stray dog which befriended him while in Afghanistan. He named her Pegasus, after the winged horse on his regiment’s emblem, or Peg for short. She slept in barracks and accompanied him on patrol. After Conrad’s death, the Lewis family brought Peg back to live with them in Warwickshire, where she remains to this day.
The animal charity Nowzad was a priority stop for Tony. It is home to the Conrad Lewis Clinic – the veterinary surgery named in his memory.
Set up by former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, it also employs a team of Afghan vets and assistants – again something which just would not have been possible under oppressive rule of the Taliban.
Tony also found empathy when he met Abdul Garaf – like Tony a man in his 50s – who had also been bereaved by conflict.
Abdul’s 12 year-old brother had been killed in the civil war and he had also lost his father soon afterwards.
Abdul told Tony: “The fact that I am Muslim and you are not, the fact that you are from the West and I am from here, it does not matter… I can feel for you.”
Tony spoke of a son who never wasted a moment of his life, and of a young man who was never afraid to express his feelings.
The loss to Tony, Conrad’s mother Sandi, his younger sister Siobhan, his friends and all who knew the young man described was brought home when Tony visited the British cemetery in Kabul where he found Conrad’s name listed on the roll of honour. Tony placed a finger on the carved letters of his son’s name. It was a poignant and powerful reminder of the real cost of war.
* The Lewis family launched the charitable trust 353 – named after Conrad became the 353rd British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan – to help members of the military community. Visit http://353.org.uk/ for further details.