When Lisa McKinlay’s husband was killed in Afghanistan her world was turned upside down. She spoke to Laura Wild on the launch of this year’s Poppy Appeal about why people should back the Royal British Legion.
Lisa McKinlay will always remember the day her life changed forever.
Her husband of just 10 months Lance Corporal Jonathan James McKinlay was shot and killed in Afghanistan on September 14, 2011.
Jonathan, who was affectionately known as ‘JJ’, was in the 1st Battalion The Rifles. The 33-year-old was killed by a burst of small arms fire while on patrol with his team and members of the Afghan Uniform Police in a village near to his checkpoint.
He had been in Afghanistan for just 10 days at the time, following a short break at home with the family.
Lisa, from Garstang, near Preston, says: “I had been at work, I was three days into my new job as a health visitor, I had got home, I was doing tea. I’d put my pyjamas on and ruffled my hair.
“Then there was a knock at the door, when they asked me my name.
“When they said ‘Are you Lisa McKinlay?’ and flashed the Army badge, I knew something had gone on.
“They don’t mess around with the words, they just get it out.
“I was in denial, I told them he had swapped his uniform with someone and he would be hiding somewhere. They kept repeating it but I convinced myself it wasn’t him.
“I was just in shock. I didn’t want to talk about it.”
Lisa and Jonathan had been together for five years. Lisa, who grew up in Garstang, was living in Thirsk, North Yorkshire at the time, and Jonathan, from Darlington, was based at Catterick.
The former Preston College student said: “We were together for five years, but it felt like 30, we packed a lot in. He was and always will be such a blooming character.”
The pair bought a house together in Darlington and that was were Lisa was, with her daughter Piper, now 12, when she found out the news.
The couple had been planning a move to Garstang but had taken their house off the market while Jonathan was in Afghanistan.
At the time Jonathan died, they had been married for just 10 months and were planning to have children together.
“I think telling her was just as heartbreaking as hearing the news, if not harder. She was heartbroken and I couldn’t do anything about it. But she has coped really really well.”
Since then Lisa, a UCLan graduate, has moved back to Garstang to be close to her family.
She recalls: “Everything just snowballed. My life was unrecognisable. I just shut down.
“I knew Jonathan would have wanted an army funeral; that was another big event. I just knew that’s what I had to do, I had to get on with it.”
Around eight months after Jonathan was killed, Lisa took the decision to move back to Garstang.
“I just wanted my Mum and Dad round the corner and my best friend. I had some lovely friends in Darlington and work colleagues. I needed comfort and that was best for my daughter.”
Lisa, who now works in Preston as a health visitor, said Jonathan was “army through and through.”
He had signed up when he was around 18 and also has a daughter, Megan.
She says after his death, the Royal British Legion became more important to her.
“I have always been involved with the British Legion. My dad is ex-services, it is something I had grown up around, I never expected to meet anyone in the army.
“Jon used to go to the Legion with my dad.
“It had always been a part of my life, I had taken part in the parades in Garstang.
“When I first lost Jon it became much more poignant to me, more important to me.
“Last year I attended Remembrance Service at the Albert Hall. They were very supportive. It was nice to take part, to keep Jon’s memory alive.
“It is absolutely massive what they can do.
“Everyone thinks of the Legion about the poppies and the servicemen, it is about the families that get left behind.
“It is a huge umbrella - you don’t really realise until you need it.”
Lisa really hopes that people will come out in full force on Remembrance Sunday and she urges people to wear their poppy with pride.
She says: “It’s about coming together, it’s showing appreciation to the people in the forces and supporting families that have lost loved ones.
“All the community comes together, it’s that that gives you a sense of purpose.”
This Remembrance Sunday, Lisa will be remembering Jonathan in Garstang.
She says: “I will be laying my own wreath for Jon in Garstang.
“He was the 381st soldier to go. 381 means, three words, eight letters, one meaning - ‘I love you.’”
And Lisa has pledged her support for the Royal British Legion by selling poppies at this year’s Manchester Poppy Day on November 1.