Why little Jessica is jumping for joy
- Credit: Matthew Usher
The squeals of delight as little Jessica Lawrence bounced on her new trampoline told the story.
This was a longed-for gift for the four-year-old from Toftwood, near Dereham.
But it was also extra special for the youngster as it felt like a treasured gift from her daddy, the daddy who would never be able to play with her in the garden, pick her up when she fell, or read her a bedtime story, the daddy who was tragically killed by the Taliban when she was just eight months old.
Phillip Lawrence, a trooper with the Swanton Morley-based Light Dragoons, was killed by a roadside bomb while on tour with the regiment in Afghanistan in July 2009.
Just three weeks earlier the 22-year-old had said his goodbyes to his wife Amy and baby daughter, not knowing it would be for the last time.
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Now living in Toftwood, Amy and Jessica have picked up the pieces of their lives but Amy found she struggled to cope with the more practical things in life, things her husband would have taken care of.
'I bought this trampoline two years ago but it sat in the garage because I could not put it together,' she said.
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'I really wanted Jessica to have it but I don't like to keep asking for help from other people - they have their own lives.'
That is where the charity Forces Support came in.
Taking on the jobs that Forces dads would normally do, the charity visits homes across the country helping bereaved families with a bit of man power.
Amy's sister Emma Bird persuaded her to contact the charity and a few weeks ago she had a visit from founder Bill McCance.
'We have been living here for two years and there were so many jobs I needed to do,' she said. 'The main thing was to get the trampoline up.'
Project manager Steve Richardson and apprentice Nathan Halford arrived at the Toftwood home on Monday and set to work on some garden projects, clearing the front garden and putting down gravel before sorting out the muddy patch where the bins stood and paving an area around Jessica's summer house.
But it was the erection of the trampoline that Jessica had been really waiting for and, thanks to sports day at her pre-school being cancelled, she was able to see it through from start to finish.
Mr Richardson, a builder by trade, said it made his job so worthwhile to see a reaction like Jessica's.
'We work hard but it is a great feeling for us to see something like this completed,' he said. 'I have done about 38 projects in the past year but this is why we do it. It means everything to us and we want to hear from other families who could use our help.'
He said the charity was funded through its shops in the Midlands and relied on donations.
'Jessica has been dreaming of this moment,' said Amy, 28. 'It has been tough being on our own and not having a husband around to help. I don't want to be a burden on my family so it and has taken a weight off my shoulders.'
Amy said she and Phil, who was originally from Birkenhead, had been married for 18 months and were living in the Robertson barracks at Swanton Morley.
'We were just getting our lives sorted,' she said. 'We had talked about whether this would be his last tour and if he should leave the army as he now had his family. You do realise there is the possibility that they won't come home but you try not to think about it too much.'
She said she last spoke to her husband about a week before he died.
'It was a quick call because the signal died but he rang to see if we were OK before we got cut off.'
She said while it was hard for her and her family it was also a big loss to the regiment. 'It hit everyone really hard,' she said.
An Army tribute to Trooper Lawrence echoed the loss they felt. It said: 'He made a name for himself across the Regiment for not only being a surprisingly good dancer, but simply being the most cheerful, helpful and friendly person you could hope to meet. You could not help but like him, and he was universally popular as a result. He was a devoted husband to his wife Amy, and doting father to their baby daughter Jessica.'
Amy added her daughter thoroughly deserved her new garden toy.
'Jessica was only eight months old when Phil died so she sees pictures of him but has no memories of him. She has been amazing though and helped pull us through and kept me going.
'Phil was so looking forward to coming home from Afghanistan in time for Jessica's first birthday but he never got to see that.
'So for the lads to come and do this for us is brilliant. It is like a present from Phil.'
* To get in touch with Forces Support visit the website www.forcessupport.org.uk.