CORNISH WAR HERO REMEMBERED
PUBLISHED: 16:18 23 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:22 30 August 2017
An interview with war widow Christina Schmid about her war hero, Oz, and the book - Always By My Side - she wrote in his honour
War widow Christina Schmid makes a pledge to her war hero, Oz, as she publishes her book, Always By My Side, in his honour
Christina Schmid still talks to her late husband, Oz. The conversations have been a key part of the grieving process for the stoic war widow. 'I find myself doing the dishes and Ill start chatting away to him, she says. I tell him how my day was, talk to him about our son Laird, and tell him how much he is missed. He helps me get through the daily obstacles and I need to feel that hes still there.'
Bomb disposal expert Olaf 'Oz' Schmid was tragically killed, aged 30, by a roadside bomb during a tour of the Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2009. Following nearly a decade serving in the British Army where he was deployed to post in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and Kosovo, the soldier took on one of the most dangerous roles in modern warfare, and with it, the responsibility of saving hundreds of lives.
Oz knew the real risk of his job and wanted to step down from his duties after his tour of Afghanistan. He hoped to return home to his family and plans were in place to move to his native Truro. Indeed, while he was stationed in the volatile region of Sangin, Christina had frequently mailed estate agent links through to her husband.
Cornwall was ingrained in his soul, she says, and even though he had been itching to leave as a teenager, the time he spent away on duty made him realise how much he missed his home.
'I think he always felt most complete when walking around the cliffs and beaches of Cornwall
'I'd send him links to houses in the area, and hed come back with Honey, I love that one, don't like that one, that ones not bad A few weeks before he was due home, I went to see two houses we liked in Old Kea. They had the right amount of open space, the perfect character, and a great proximity to the sea. It was something for both of us to get enthusiastic about while he was so far away, yet so close to coming home.
Christina met Oz as teenagers at Mylor on The Roseland Peninsula (pictured) when her parents had embarked on a sailing trip from Southampton one summer. Oz was this big kid of 13 who I mucked around with on the boats. I liked him straight away and we swapped numbers. Teens do that all time and never see each other again, but we stayed in touch.
Life happened and pulled the pair in different directions - Oz joined the Army, Christina embarked on a career as an accounting executive and welcomed the birth of her son, Laird, from a previous relationship. Falling in love soon afterwards, the pair divided their time between her Hampshire home in Otterbourne and his life back in Truro.
'When he was on leave, Oz loved to go home and visit his family - both his brothers still live in Cornwall. And he introduced me to some of his favourite spots like The New Inn in Veryan or The Old Ship in Padstow, where he was great friends with the owner and his girlfriend.
'And as much as he loved to settle down in a pub or catch up with friends, I think he always felt most complete when walking around the cliffs and beaches of Cornwall. He loved Nare Head, Carne and Pendover Beaches.
'We'd often take a picnic down to Carne and spend all day there, splashing in the sea, staring out into the distance. This was the place where he asked me to move to Cornwall - for me and Laird to settle there with him, in the open spaces, by the water. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea.'
Oz lost his life on 31 October, 2009, when attempting to diffuse a device in Sangin. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Christina made it her pledge to highlight the inadequacies in the British Armys funding and resources, particularly in the area of bomb disposal.
'I knew how unbelievably tough the conditions were, and he often said the workload was too much', she explains. 'Oz was just so tired and because of budget cuts in the military, particularly after September 11, there seemed to be a freeze on recruitment into the sector.
'Oz wasn't paid properly, nor given the proper safety equipment. It pained me to have to highlight these inadequacies, but I feel they cost him his life. Things like not having decent breaks, nor proper supplies of water in 50 degree heat. Its just not right - you can't do that, there is no human biologically capable of coping in such conditions.
'My first port of call was David Cameron, and within ten days of meeting the Prime Minister, £57 million was pledged to the military. An operational tool allowance of £100,000 was delivered to the IED teams, a new pension scheme launched, plus better scheduling for leave time.
'In addition, recruitment into the sector has been increased. The Prime Minister has stayed true to his word but there's still a long way to go. And that's really what my book, Always By My Side, is about, as well as honouring Oz's memory.'
In memory of her late husband, Christina has penned a touching recount of her life with Oz, a book that not only chronicles her struggles to have the plight of underfunded, overstretched bomb disposal units recognised, but one that also tells of their poignant, loving relationship.
And the courageous war widow admits its also been a major component of the grieving process. 'I was forgetting things, and it used to scare me. I knew I had to write things down. It's like my treasure box, a place where all of our history can never be lost. And I feel it really helped me. I never had any counselling or took any anti-depressants, so I had no outlet for the grief. So this helped me so much.
'Right now, I feel I've so much capability and so much life ahead of me, and I need to move on in whatever way I can. With this book, however difficult it was to put together, he'll always be with us.'