Royal Anglian soldiers’ wives and girlfriends set up friendship group

Wives and girlfriends of East Anglian soldiers serving in Afghanistan have formed a social group to offer mutual support while their men are fighting overseas.

The 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment deployed to Helmand in March, and is now spread across a range of forward operating bases, from where communications home can be difficult.

But friendships between their other halves in Norfolk has led to the creation of the Vikings SWAGs (Soldiers' Wives and Girlfriends), a collection of friends who help each other to deal with the stress and worry of having a loved one on active duty.

Nikki Radford and Claudia Matthews are two of the ten SWAGs who met via the battalion's Family Support Group, which inspired them to set up their own friendship group to meet, talk and share their experiences.

Nikki, 24, who lives in the Heartsease area of the city, said she missed her fianc�, Pte Kyle Furness-Winmill, who proposed to her on Christmas Eve.

'It is hard, because if you have a bad day at work when you are frustrated and fed up all you want is to pick up the phone and talk to them,' she said. 'But not to be able to initiate that contact yourself is very hard. You have to wait for them to call and you never know when it is going to come.

'This support, as lame as it sounds, is like having a surrogate boyfriend. Your friends give you as much support as they can, but it is not the same as someone who is going through the same things as well.'

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Beauty therapy student Claudia, 18, from Costessey, known as Peaches, is also missing her boyfriend, Pte Ashley Welch from Gorleston.

'Nikki has become like my sister, my mum and my girlfriend,' she said. 'We do a lot together and if one of us is feeling down we will go out for a drink or go to the cinema rather than sitting at home worrying, reading things and wondering what is happening. I've got a radar for it now, and any time I hear about Afghanistan on the TV or the radio I pay attention.'

The SWAGs have also bought hoodies, made by the Vikings Family Support Group, with embroidered wording declaring Viking Pride or Viking Babe.

Nikki said: 'It is about being proud of what they do, and wanting the world to know that your partner is doing that. The girlfriends are sometimes more proud than the soldiers.'

Although their girlfriends are now very close friends, the two soldiers have not yet met – which Nikki and Claudia hope to rectify when their men return home for rest and recreation next month.

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