I can’t look after my son any more, but at least I can look after his dog'
Before he was killed in Afghanistan paratrooper Conrad Lewis adopted one of the country's many stray dogs. Now his family have brought Peg back to the UK to live with them.
Paratrooper Conrad Lewis and the mongrel dog he adopted on patrol
By Patrick Sawer
8:30AM GMT 16 Feb 2014
Paratrooper Conrad Lewis and the mongrel dog he adopted on patrol were constant companions amid the dangers of Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Such was their attachment that when Private Lewis was killed by a sniper’s bullet, his grieving family did all they could to arrange for the animal to be brought back to the UK to live with them.
As Conrad’s mother Sandy put it: “Although I can’t look after my son any more, at least I can look after his dog.”
Now Pvt Lewis’s family are working to raise funds for the organisation which worked to bring the dog, a mongrel named Peg by Conrad’s Paratroop Regiment unit, back to Britain.
The charity, called the Nowzad Dogs Animal Shelter after the Afghan town in which it was founded by a Royal Marine, runs the only dog refuge operating in Afghanistan, taking in hundreds of the country’s stray and abandoned pets. Since it opened it has arranged for dozens of dogs such as Peg to be transported to Britain, quarantined and reunited with the soldiers who adopted them while in their troubled country.
Friends of the Lewis family have recorded a single, released last week, to raise money for Nowzad and at the same time pay fitting tribute to Conrad.
The 22-year-old was shot dead on February 9, 2011, after coming under fire while on patrol in Nad-e Ali. Although he had already been mentioned in dispatches for his bravery on patrol and in firefights, his death went largely unremarked among the wider public.
As his father Tony says, he was neither the 1st, nor the 100th or 200th British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. In fact he was the 353rd.
His family believe he should be no less commemorated for that, however, just as they want the other 446 British soldiers killed in the line of duty in against the Taliban to be remembered.
Mr Lewis, of Claverson, Warwickshire, said: “There was a lot of focus when the 100th and 200th died and we quickly forget when we talk about numbers.
“This is about raising awareness of the huge sacrifice they make and we hope it will bring comfort to the other 446 families and those who have suffered life changing injuries.
Peg, named after the Parachute Regiment’s emblem of Pegasus, the winged horse, was found by Conrad and his comrades in A Company, 3rd battalion, when they took over duties at the Qudrat checkpoint in Nad’Ali, Helmand, one of the most dangerous points of conflict in the country for British soldiers.
During his Christmas leave home in December 2010 Conrad told his parents that he wanted to bring Peg back to Britain to live with them. So when Mr and Mrs Lewis received the dreadful news of his death, just a month after he returned to Afghanistan, they immediately set-about trying to fulfil his wish.
Tony and Sandy Lewis at home near Claverdon, Warwickshire with their dog Peg (ANDREW FOX)
Mr Lewis got in touch with Royal Marine Sergeant Pen Farthing, who in 2007 had set up Nowzad as the only official animal shelter in Afghanistan, after he and other soldiers had taken to adopting some of the country’s many strays during their tours of duty.
While officially frowned on by the MoD, the habit of adopting such dogs who attach themselves to British Army compounds and checkpoints has proved of great comfort to the men.
Mr Lewis said: “They are known as buddy dogs and for the lads they are a nice thing to come back to when they’ve been fighting all day. It’s a small reminder of home. It’s thought that the dogs help relieve stress and trauma among the men. Peg was like that. She would go out with Conrad and the lads. Lie down when they lay down, stand up when they did. She even kept stone-throwing children away from them.”After Conrad was killed Sgt Farthing arranged for Peg to be helicoptered from Quadrat to Camp Bastion, from where she was transported in an armoured vehicle by the Afghan National Army to the Nowzad sanctuary in Kabul.
Then, after being passed fit and health enough to be flow to Britain by officials from DEFRA, she spent six months in quarantine before starting a new life with Mr and Mrs Lewis at their home, outside Warwick
Mr Lewis said: “It’s comforting for us to have Peg in the house. She’s a lovely natured dog and there’s a karma about having her around. We look after her in the way she looked after my son.“There is a great photo of Conrad which epitomises my boy and a lot of soldiers. He’s got a grenade launcher in one hand, Peg in the other and a big grin on his face.”
Soldier On, the song in aid of and Nowzad and the charity set up by Mr and Mrs Lewis – called 353 – was written and recorded by Andrew James, a singer-songwriter from Stratford Upon Avon, and Chris Onslow, a family friend who works as a charity fundraiser.
It was performed live for the first time at a concert at Warwick School at 12.01 on February 9 – the precise time and day that Conrad died.
Thanks to word of mouth support on social media sites Soldier On has entered the iTunes pop charts to 100. Conrad’s family say that’s not bad for an independently produced and released single.
Mr Lewis, 51, a manager with Nissan, said: “Conrad was the life and soul of the party, he was a consummate sportsman and he was absolutely loyal and trustworthy. He had a massive heart and he brought so many people together from so many circles in life. He really did bring a smile to everyone’s face.”
* Soldier On is available on iTunes or at www.353.org.uk
, and on Facebook: The Big Secret Sound Ft Andrew James, and Twitter: @bigsecretsound.