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SPIT POLISHED PRESENTATIONS
February 17, 2011
"WOULDN'T it be great if I had
never had to write the book?
"The reality, though, is that I did
have to write it and there will be people
who have to use it.
"So, I really hope it helped."
These words could almost be
SQNLDR Kay Ellis's epitaph.
For many years, SQNLDR Ellis
lived with cancer but worked tirelessly
to get support for the widows and fami-
lies of members killed in the line of
There are many people in Air Force,
and indeed across the wider ADF,
who have been touched in some way
through contact with Kay either in per-
son or through her guidance booklet,
On looking after families following a
On October 29, 1991 her husband,
FLTLT Tim Ellis, was killed when
RAAF B707 'Wilberforce' crashed
into the sea near RAAF Base East Sale
while engaged on an exercise.
WGCDR Geoff Kimmins, former CO RAAFSTT,
who attended two COs courses
Kay came and spoke to us as a group in
order to prepare us if we found ourselves
in a situation where we needed to look after
a family following a service death. She was
pivotal in producing an ADF Commanders
Guide that was full of relevant and real
information. In 2008, I found myself in need
of that advice and guidance. Quite a number
of things go through your mind at the time
and there are many situations that need to
be considered. I found myself gripped by a
number of emotions, from apprehension all
the way to fear. To be able to draw on Kay's
words, to have a great guide to skim through,
really did make a difference. Importantly, the
families sensed we were doing our utmost
in really horrible circumstances and we still
correspond with them today.
SGT Carl Bryant, British Army
Letter to Kay Ellis, dated February 20, 2008
I am a British Army Intelligence Corps SGT
who lost my wife, an Intelligence Corps CPL,
to enemy action in Afghanistan last year. Sarah
was on patrol in Helmand province on July 17,
2008 when her vehicle was hit by an IED, kill-
ing Sarah and three soldiers from 23 (V) SAS.
I struggled incredibly after my wife's death and
although I had wonderful support from my fam-
ily and friends, they had no experience of what I
was going through. This made it hard for them,
but also for me as they couldn't offer me any
practical advice other than what they thought
was best, which was often contrary to what I was
feeling and therefore very frustrating; I imagine
you can relate to this! Your book gave me an
understanding of the grieving process, and
enabled me to better deal with the feelings and
emotions I have experienced since Sarah was
killed. I have continually referred to your words
throughout the last few months and am grateful
to have had the book to guide me through. I am
thankful each day that Sarah has left a legacy
in so far that she will serve as an inspiration to
female soldiers of the future. You have also left
a wonderful legacy in what you have written and
the help you will give servicemen and women
and their families for years to come; though I
hope not that often! I hope you can take some
comfort in the fact that you have helped me, and
no doubt many others, greatly.
SQNLDR Kay Ellis died of cancer on January 5. WGCDR
Jo Elkington compiled this tribute to her.
After his death, Kay felt she and
the other widows from the crash were
treated badly by the department and
later said that she had experienced a lot
of grief and anger.
Then, eight years after the trage-
dy, she received an email from anoth-
er widow who said she was mentally
experiencing the same sorts of things
that Kay had experienced.
"I felt that just was not right,"
SQNLDR Ellis said.
She put her head over the para-
pet and in 2002, AIRCDRE John
Blackburn asked her to produce a
report on the treatment of families after
the death of a member.
Drawing on her experiences and
treatment after her husband's death
as well as speaking with the Defence
Community Organisation and other
families, in 2002 she compiled a
detailed report into how Air Force
should support families. It included an
extensive list of recommendations.
It was accepted, and
the then-FLTLT Ellis
was offered a new pro-
ject: to convert the report
into a simple-to-use refer-
The result was a
30-page booklet that pro-
vided helpful, realistic
advice on casualty noti-
fication, family aftercare and a range
of personal and practical issues faced
Its worth was proved in 2005 when
it was used in the aftermath of the Sea
King crash tragedy on Nias Island in
Indonesia in which nine members died.
Feedback indicated it had worked
well. "People told me they were glad
they had it and families later said they
felt they were well looked after," Kay
"The main point, however, was
that it is invaluable for understanding
the issues. It is not so much a case
of 'what I have to do' but of
understanding what the families are
going though and their needs."
After Nias, Kay was asked to pro-
duce a new, tri-service version, which
was launched by CDF ACM Angus
Houston in 2008.
Kay explained: "In the years after
the accident, I met and befriended
many families who had lost someone
in a military accident, and we devel-
oped an informal information and sup-
She wanted to reduce or eliminate
the negative experiences she and other
family members suffered after the
In producing the ADF guide, Kay
collated experiences from across the
services and provided words of wis-
dom, the do's and don'ts, and tips for
dealing with difficult and sensitive mat-
ters.Augmenting the booklet, Kay deliv-
ered presentations to commanders and
senior officers on the topic of support-
ing bereaving families.
Kay's hard work and commitment
has had a lasting positive impact on
many people and families. She was rec-
ognised for this in 2007 when she was
awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross.
While writing the ADF guide, she
was dealing with the reality of living
with cancer. In between trips to hospi-
tal, she worked on finalising the guide,
which has been widely referenced
since, including in the UK. SQNLDR
Mark Collins, who was on exchange
in the UK, knew a British Army SGT
whose wife was killed in Afghanistan.
"Having consulted with Kay, I real-
ised it could provide a long-term asset
not only for the SGT, but also for his
staff and managers," SQNLDR Collins
said.The SGT later wrote to her; his let-
ter is below.
Through her own personal adver-
sity, Kay has been an inspiration and
source of courage to many ADF mem-
bers and their families.
"Kay Ellis was a truly remarkable
person -- with an incredible passion and
the wisdom to guide others through
tragic times," said CAF AIRMSHL
"She touched us all in some way
and will be sorely missed."
CAF will hold a memorial service for Kay at
the RAAF Base Amberley Officers' Mess at
10.30am on March 9.
TESTIMONY TO A FEARLESS FIGHTER
us all in
How tragedy propelled
Kay to help others
oped an informal information and sup
MAY 1, 2008: Above, the happy
day when Kay Ellis was promoted
to SQNLDR by her former mentor,
AIRCDRE Mark Lax (ret'd), left,
and GPCAPT (now AIRCDRE) Leo
Photo: FSGT John Carroll
BEFORE THE CRASH: Left, Kay
with her husband, FLTLT Tim Ellis.
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