One of the stranger revelations of Wounded was that Taliban bombs horribly invert Rupert Brooke's famous lines about the dead, the ones about "some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England". British soldiers don't leave their dust behind abroad anymore, they bring Afghan dust and dirt back here, sometimes driven deep into their bodies by the force of the blast. "There's a bit of grass from an Afghan field," pointed out a Selly Oak surgeon, tweezering a bit of debris out of Andy Allen, a member of the Royal Irish Regiment who less than 48 hours before had been taking a rest break by a canal in Helmand. What happened next had been caught on a photographer's video helmet and it delivered a shocking opening to Sara Hardy's excellent film about the treatment and rehabilitation of badly injured soldiers. Suddenly, there was a smear of dirt on the lens, blood pinking the muddy water and a horrible moaning from just out of frame. I take it we were spared the worst, but what we saw anyway – then and when Allen was first on the operating table – was quite dreadful enough. Butchery, with its clean cuts and neat edges, doesn't begin to do it justice.
Allen's mother had been flown to his bedside for the cruel moment when he was brought round from his medically induced coma and told how shockingly truncated his life had become. Both eyes were badly burnt, and both legs, and the upward force of the blast had peeled his gums from his teeth and flayed his lips. "I'd imagine that his first reaction would be 'I'd have been better off dead,'" said his mother, waiting for him to wake. She was there to try and coax him to the point where he didn't think that any more – and it seemed a proper tact that the labour of doing that should have been reported only, and not shown.
Allen wasn't the only casualty we followed. Tom Neathway, a paratrooper lance corporal who'd lost both legs and his left arm, was a little further along in the rehabilitation process, and bringing to it a resilience of spirit that initially struck you as worrying. "I'd like to return to the front line if I could," he said brightly at one point, and – along with the army liaison man there to monitor his psychological recovery – you feared that a terrible crash was coming, when reality finally hit. If that black moment came we didn't see it either, and though it was heartbreaking to contrast the snapshots of Tom in uniform with the image of him struggling to sit upright, with no counterweight for his torso, his own manner warned you away from facile pity. When two friends came to help him get used to his "long legs", the full prostheses, which he hoped would allow him to take part in his regiment's medal parade, he looked at his disembodied trouser legs and boots, lying on the therapy room floor like the makings of a guy, and joked "That's what it was like on the ground wasn't it... 'Oh shit! There's Tom's legs and trousers.'"
The film, against the odds, ended on an upbeat – Andy Allen having recovered enough sight to be able to see the son who'd been born while he waited for cataract surgery, and Tom making it across the parade ground, upright at the medal parade he'd been determined to attend. He couldn't any longer be said to standing on his own two feet, but he was doing a touchingly impressive job with the replacements he'd been given. We were not invited (or given time, for that matter) to question the war that both these men had been forced to bring home with them.Reuse content