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I bought this book because Rifleman Cyrus Thatcher has 'registered on my radar' more than any soldier who had served in Afghanistan, with the sole exception of my nephew. Cyrus was killed shortly before my nephew married - at that time I can remember Cyrus' unusual first name catching my ear, and my sadness that at just 19, a promising life was ended. I saw Cyrus' face on the official photograph that was released for news reports - a tear of sadness, as he looked so young.

There are memories of Cyrus' funeral - so many young faces torn in grief for their friend. I heard Helena's tribute to Cyrus on 'The Songs My Son Loved' on Jeremy Vine's show in 2011 and recognised his name instantly. From this broadcast I learned that Cyrus was dyslexic - I specialised in tutoring learners with dyslexia and have always felt a special bond with those who struggle with learning or organisation.

What a beautiful, infinitely poignant song the family chose to remember him with too - R. Kelly's "If I Could Turn Back The Hands of Time". If.. if...

I bought the tribute song to Cyrus - 'Breathless' by The Kixx that was released at the same time.

So when I heard of Helena Tym's book I knew I had to read it. Cyrus was already more than just a name to me and I knew from what had gone before that he was so, so loved by his friends and family.

This book shows all this so clearly, how deeply he was loved, how shattering was his loss.

I didn't find it an easy read,but I'm so glad I persevered. Cyrus WAS exceptional. Helena wrote in the moment and her anguish and pain at his loss pour off the pages. His father also lost a son, his brothers a beloved sibling, his comrades their brother, his friends someone they loved dearly.

There is Cyrus' last letter; the one he wrote to be opened in the event of his death. It is so very touching.
How did he write that? Even for someone with no word difficulties it's an impressively daunting task.

How I wish with all my heart that we had never heard of Cyrus Thatcher, if this was the case he would still be alive and one of many brave young Afghanistan veterans, probably still serving, almost certainly still smiling.

Thank you Helena and Rob for sharing your beautiful son with us.
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on 30 June 2012
I ordered this book, read the back cover and then put it aside until I felt strong enough to read it. My 24 year old son was killed in Afghanistan last summer (2011) I have kept my own diary of what has happened since that day but Helena's book has showed me that mothers are strong and that I will get through it. I've now passed the book to another family who also lost a son last year in Helmand hopefully it will help them too
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on 22 June 2012
I had to read this book in one go as i could not put it down. It is really gripping and the author shares her grief and anguish in a frank and honest way. I have not been personally touched by tragedy in the way she has and the many other families of services personell. This book gives me an insight into the real pain and suffering behind the regular news reports of one more dead soldier in Afganistan. Everyone should read this book.
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on 5 June 2012
I was already in awe of Helena Tym before I read this incredible book. We met when I was producing a series for Remembrance on BBC Radio 2 in November 2011. She was one of five mothers who shared their stories with Jeremy Vine for The Songs My Son Loved. An eloquent speaker who spoke with unflinching honesty and intimate detail about her close relationship with Cyrus who died aged 19 in Afghanistan.

Visiting their home in Caversham, I was struck by what a loving family he grew up in and how much he was missed. Helena seemed so composed when describing the most awful events any parent can imagine and yet through this book, I now have a glimpse of what was going on beneath the surface and under the painted-on smile. A devoted mother whose life still revolves around her partner Rob and their other sons, Zac and Steely but who will never be quite the same person since losing one of her children. She worries she is descending into madness and putting pen to paper has helped her to articulate and record the emotions she endures in her struggle to survive.

I felt privileged to receive an advance copy of the book but had no idea just how beautifully written it would be. Helena manages to paint the most vivid tangible picture of grief that I have ever come across. The way she describes the desperate black hole she falls into and the venomous glue that seems to run through her veins is heartbreaking yet fascinating. It is a study into just how much sadness the human body can handle and how the death of a loved one can cause not just mental anguish but actual physical pain. It also gives the reader an insight into the tortuous journey a bereaved forces family takes from the first knock at the door to the funeral and the inquest. As an army wife, I hope I never have to come any closer to the experience than this but I feel proud that throughout the process, Helena felt well looked after by senior staff and was comforted by the knowledge that Cyrus died surrounded by soldiers who loved him like a brother.

Like his mother, Cyrus had an inherent talent for writing. He may have hated school and his blueys home may have been littered with spelling mistakes, swearwords and poor grammar but his thoughts and ideas shone through, perhaps most of all in the poignant final letter he left to be read in the event of his death. This is printed in full in his own handwriting and the words form an important historical document. The book ends with a poem he wrote as a young teenager about the hidden terror of the landmine. I know one of Helena's greatest fears is that her precious son will be forgotten but this memoir will stand the test of the time and remind readers in years to come of the conflict in Afghanistan and the young men and women who lost their lives on its dusty roads.
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on 2 July 2012
Chin Up, Head Down describes the journey of a mother after her life was turned upside down on 2nd June 2009. On that day she learned that one of her sons had been killed by an IED in Afghanistan.

It must be every mother of a soldier's nightmare; that knock on the door, being told that your son has been killed. The rest of us have the luxury of being able to switch the channel after hearing the news, but for the families affected there is no such luxury.

The book follows Helena Tym's journey over the year and a half following her son's death, from the initial administration and paperwork through to repatriation, burial and beyond - a life now marked by painful anniversaries of death, remembrance, and birthdays her son would never see.

She is obviously writing at a time when the emotion is still raw, grappling with inner turmoil whilst trying to put on a brave face. Her writing is brave, dignified, and honest; she even shares her son's last letter, only to be opened in the event of his death.

Chin Up, Head Down brings home the risks our soldiers take and the daily danger they face in Afghanistan. For many they may just be another statistic, but every one of them has a family who suffers. Whilst none of us can truly understand what these families go through, Helena Tym conveys the pain and anguish felt - a timely reminder of the importance of supporting both our servicemen and women and the families left behind.
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on 15 June 2012
`Chin Up Head Down' is without a doubt the most emotional and heartfelt book that I have ever read. It tells the factual story of the events from a mother's point of view after the death of her much loved, 19 year old Rifleman Son and the constant struggle to try to get back to `normality.' Helena and her family are truly inspiring. Having the pleasure of knowing them personally and knowing what a unique and beautiful character Cyrus was makes this book completely melt my heart. `Chin Up Head Down' is an extremely personal and deep insight into the emotions felt and the daily struggle of losing someone that is so irreplaceable within such a close family unit.

This book really depicts what a brave, unique, happy, fun-loving and inspirational person Cyrus really was from the viewpoint of someone that knows him better than anyone else - his mother. The impact that his death has had on his family has been completely devastating; but Helena has found the strength and the courage to pour her heart and soul into this book and has composed it in such a beautiful and compelling way, which I find truly amazing.

`Chin Up Head Down' is a completely fascinating, interesting yet heartbreaking read that really lingers in your thoughts even after putting it down. It really depicts what a strong bond the family have now and will always have between them.

I highly recommend `Chin Up Head Down.' I believe that this book is completely unique to anything that I have read in the past before. It is so emotional, so honest, so raw but yet so poetic and deeply personal.
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on 9 December 2012
As a soldier, this book was a hard read, to much pain on each page. Needed to be written later on in her grieving process. She should celerbrage her sons life, not loose herself in her own grief. Just to much of the same writing on each page, don't get me wrong for one minute, her son is a legend no doubt, but I know he would not want his mum to suffer as she is.
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on 23 August 2012
Chin Up, Head Down gives those of us who have been fortunate enough not to have been touched by personal tragedy an insight in to the grief, pain and strength of one who has. To be so proud of her son's choice and dedication to serving his Country but at the same time to share her immense sadness and grief is inspiring.

I, like everyone who has read this book, is in total awe of Helena's raw honesty and strength as she describes her and her family's journey during the darkest times of their lives.

Grief is personal but hopefully by reading Helena's book it will enable those who haven't encountered it to be more understanding and empathetic to those who have.

Everyone should read this book and support those who serve us in our right to Freedom as many have paid a very high price for it.
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on 18 August 2012
I purchased this book after hearing an extract being beautifully read on the Jeremy Vine Show (bbc radio 2).

Then the following interview with Helena was both touching and heart breaking.

I am a serving soldier of 19 years with plenty of Operational service including, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan amongst others. Like most if not all soldiers, not once had I ever thought of the consequences if I were to be killed in action, what pain and anguish My death would bring to others least of all my Mother.

I read this book within a week, I could of read this a lot quicker if I had not had to put it down and take a time out on more than one occasion when very close to tears.

My heart goes out to Helena and her family.

RIP to a fallen comrade
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on 15 August 2012
This is one of the most powerful books I have read.

There is no happy ending.By the end of the book I felt that I almost knew the family and had learnt a lot about the Army and what happens when someone is killed. It was very brave of Helena Tym, Cyrus' mother to open her heart to everyone. She describes the "madness" of grief with such accuracy; something which is so difficult to put into words. Many people share this madness and it helps that others ,who are lucky enough not to have experienced it, have some idea of the impact and devastation that the ones left behind have to try to deal with.
Thank you Helena.
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