Oz still keeps me going by sending me messages through a medium: The war widow who communicates with her dead husband through a psychic  


Oz had been killed while trying to defuse his third IED of the morning in Afghanistan

Oz had been killed while trying to defuse his third IED of the morning in Afghanistan

Two days before my husband was due to come back from Afghanistan, he called me on an Army satellite phone. He sounded shattered.

‘I feel like s***,’ he said. ‘Honey, I’ve got this odd feeling, like dread. Have you got it, too?’ 

I did. In the pit of my stomach I felt a lurch as he spoke. Oz had been defusing Taliban bombs for nearly six months, without a break. The month before, he’d actually fainted from exhaustion but he’d carried on regardless.

As one of the Army’s few high-threat bomb disposal operators, it was his job to do ‘the lonely walk’ — sometimes up to 30 times a day — that could at any moment result in his death. And the risks were increasing daily.

Not only were the Taliban creating ever more fiendish devices but, as Oz had told me in a letter, his very success had turned him into a prime Taliban target. 

In addition, he’d had to cope with the deaths of two colleagues and the injury of another, which further depleted the already inadequate number of high-threat operators. ‘Honey, I’m mentally and spiritually hammered,’ he said wearily. ‘I’ve been away too long, worked too much — and if it’s too much for me, it’s too much for anyone.’ 

After hanging up and psyching himself into a more positive frame of mind, he rang back ten minutes later and asked to speak to Laird, my son by a previous relationship, who was nearly six.

Then Oz asked me to give him what he called ‘the pep talk’. I took a deep breath and began: ‘OK, you’ve done it before, you can do it again. You’ve done it every day now for months — you can get through it . . .’

That night I had an overpowering premonition. I have always had a sixth sense. Oz used to joke that I was spooky — he once bought me a T-shirt that said: ‘Witches are sexy.’

At one point I got up and emailed Oz: ‘Don’t go out on the ground tomorrow. Cut the last day — don’t do it.’ He never got the message. 

During my fitful sleep, I dreamed of Gaz O’Donnell, Oz’s mentor and a high-threat operator who’d been blown up in Afghanistan a year before. 

Gaz was standing in front of me. ‘Don’t worry, Chris — I’m here to get him when he comes over,’ he said. ‘I’ll hold him. I won’t let go.’

The next morning, Saturday, October 31, 2009, I woke at 6.30 with a heavy feeling I’d never had before. It was as powerful as thunder.

As I went downstairs to make Laird’s breakfast I felt numb — suspended in time. At 9am I phoned my mum and told her I didn’t feel well. ‘What’s going on?’ she said. ‘You sound so quiet. Oz is home tomorrow — you should be happy.’ 

I paused. ‘He’s not coming home, Mum. I know it.’ ‘Now that’s daft — course he is,’ Mum said, but she agreed to come over and look after Laird. 

Oz and Christina shortly after she suffered a miscarriage

Oz and Christina shortly after she suffered a miscarriage

By 11am, I was walking the dog in a nearby wood, feeling the wind on my face. Then, at 11.30, I sat down and took a picture of the trees.

It was at that moment I just knew Oz had gone. I felt my heart break and wept until I felt completely empty. Then I went home, shut the curtains and wrapped myself in a duvet. 

By 8pm, I’d almost convinced myself I was being silly. If anything had  happened, I’d surely have heard by now. It was midnight in Afghanistan and Oz would be getting ready to board a plane. 

As I put Laird to bed, he was  chattering excitedly about showing Oz the wall-chart on which he’d crossed off all the days that Daddy had been away. I looked at his sweet face and thought, ‘I’m being a fool. Of course Oz is fine — how stupid of me to doubt that.’

Later, Laird couldn’t sleep so I took him into my bed and started reading him a story. At 9.20pm, there was a knock at the door. Laird’s face lit up. ‘It’s Daddy,’ he said. ‘He’s come early as a surprise.’ 

I pulled the curtain back and looked outside. Two men in Army uniform were at the door. I froze. Please, no. Then I opened the window. 

One of them said: ‘Can you confirm that you’re the wife of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I won’t. Can I talk to him?’ 

‘Can you please come down and open the door and confirm that you are . . .’ 

‘No. Tell me I can still talk to him. I don’t care if he’s lost his arms and his legs — just tell me he’s not dead.’

‘I’m sorry but you need to come down and let us in.’ 

‘Tell me I can talk to him. Get him on the phone for me.’ 

‘Please come down and let us in.’

Since his death Christina maintains that she has been communicating with Oz

Since his death Christina maintains that she has been communicating with Oz

After I shut the window, Laird looked at me, and I could see from his small, solemn face and the pain in his eyes that he knew, too. ‘I think we should let them in, Mummy.’

Poor Laird — he’d seen repatriations on TV so he thought the men had brought Oz in a coffin with a flag on it. I had to tell him they were just here to tell us the news. But they couldn’t tell us anything. Only what we knew already. That Oz was dead.

My first call was to my mother. ‘Oh no, no, not Oz. Oh my God, you knew . . .’ she wailed.
Over the next few hours I called Oz’s family and friends. When I finished, I launched the phone across the room and smashed the base. I was screaming ‘no’ and shaking uncontrollably. 

People came and went. The night passed in a blur but I still remember it vividly — the flashbacks of that night still happen to this day.

Later, I’d discover that Oz had been killed while trying to defuse his third IED of the morning.
Colonel Bob Seddon, who led the technical investigation, showed me photographs of Oz kneeling over the device that killed him. 

The pictures had been taken a few moments before the explosion. There was a compound wall in the background, and wires poking out of the ground a few yards in front of it. Oz was deep in concentration. 

The next photographs of the same spot showed a crater with scraps of burned paper lying about — the remains of letters and photos that Oz had tucked into his body armour. 

Grim as the details were, I wanted to know the full story of my husband’s death. But no witness could say for sure why the IED had exploded.

My own belief is that it may have been detonated by remote control. Oz was always so careful — he once said to me: ‘I deal with every device as though you and Laird are on the end of it. That’s how I keep my focus.’ 

I was grateful when Rob Nealey, who was part of Oz’s bomb-disposal team, phoned to say they’d managed to get everything — by which he meant every part of Oz. 

They’d brought him back to base in the quad-bike trailer they used to carry their equipment.

Afterwards they had to wait hours for a helicopter to take him to Camp Bastion so he could be formally pronounced dead by a doctor. But there was a hold-up because no doctors were available — they were too busy tending to the injured. 

For those reasons, ten hours had gone by before I could be informed. Oz had died at 3pm — which was 11.30am in the UK. At precisely the moment that I sensed he was gone. 

I had to face the fact that I was a widow. His death had ended all our plans, hopes and dreams of starting a new life in the Cornish countryside. 

And I’d miscarried while Oz was in Afghanistan, ending any possibility of having his child, a brother or sister for Laird. On top of that, in the midst of the turmoil and grief and funeral planning, I found out via a phone call on the day of the repatriation that I was being made redundant from my job in pharmaceutical sales. 

My boss was apologetic: it wasn’t personal; there was a recession on.


On our way to Buckingham Palace to receive the George Cross medal for Oz, I had a puncture. Thankfully, I’d left home early with my parents and Laird, so we managed to change the wheel and arrive in time. 

In the Music Room, the Queen made a beeline for us. She had a strong, calm presence and made us feel as if she had all the time in the world. Laird told her about the puncture. ‘Oh, I do understand,’ she said. ‘We had one a couple of days ago. I was with my husband and we couldn’t get the wheel nuts off — we had to wait ages.’ 

Laird, who wasn’t overawed in the least, said: ‘What you need to do is what my Mummy does. Go to the tyre place and chat to the men and they’ll undo those nuts just a little bit. Then you can undo them yourself by hand and you won’t have to struggle.’ 

‘Oh really?’ Her Majesty replied, smiling. ‘Right, I’ll do that.’ She was chatty and warm with Laird. Then she turned to me and said: ‘I know what your husband did, and there are no words to express my admiration.

My family and I have listened to you on Radio Four and read the Press. We’re very impressed with the way that you have conducted yourself.’

Next, an assistant brought the medal over. The Queen held it in her hands and talked to us about the George Cross, how significant it was, and how it had been started by her father.
Referring to the troops, she said: ‘I’m very humbled by the work that they all do, and particularly what your husband did.’ I was struck by how she referred to Oz as ‘your husband’, never as Staff Sergeant Schmid. 

As she handed me the medal (now in the Imperial War Museum), tears filled my eyes.
I’d managed to maintain my composure in public so many times — but in the face of the kindness and warmth of the Queen, I could not.

But life had to go on. A week after Oz’s death, Laird was due to turn six. He was trying so hard to be brave and I realised he needed a day in which all the unhappiness could be suspended and he could run around, eat too much cake and play with his friends.

Besides, before leaving, Oz had booked a play-centre, with slides and bouncy castles and a ball-pool. 

It wasn’t easy but at least 12 screaming six-year-olds were distracting.

That night, tired but happy, Laird snuggled into bed. ‘Thank you for my party, Mummy — it was lovely. Daddy was there as a little ghosty, watching!’

The next day, on November 17, Oz’s things arrived. I’d asked the Army not to launder his clothes: Oz was a scruffbag and I wanted his stuff just as he’d left it. 

Opening his boxes was immensely difficult. There were his T-shirts; the green gilet that he practically lived in; and his favourite black, down-filled Rab jacket.

There were little holes in it that he’d patched with green tape, and it smelled of him. I pulled out grubby socks, his battered boots and his shemagh, the square Arab scarf he wrapped around his face to keep out the dust and sand. I buried my face in each garment, drinking in his smell. 

That night, I took the Rab to bed with me and cuddled it — as I’d continue to do for many, many nights to come. I gave the shemagh to Laird and he’s slept with it wrapped round him ever since. 

It was around this time that I heard more devastating news from Afghanistan. Ken Bellringer, another high-threat operator who’d trained and worked with Oz, had been desperately injured in a blast. 

Aged 37 and married with two children, he’d lost both legs, the fingers of one hand and the thumb of the other and his pelvis was shattered. Doctors had given him a 10 per cent chance of surviving.
The news left me reeling. How many more would there be? 

Thinking of what Oz would have said, I decided to seize the moment. So I added my voice to those speaking out for better conditions, better equipment and greater awareness of what bomb-disposal operators were having to face each day. What I wanted above all was increased respect for all the troops. 

Most people in Britain felt very removed from what was happening in Afghanistan. This was hardly surprising, given the controversial political background to the war, but the result was that the troops, risking their lives daily, felt sidelined and forgotten. 

Overnight, I found myself regarded as an ambassador and campaigner for the dead and injured and their families. Later, I went on Newsnight and helped make a Panorama programme about Oz and the bomb-disposal teams. I was doing it for Oz. Flying his flag, telling people what his message had been.

By the end of 2009, there was some good news at last: Ken Bellringer had pulled through. 

Then, on January 11, another close friend of Oz’s, Dan Read, was blown up by an IED. The toll of high-threat operators had now reached four dead and one appallingly injured — all of them friends, all part of the same small group. I was desperately low.

Most of the time I felt as though I’d been run over by a truck and every part of me, inside and out, had been broken. 

Then one morning in mid-January, the mother of one of Laird’s friends stopped me outside his school. 

‘I don’t want to freak you out,’ she said, looking embarrassed, ‘but my mum wants you to get in touch with her. She says she’s got a message from Oz.’ 

At first, I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to see her. Could this woman really have a message for me from Oz? A few days later, I called her. 

‘How soon can you come?’ she asked. ‘I never normally tell people to come this soon after a bereavement but he keeps saying, “Will you speak to her, where is she? I’m here, I want to talk to her.” He’s been to see two other people in the same church as me. He’s very persistent.’ 

I cried. And I went to see her the next day. The first thing she did was to offer me a coffee. ‘He’s saying “coffee, white, one.” “Man up.” Oh, and what an awful taste — it’s something like liquorice. What’s that?’ 

I smiled. ‘His liquorice rollies with menthol tips — he always smoked them. And that’s how he talked, he always said “coffee, white, one,” and “man up” — they were his phrases.’ 

She continued: ‘He says always for ever, you two. You’re round a table, he’s saying: “Always for ever, my love, even through death. You’ll always be married to me.” Why’s he saying that?’

It was a big thing with Oz. He used to say: ‘There’s only one, always for ever, you and me. If anything happens to me I want you to be happy, live with someone, have kids but don’t marry him. You’re my wife, you’ll always be married to me.’ 

There was a pause. Then she said: ‘He says he’s sorry.’ 

For several minutes I couldn’t speak. But there was more: ‘He says: “Why have you shut everything out? Why are you shutting the curtains?” 

‘And what’s this: “Have a little chat with yourself” thing? He says you should do that.’

Since Oz’s death I’d been shutting the curtains during the day. And the ‘little chat’? I thought of all the times I’d told him to have a little chat with himself when there was something that he had to work through. 

The woman went on passing me messages — things that only Oz and I knew, beautiful things that he’d said to me. At one point she and I were both in tears.

By the time I left I felt better. It was so wonderful to hear his words, just as he had spoken them to me. I felt I’d been thrown a lifeline.

After that I opened the curtains again. And I talked to Oz all the time. I’d walk around the house, saying: ‘OK, what are you up to? I’m just off to get Laird, then I’m going to see Mum and Dad — I’ll give them your best.’ 

Two years on from his death I still miss Oz every single day. I’ve been back to see the spiritualist a handful of times, in periods when everything feels bleak and hopeless. 

She always passes on an Oz message, phrased in his distinctive style. And it helps me to keep going.

Extracted from Always By My Side by Christina Schmid, published by Century at £12.99. ©Christina Schmid. To order a copy for £10.99 (incl p&p), call 0843 382 0000.

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