AquaCity welcomed three women who had their lives shattered by the war against terror in Afghanistan. These brave victims had been invited to the world’s greenest hotel by Holidays4Heroes.
WIDOW Amanda Binnie sits at the bar of AquaCity and says that she has still not opened the final four letters from her soldier husband, Sean. They are locked away in her safe.
Sean Binnie, a young corporal, posted five letters in May last year, hours before he got caught up in a gun battle where he died.
Amanda has only opened one of his letters. She read it at Sean’s graveside on her 22nd birthday. He had written: “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you…”
Amanda looks out of the window of AquaCity at the ghostly snow-capped High Tatras. “I couldn’t bring myself to read any more of them,” she says. “Do you understand? It would make me miss him more than I do already. It would break my heart all over again.”
New-found friend Naomi Wiggins says. “I know how she feels but I handled it differently.”
She was on holiday in Tunisia when she received a text message saying that her 27-year-old partner Private John Brackpool had died in Afghanistan.
Naomi said: “I was flying home after getting the news by text from John’s family. There were a dozen missed calls on my phone but I was on holiday and had ignored it. All I knew as the plane took off was that I had videos of John and I wanted to get back to them, watch them. Just see him again any way I could. I have a video clip of him on my phone which I kept watching over and over.”
Amanda, from Belfast, admits that almost a year on since her letters arrived, she still talks to Sean: “It’s as if he’s on the end of the phone. I keep telling him I love him. I send him messages on the internet and wait for him to answer.”
Naomi, who is 24, from West Green, Crawley, last spoke to John, a rifleman with the Prince of Wales’ Company, the day before he died.
Naomi and her new friends were invited to AquaCity by the private philanthropic organisation Holidays4Heroes where they decided to help British businessman Jan Telensky set up a new charity for war widows and girlfriends, Help for Widows. Two years ago Mr Telensky set up Holidays4Heroes with retired army major Terry Butterworth.
The three had been separately campaigning for war girlfriends to be recognised by the Government.
Naomi said: “The way we women like us are treated is a travesty hot on the heels of tragedy. There is almost nothing there for us. And girlfriends are treated even worse, no matter how sustained a relationship they were in, no bereavement counselling, no recognition from the Government at all.”
They were deeply touched when the British businessman who set up Holidays4Heroes, heard their anger over the neglect of war widows and girlfriends and offered to bring them together at his hotel, AquaCity, Poprad in the Spis region of Slovakia.
Naomi said: “We’d never met before, although we’d spoken on the phone, when we got calls asking us if we’d like to meet up. Holidays for Heroes said they would arrange everything for us.
“This is the first real support we have received and it’s from a private individual to recognise our loss. We supported our partners when they were going off to war. We were there for them and in effect we were there for the Government who just dumped us in the end.”
Despite a Government pledge to review military pension and benefits the MoD is under constant fire over payments to the spouses of troops killed in action. Young women suffer the heartache of bereavement and do not even received a card of condolence from the MoD.
Natalie Fellows climbed her own mountain of grief literally. She scaled Kilimanjaro to raise money towards the memory of Jamie who was killed in December last year, four months after their marriage. He was 26. Along with four of his comrades she raised £5,000.
It was these powerful and moving stories that prompted global businessman Mr Jan Telensky to invite them to his award-winning spa hotel. For the last year the property magnet has been flying out maimed service people to his hotel empire on the Slovak Polish border. He believed its healthy thermal pools and its therapy complex – including a cryotherapy chamber – would help their injuries. And there has been some success.
For instance Squaddie Josh Hill suffered disastrous back injuries when a quad bike rolled on him as he battled to save his mates after American troops bombed his unit in Kajaki in Afghanistan. After months of failed treatment it looked as if his army career was over. Then the Holidays4Heroes call came inviting Josh to visit AquaCity. After a series of cryotherapy treatments Josh, aged 23, was walking properly again and managed to beat the sack.
Jan Telensky said: “As long as there is a war in terrorism in the world, I will continue to take our injured heroes to my hotel and offer them some comfort and some hope for the future.”
The 200 million pound hotel uses natural energy from a thermal lake two miles underground to heat and power its hotels, waterpark, spa, restaurant, bars, fitness and conference centres and has one of the lowest carbon footprint for a hotel of its size in the world. It has won dozens of green award since it opened in 2005.
Holidays for Heroes came about after the Mr Telensky went to a benefit concert at a forces base Down South. Major Terry Butterworth, who is organising the holidays, said: “It is incredible the difference the use of the facilities in Slovakia have made to these injured men, particularly the cryochamber. They could barely do two minutes exercise before going in there, but afterwards they were cycling for fifty minutes.
“That is part of the criteria for sending servicemen out there, they must be able to benefit from the available treatments.
“But there are the secret victims of this war, the women who are left behind. We feel we should give them a chance to tell their own stories and demand help from the Government.”