If it wasn’t for her children, Natalie Coupe isn’t sure how she would have got through the events of March 2012.
Daughters Ella and Jasmine were four and two when their father, Sergeant Nigel Coupe, died alongside five of his comrades after the armoured vehicle they were travelling in was destroyed by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan.
A member of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and a former pupil at Mayfield Primary School in St Annes, he was 33.
Two years on Natalie still thinks of Nigel “every day”, a man she describes as “a great husband and devoted dad”.
Sgt Coupe had only been in Afghanistan for four weeks before he died.
“I knew the dangers,” says Natalie. “I knew they were fighting a war and I knew he was infantry, which is obviously frontline.
“You always have discussions beforehand about what if something were to happen ... but you don’t ever really believe it is going to. And it did.
“So it’s been a big shock. When you see how many soldiers are out there you think how is it fair that it was my husband? Although you wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, you do go through that anger stage of why did it happen to him?
“I suppose every family feels the same – but the bottom line is that it is just real bad luck.”
Natalie kept in touch with Nigel in Afghanistan by phone and by sending parcels.
She last spoke to her husband a few days before he was killed.
“Then, the day before it happened, I’d missed a phone call from him, which would have been the last time I spoke to him,” she said.
“I have tried not to give myself a hard time about that. It was just something that happened. I was working at the time so I couldn’t have answered the phone anyway.
“So I just put it down as one of those things. I didn’t go down the whole route of feeling guilty that I didn’t answer my phone, I didn’t let it be a big thing.”
On the evening of March 6, 2012, there was a knock at the door of the couple’s home in St Annes.
“I was doing the ironing, such a mundane thing,” said Natalie. “When I heard the door I thought, as you do, ‘who’s coming round at this time of night?’
“I wasn’t really worried until I saw two guys that I didn’t know, both in suits – and that’s when it hit me, especially as one of them was a vicar. You think ‘hold on a minute’.
“It was about quarter past nine at night. Luckily the children were in bed. I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t been.
“The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion. I remember inviting them in and I walked back into the front room and they were following me and I knew... I was crying then, before they’d even opened their mouths. And from then it is just a blur.”
The hardest part was telling the children. Because they were in bed and didn’t know anything about it, I made the decision not to tell them straightaway,” Natalie said.
“I knew it was going to be so hectic the next day, with army and military police coming round. I knew that and I didn’t want them to be at home. I wanted to be able to tell them when we were on our own.
“I didn’t want to have to rush the situation.
“So I got up the morning after, which was March 7, and I took them to school and nursery as normal.
“How we did that I haven’t got a clue. I was kind of on auto-pilot. It wasn’t until the evening, after they had come back from school, that I told them.”
The Army assigned a visiting officer to stay with the family and keep them fully informed at all times, including exactly when the details of Nigel’s death would be released to the media.
Every British soldier’s death is heavily reported, but because five troops had died in the same attack, the media interest was huge. It was an awful time for a family who just wanted to grieve.
“I had the press at my house. They put a notice on my window and on the door,” recalled Natalie. “They were all up and down the street, knocking on the neighbours doors, asking them to give their stories – so that was very hard. My visiting officer was outside the house, warning them off.
“We had a media advisor and he advised we give a controlled statement to the media – basically meet them halfway, give them something so they don’t have to forcefully get stuff – and that’s what we did.
“I remember early on a reporter from, I think, The Independent, actually got Nigel’s name before it had officially been released. I don’t know how he did that. But the Army made it clear he couldn’t write anything.
“It was a shock to suddenly be part of this media frenzy but to be fair, although there was a lot of media interest, all the reporters were really respectful. They all went about it in a nice way.
“And when we did meet the press, we did it at Fulwood Barracks in Preston, to a select few reporters who passed it on, and it was all very well organised and controlled.”
Nigel joined the army at 17 and had served his country for almost half his life.
Natalie says her husband loved his job and she harbours no bitterness about his death. He was “just doing what he was employed to do”, she says.
Ella is now seven, Jasmine four, and doing well.
They are the reason mum has been able to cope too.
“They have definitely been my saviour,” Natalie admitted. “With them being so young, they needed me 24/7 so they were my reason to carry on really.
“I had to function straightaway for them. I think the first few days were a mixture of shock and adrenaline, but then it was a realisation that I had to try and do the best thing for the girls. If it wasn’t for them...”
Her voice trails off. Then she adds: “I’ve got a really close-knit family and a great group of friends, so there has been no lack of support.
“The girls are doing really well. We’ve got a few pictures of Nigel in the house.
“I want them to know all about their dad and what a great person he was.”