As a newly qualified nurse, Katy Matthews spent up to 13 hours a day on the Covid front line.
But unknown to her, tragically her soldier husband Mitchell was losing his battle with mental illness.
The 24-year-old Rifleman was found dead in a suspected suicide a few weeks after a pal in the same regiment took his own life.
Today his widow, left to raise their five-year-old daughter, says the Army needs a radical rethink on welfare.
Katy, 26, said: “To the Army, Mitchell was just another soldier but to us he was our world. He was my husband and her daddy. Our world has just exploded.
“I have received a lot of support from the Army as a widow. I just wished it was there when Mitchell was alive.
“He gave everything for his job but instead of supporting Mitchell when he was struggling, the Army made his life very difficult.”
Mitchell, who was from Devon, joined the Army at 16 but left after a few months and retrained as a carpenter.
He met Katy, they had a daughter together and in 2018 he signed up again, joining D Company 5 Rifles in April last year.
Katy added: “He wanted to make a difference to the world. His ambition was to become a sniper.”
But he began to change when Katy was working on Covid wards at Salisbury District Hospital.
“I was a newly qualified nurse thrown on to the front line and it was incredibly hard but rewarding work,” she said.
“I saw people die of Covid and I wasn’t prepared for that. I don’t think any of us were.
“But the Army gave Mitchell a hard time if he had to leave work a few minutes early to collect our daughter from school.
“Mitchell was constantly being asked to get me to change my shifts to fit in with his work schedule. In the middle of a pandemic, that seemed off.
“He was the only soldier in the platoon with a wife and child but he wasn’t treated like someone with a family. He had spoken to some of his bosses about what he was dealing with.
“At one point he had been reduced to tears but he was told to ‘man up’.”
Two weeks before he was found dead he went to a memorial 21st birthday party for Nathan Worner, one of his friends from the same battalion who had taken his own life in May. Katy added: “They were good friends and I could tell it had an impact on him.
“I asked him if he had ever felt suicidal. He assured me he would never do anything like that. He told me that he adored me and our daughter and would never do anything to hurt us.
“I never ever expected that my husband would take his own life.”
On July 24, a week before their daughter’s fifth birthday, Mitchell failed to turn up for work at his barracks in Bulford, Wilts. Katy had headed to Devon with their daughter the previous evening and the couple were due to celebrate her birthday with family and friends.
She added: “I got a phone call asking if I knew where Mitchell was. I knew something bad must have happened.”
That afternoon a policeman arrived at her parents’ home with the news that Mitchell had been found at their married quarters at Bulford.
Katy said: “Things got on top of Mitchell and in the end he couldn’t cope. But I have no real idea why he did what he did.
“I’m very angry. He was everything to my daughter and me.
“We had only been married for less than a year. I expected us to be spending our lives together.
“Every single day I ask myself why Mitchell would have taken his own life. There was no note. We were happy.
Mitchell made the choice to take his life but I think the Army can do more to help.
“Soldiers have lives outside of the Army, they have wives and children and they need support. There might be people with financial problems, or mental health problems.
“The Army says mental health is an important priority but so many soldiers seem to be taking their lives.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have and to explain to their five-year-old daughter that their daddy is never coming back.”
Nathan’s mum Alison said of Mitchell’s death: “I was absolutely devastated when I heard. Mitchell attended the memorial and I was upstairs crying.
“I was in a very bad way. I didn’t know him but he came to the doorway and asked me if I was OK. He was very gentle and very concerned. He then said how sad he was that I was having to go through this.
“The Army treats these deaths as if they are not connected. How can they not be when you have two boys, who were mates, in the same company of the same regiment taking their lives within weeks of each other? It is a massive failure of a duty of care. The Army really needs to start addressing the problem of suicide within its ranks. It is nothing short of a disgrace.”
An Army spokesman said: “Rifleman Mitchell Matthews’s death was a tragedy and our thoughts remain with his family and friends at this difficult time.
“We strive to be a modern employer, and the Army takes the health and wellbeing of its personnel very seriously and provides a wide range of support from flexible working to mental health services.”
For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.