Redditch veteran completes portraits of fallen soldiers

George and Anne Linley
Image caption,George and Anne Linley thanked Mr Wills for his portrait

An army veteran has finished painting portraits of every British soldier who died in 20 years of deployment in Afghanistan.

Kevin Wills, from Redditch, began his project in 2020 and said it had been an emotional journey the further he went on painting the fallen.

But he said the aim was to “remember the fallen friends and soldiers”.

He hand-delivered a portrait of one soldier in Birmingham to his parents, who said he had captured him “exactly”.

Bomb disposal expert Staff Sgt Brett Linley died aged 29 while trying to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Nahr-e-Saraj in July 2010.

“He was the most loving, caring son who anybody could ever have,” his mother Anne said.

“He was an extra special person. Anybody that met him, he touched their hearts and they’ll never forget him.”

Brett Linley
Image caption,Brett Linley died while trying to clear improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan in 2010

Mrs Linley said the pain of loss did not get any better, but the portrait was “going to be the most special thing in the world to us”.

“I can’t tell what it’s going to mean to us as a family to have him back home again,” she said.

‘Appreciate the loss of life’

Her son was one of more than 450 soldiers who lost their lives in the country between 2001 and 2021.

A coalition of international forces – led by the US – completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan on 30 August 2021, marking the end of the 20-year campaign in the country.

UK personnel remained in the country until 2021, but their combat operations concluded in 2014.

Mr Wills, who served for six years in the Royal Logistical Corps, said through his work he had come to appreciate the loss of life in a conflict a lot more than he had before.

Kevin Wills
Image caption,Kevin Wills first began the paintings in 2020 after word of mouth spread about his artwork from friends

“I’ve got to know the fallen,” he added.

“Literally every 458, reading their stories – very, very emotional, especially after talking to their families about them as well.

“I’ve practically got every single face in my head.”

Mr Wills said he had been “nervous” about giving Mr Linley’s family their portrait face-to-face, but was pleased they liked it.

Kevin Wills with one of his portraits
Image caption,Kevin Wills said he has a deeper understanding of loss in conflict after this project

“The further I went on painting, I got more and more emotional,” he said.

“Especially receiving the feedback from the families who were obviously very emotional to receive the portrait and they said they can’t believe people are still remembering our fallen.

“But that was the whole main aim of the project – to remember the fallen friends and soldiers over there and to let the families know that they won’t be forgotten.”

He was now finding the last of the families to deliver their portraits, he said.

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