Daniel Majid: 'The Last Post always sends a shiver down my spine. It is a beautiful piece of music but it has got such painful memories attached to it'
Terri Judd meets a British paratrooper, badly wounded by an IED in Helmand, Afghanistan, who is glad to be able to commemorate his dead colleagues this Remembrance Sunday.
On a crystal clear, blustery morning in Bradford 's Centenary Square Mayor Naveeda Ikram faces a hundred paratroopers, their bayonets fixed. Invisible behind the crowds cheering this exhibition of regimental pride sits a young school teacher, the son of an Iraqi engineer, his face a sickly pallor, hunched over, clutching a bandaged arm as he fights to stop shivering against the cold.
Just days after surgery, Daniel Majid has struggled against pain and pain killers to be there. For despite his fragile appearance this 27-year-old would normally have been standing amongst his fellow soldiers of the 4th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (4 Para) as they paraded through the Yorkshire city.
Tomorrow he will yet again struggle against his injury, like hundreds of other young wounded service men and women across the country, to commemorate Remembrance Sunday and mourn the friends who could not be saved.
"The Last Post always sends a shiver down my spine. It is a beautiful piece of music but it has got such painful memories attached to it, mates who have died," he explains. "I went to Daniel's funeral (Private Prior, of 2 Para). Listening to his wife speak was so painful. They had a newborn baby. He was the happiest guy alive and two weeks later he was blown up by an IED."
Private Majid counts himself lucky he was spared. Holding his right arm, still bloated and swollen from surgery, he beams as he demonstrates that he now has movement in the wrist - a simple act but dramatic progress for a young man who once signed a form to agree that surgeons could amputate. A six hour operation later and they had saved his arm.
Private Majid was at the front of a patrol in the notorious Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand, sweeping with a detector designed to alert soldiers to the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have cost so many their limbs and lives, when a bomb went off, the "worst noise I have ever heard".
"I was going through the drills, looking for secondary devices, looking for them to fire upon us. I could hear screaming and realised someone had been injured.
"I looked at my arm and it wasn't moving. I climbed out of the ditch and my arm swung forward from the shaft (upper arm) and I thought 'That's not right'. I put my hand round and squashed my whole arm in my fist. I was covered in blood. I thought it was being held on by my shirt," he explains. "I thought 'My arm has come off but everything else is fine so I am going to be fine. I am just going to have to deal with it'."
As he applied a tourniquet, he noticed that he was moving his fingers, that somehow the limb was still attached.
He continues: "Then I was frantic. If they could save my arm then I thought 'Let's get the hell out of here and get it seen to'. I got quite selfish at that point."
Most soldiers defy stereotype but Private Majid is part of a body of men that are particularly unique. For among the regiment standing on that square last Sunday morning, preparing to parade, were everything from a builder to a barrister. They have in the words of their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Boyd, deployed into war zones more than any other territorial army infantry unit since the beginning of the Iraq war.
It is only when Private Majid starts talking about his day job that you see that his passion for the Parachute Regiment is surpassed by his affection for the youngsters to whom he teaches physical education at Leeds West Academy. He becomes animated as he describes how he tries to inspire them to jump higher or run faster.
"I would not say I come from a tough background but I can put myself in their shoes," he says.
Born in South Shields, he grew up the son of an English mother and an Iraqi father who fled to the UK in the seventies to work as an engineer.
It was while studying a Leisure and Sports degree at university in 2004 - at a time when British soldiers were fighting in Iraq - that he decided to join the Officer Training Corps, attracted by the adventure training and drinking club and then the territorial army.
After completing a 200km jungle marathon his next challenge was the Parachute Regiment's arduous P Company selection process.
"The worst bit was the log race, carrying 180lbs. Your whole body is crying stop but you have just got to power through. That's what I am good at doing, knowing I am not going to quit. Having blind ignorance to the pain is a thing I am good at," he says with a grin.
His family were less than impressed but their concerns were fear for his safety rather than political.
"My dad thought I was being stupid. He said I was going to get blown up. My sister Jenna threatened to break my arm so I couldn't do it," he explains. "But my whole family over in Iraq were oppressed by Saddam Hussein so they were happy to see me get there."
He continues: "When I was going through my basic training, they said 'If you have to go to Iraq how would you feel about that?'. I just said 'I am joining the army. If they send me there, I can't not go'."
He never did get to Iraq but instead volunteered for operations in Afghanistan : "I had got so much from the army - adventure training, skiing, mountain climbing and diving. It was time for me to pay my debt. I also felt hypocritical. I was training recruits for when they went out there but I hadn't done it."
Adjusting to working with a regular army unit, 2 Para, in Helmand was easy and simply a matter of "having the right attitude", he insists: "You would get in from a tough patrol and there was the camaraderie, everyone was in the same boat, relieved to get back in.".
That was until 26 November last year when he did not get back in one piece. "I phoned my grandmother (from the field hospital at Camp Bastion ) and said 'I have had a bit of an accident'. She said 'Daniel I know all about it and you are going to be fine'. I was a mess on morphine. I could, maybe, spend five or ten minutes in conversation before I hazed out."
Ironically, he says it was the moment that the doctors at the field hospital asked him to sign a form in case they needed to amputate that he set his sights on full recovery.
"I have given myself nine months," he says stubbornly. Though he is forced to admit that the past year has been full of frustrations. Despite the support of his family and girlfriend Emilia, 20, he has little patience with himself: "Everything was so easy before and suddenly it is not so easy. You do everything right but your body won't." Pointing to his heavily strapped arm, he smiles: "Last time I got too active, too quickly so they have tied me down now."
One silver lining is that he has been given the opportunity to train with the Walking with the Wounded team, which went to the North Pole with Prince Harry. This time they intend to scale the highest peak in the world: "It has always been a dream of mine to climb Everest. I never thought it would come true. It is something for me to aim for."
Over the past year, however, Private Majid had been forced to learn that sheer determination cannot always over come. On a recent practice climb in Nepal he was ironically defeated, not by his injury, but by altitude sickness.
"I didn't want them to think I was quitting. I needed them to know that I tried my hardest, done everything I could and it was nothing to do with my climbing ability. But now I am going to support the team at base camp," he explains.
"I hate to say it but there is no guarantee," he continues, explaining that he will retrain as a geography teacher as a back up plan, a "worst case scenario" if he cannot get back to instructing PE.
But seconds later, he adds: "I am damn well determined to get back to full fitness. I can't wait until I can swim or ride my bike. I have a brand new bike I have never ridden."
His last operation on Sunday 30 October made his birthday the night before a rather sober affair so he has decided to make up for it with on the anniversary of his injury in a fortnight: "We will celebrate the fact that I didn't die."
The young man who almost lost his arm adds it will be an opportunity to send a personal message to the bomb and bombers that almost killed him, in his words "to stick two fingers up" at them.
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