Remembrance Sunday: A new book about the living, whose battles go on
'Wounded: The Legacy of War' highlights the inspiring soldiers who would not lie down. Jonathan Owen introduces extracts in their own words
Sunday 10 November 2013
They are the living who cheated death. Advances in technology and the skills of battlefield surgeons are seeing badly wounded soldiers survive where once they would have died. While 446 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, thousands more have been wounded – hundreds of whom have returned blinded or limbless.
Many will attend parades and services around the country today. For Remembrance Sunday is not only about the fallen, it is also about those who live with the wounds of war.
Harrowing accounts and photographs of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq bring home the human cost to those wounded in a book being published tomorrow by musician turned photographer Bryan Adams. Proceeds from Wounded: The Legacy of War (Steidl, £50) will be shared among a number of service charities. Writing in the book's foreword, Lord Dannatt, former chief of general staff, says: "They have served their country, buried their mates, cheated death itself and now rise above the hurt their enemies thought they had inflicted on them. A body can be broken but a spirit need not be crushed." He adds: "These soldiers and marines stand tall – in body, mind and spirit – they are an inspiration to us all."
'Parents will see me in the street and drag their kids away'
Marine Mark Ormrod, 30, Royal Marines. Wounded when he stood on an IED during a patrol in Afghanistan in 2007. Married with three children, he lives in Plymouth.
“I was deployed to Afghanistan in September 2007. My role as an infantryman was to dominate the ground around our area of responsibility and take the fight to the enemy. I was injured on Christmas Eve. We had been tasked with another foot patrol-it was more of a patrol to keep momentum going, a show of presence. We came to the end of the first leg of the patrol, and we were ready to come back into the camp. I was getting onto my stomach to get into a fi re position, so I could give cover to the other guys, when I stood on and detonated an IED. It created a huge cloud of sand and dust, so I couldn't initially see anything, but I could hear everything that was going on... I'd sustained severe injuries to both my legs and my right arm, which were later amputated.
A lot of stuff goes through your head in a short amount of time. My first thought was of my three-year-old daughter back at home in the UK. If I survived this, would I able to be a dad? Would I be able to pick her up from school or would I shy away because she may get picked on because of how I looked? I felt a lot of guilt because of that. All of this went through my mind within seconds, as soon as I realised the extent of my injuries. Then more guilt followed because, in my mind, I had put the rest of my Section in immediate danger. If the incident had been followed up by a small-arms attack, people could have been killed and I would have blamed myself. And anger as well, you get it drummed into your head when you go through Royal Marines training that you're elite, you're the best of the best, you can take on any enemy and come out on top. So to think I'd just been beaten by a lump of metal in the ground annoyed me and made me quite angry.
It is irritating that people avoid me when I'm walking down the street. I see a lot of parents in the distance, the kid will see me before the parent does and then their parent will see me, and they'll drag the kid off and veer away from me. They don't want their kid to ask questions, they think that will embarrass me. But I wear shorts and a T-shirt every day-if I was embarrassed I wouldn't come out, I'd wear a long-sleeved jumper with a pair of trousers. But there are also a lot of people who are completely different; they ask me what's happened and they appreciate the honesty with the children, because the children have to know.
There's no shying away from it, especially now there are a lot of us with missing limbs around the country. We don't sit in the house, we don't shy away, the lads are out there doing all sorts of crazy stuff -living their lives every day. Proud of their prosthetics and what they're doing. People shouldn't shy away from that. I left the Marines in July 2010. From the September, I started working for the Royal Marines Association as a welfare operations assistant. It's a charity that looks after veterans and what we call the wider Royal Marine family-wives, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, mums. I also started a secondary career as a motivational speaker.”
'Only my right arm was fine. I'm still the most severely injured soldier ever to survive'
Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson MBE, 29, Royal Regiment of Artillery. Was 22-years-old when an anti-tank mine blew up his Land Rover in Afghanistan. He lives in Doncaster.
“I went to Afghanistan in the beginning of 2006, serving with 7 Para, Royal Horse Artillery. I was in Helmand Province, where our mission was protecting the civilian population. I can't remember anything about the day of my injury, but what happened is that I was providing flank cover in a WMIK, which is a heavily armed open-topped Land Rover. We were crossing a wadi, when a Russian anti-tank mine exploded under the rear axle... I was actually more or less totally unconscious for four months. But I think I can remember when my son was brought to see me; he was born while I was in a coma. I was in Selly Oak for six months exactly, then I went straight to the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney, again for exactly six months.
I lost both legs above the knee, broke my pelvis, lost my spleen, both lungs collapsed, most of my ribs were shattered, suffered fractures to several vertebrae, my cheek bones, my left arm, my skull, my jaw, all of my fingers as well as the massive injury to my brain. Only my right arm was fine. I'm still the most severely injured soldier ever to survive. The way I saw it, though, was that I had no option but to overcome my injuries. I was always convinced and determined that I would. At first, the medical staff around me thought that that was my brain injury talking and I didn't fully understand the severity of what had happened to me.
But, to me, there was no option but to overcome my injuries. The most frustrating element of my injuries was the impact on my memory. My short-term memory is appalling and I lost my memory of four years of my life, including my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It was really upsetting, because I couldn't remember people from my Regiment; I knew I knew them, but I just couldn't remember. With time, some aspects have come back to me, and friends have filled in some of the gaps, but it's still difficult.
In terms of the support me and my family received, it absolutely was not enough. There were different agencies involved at Selly Oak, but no one had a clue what each one was doing-it was chaos. When I was injured, my Regiment were already struggling to support the families of two officers who had been killed, and they didn't have the capacity to support me properly as well, which made things really hard for us. But they made up for it later. As for the MoD, they have no intention or wish to support anyone-and they have not made up for it since. When a soldier gets injured, it's not only devastating for them personally, but it has huge effects on their family. Often, they'll have to take unpaid time off work to support the wounded guy, meaning they can lose their jobs and be unable to pay the bills.
They become completely reliant on charities to help them out. There is not enough support for families. This is why me and my mum took on the compensation scheme. The amount I was initially offered by the MoD was simply not enough, given the care I'll need for the rest of my life because of my injuries. It's so important that soldiers and their families get the support they need and deserve.”
'I don't get angry about what happened, because I feel lucky to be here'
Lance Corporal Martyn Compton, 29, Household Cavalry. His vehicle, crippled by an IED blast, was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2006. Suffered 75 per cent burns, and spent five months in a coma. A father of two, he lives in Battle, East Sussex.
“I was injured on 1st August 2006.... As we got into the road, we were ambushed by the Taliban. They tried to take out the central wagon, which was the one I was in. We tried to reverse out of the ambush, and, as we were doing so, my wagon was hit by an IED. The three other lads that were in it were killed instantly. The enemy began shooting RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] directly at me, from about 25 metres away - I remember seeing the guy looking over the wall and fi ring. The RPGs blew the wagon up and engulfed me in flames. Luckily I managed to climb out
of the wagon. At this point, I was in a lot of pain, my body armour was melting into my skin, and my emotions were running high. I ran in front of the wagon to try and get some cover, as there were bullets coming down at me. As I was running, I got shot in the leg twice and I fell to the ground.
I was in huge amounts of pain. I remember hearing the Chinook landing, they got me onto the Chinook. I remember a guy saying, ”Stay with us, stay with us“ and that was it. I died officially then. I was revived, and taken back to Bastion - although I don't remember any of this. Apparently I died a further three times on my way back to the UK. I was in a coma for five months while they tried to rebuild me. It was touch and go. I had 75 per cent full-thickness third-degree burns and two gunshot wounds to my right leg. I was burned pretty much down to bone.
But about three months after waking up, I wanted to go out. I think it was fi reworks night. They said, ”If you're going to go out, you might see yourself, so you're going to have to see yourself in a mirror before going out.“ Michelle was with me and I looked in the mirror, and I broke down. That was the hardest thing for me. It was a strange feeling looking in that mirror. I'd just been being myself, messing about in hospital, trying to keep cheerful, and then all of a sudden I didn't look anything like I did before. So, it was really weird. A life-changing experience. Initially, I thought, ”Look at the state of me.“ I felt hard done by. But then eventually I thought, ”I can't do anything about it, I'm still here and I'm the fortunate one that got out of that wagon“, so I just thank my lucky stars really.
I'm so thankful to be here.... At the moment, I'm officially still in the Army, because I've still got so many operations and rehab stints still to come... I went to Parliament to fight for more compensation than I was initially offered, which wasn't enough. When I joined the Army, I obviously realised the risks, but you still expect to be looked after. Although I've been awarded more compensation since, you'd get four or five times the amount if you sustained the same injuries as a civilian.... The other guys I was with died in that incident. I'm still here, and I have Michelle and our kids, so I do just feel lucky to still be here.”
'People need to be more aware of the work charities do, and the funds they need'
Corporal Billy Drinkwater, 28, The Royal Anglian Regiment. Wounded in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2010. Lost his right eye and is virtually blind. He lives in London.
“The tour when I was injured was my third tour: I'd been to Iraq and Afghanistan previously. This time, I was deployed to Afghanistan as a Section Commander in charge of an eight-man team. I was a bit apprehensive before the tour, because our preparation was rushed. I had six weeks to train my men up, and get to know them. Some of the blokes were quite new, and I hadn't worked with them before, so I was a bit worried that we weren't well-prepared enough.
I was injured on 31st January 2010. We were clearing an area, we moved into position, and an IED went off. Me and my front man - Ken Facal,- were casevac'd back to Bastion, and then within about a day, back to Birmingham.... My right eye was totally destroyed - I've actually got a prosthetic eye in at the moment. A piece of shrapnel hit my cheek bone, went up through the eye and narrowly missed my brain; it was quite lucky I didn't also sustain a brain injury. I had corneal damage to my left eye, and I think slight damage to the optic nerve.
I was in hospital with my frontman Ken. I knew him way before Afghanistan. He was always my main man in my Section, he was the guy I always trusted. We're very, very close friends, like brothers, basically. Knowing he was injured was horrible. To begin with, when I was so drugged up I didn't really know what was going on, I thought he was dead. In my hallucinations, I thought someone had told me he had died. Then, when someone told me he was alive, but badly injured, it was a very sad time, but it was happy sad; it was very emotional.... I was really worried about whether he'd pull through or not, and it was a huge relief when he did.
I was discharged after six weeks in hospital. I went home for a weekend, and then I went to Blind Veterans UK in Ovingdean, Brighton. I met other people with eye injuries, and chatting to them really helped... it was inspiring to see how other blind people get on, living their lives, totally blind. Things like how they walk down the street, how they make themselves a cup of tea-everyday things people take for granted. I just had to take everything as it was coming. I couldn't really think too much about the past. I'd been dealt a new life, so I just had to focus on that, and try and get back to having peace of mind again.... Initially, I think I was probably in denial that my Military career was over. I could have stayed in, but I couldn't keep doing my job or what I wanted to go on to do. I had to start again... leaving my Military career was difficult, and it still bites you in the arse sometimes. But I think of everything that I did, and all the experience and knowledge I gained, and that helps me to cope.
I don't think it's on the Government's agenda to let people know what's happening in Afghanistan. Maybe they don't want people to know how many of us get injured, or how bad the injuries are.... At the moment, I'm a personal trainer, but I'm not doing it full time.... I'm doing what I need to do to get my future going, and get my life back on track. I'm living, I'm still breathing.”
'All I ever wanted to do was be a soldier and all of a sudden that came to an abrupt end'
Corporal Paul Findlay; Royal Corps of Signals. Injured in Afghanistan, aged 24
“I was in Afghanistan in the Babaji district and was injured on 22nd May 2009. I was a Section Commander within the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, 19 Brigade. Our job was to go ahead of the main military effort in order to gain as much intelligence on the enemy's capabilities as possible. The job I was doing was a lot more dangerous than other jobs. The Unit was one that you didn't get picked for because of the risks, you had to volunteer yourself. We had been told before we went that one in eight would die. So in an eighty-man team, we were pretty sure we were going to lose about ten. In the end, we lost four and six got seriously injured, so it wasn't too far off the mark.
All I could see was dust, I couldn't hear anything-it was the worst ringing you could ever imagine. I realised quite quickly that I was paralysed from the waist down, I couldn't feel anything. I was back in the UK the day after the incident itself and then I was in Intensive Care for about two weeks. I had both of my legs for about ten months. I had about seven or eight surgeries on my right leg to try and save it.... The doctors told me I could either stay on crutches, which was my main means of getting about but I was also doing quite a bit of damage to my left leg because of the impact on it, or I could have my right leg cut off and walk again. That was the route I opted for. It was March 2010 when I actually lost it.
Throughout the whole event, from the point of injury until now, my physical injuries have never stopped me doing anything, never held me back.
Two things bother me. The first is that when my friend got ill that day and I took his place, he took my place on the next mission, eight days later. He and the whole crew got killed. That stuck with me a while, it still does to this day. It was my vehicle, my crew, I should have been on that mission. That's stuck with me more than anything. If I could change anything, I would change that. The second thing was my career. All I ever wanted to do was be a soldier and all of a sudden that came to an abrupt end. You speak to some of the guys and they're still serving doing recruiting jobs and paid desk jobs but that's not why you join the Army. That was really difficult.
There's two days a year when I really don't want to see anybody. The first is 22nd May, which everybody calls your 'life day', the day you got blown up and got given a second chance. Then 30th May, which is the day that my friend Morph died. They're the two days when I just want to be alone. I usually go to the pub by myself, and just sit and have a few drinks to remember things, and then, the next day, you just get on with it.
What's happened challenged me emotionally and mentally more than physically.
Guys come home who have seen the same stuff that I have seen, who have lost their brothers as well. They may have no physical scarring but, mentally, they're really screwed up. But they can't show it.”
'Being blown up feels like going into a rugby tackle that's gone wrong'
Private Alex Stringer, The Royal Logistic Corps. Injured in Afghanistan, aged 20
“I deployed to Afghanistan in November 2010 with the 23 Pioneer Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps. I served there until 19th
January 2011, when I was injured.... To be honest, I knew a lot of us were going to be hit. I was half expecting not to be coming back. I had something niggling at the back of my head that it didn't feel right.... I was blown sky high by the explosion.
Being blown up feels like going into a rugby tackle that's gone wrong. Your spine gets compressed from the force of being pushed upwards, and the next thing you know, you're seeing a lot of sky and ground as you get flipped through the air, and then you're heading back towards the ground.... I looked down and realised that both my feet were gone, and my arm was pretty mangled-it was bent backwards and it had no skin on it... my mate came to help me and started putting a tourniquet on my right leg. As he was doing that, we started hearing hissing coming from my left leg. We looked at each other and he stepped back and looked at me.
As he stepped back, that leg exploded and more chunks of meat went flying. We were covered in yellow paint which had set on fire-the explosion was from the spray can in my pocket. There were six additional cans in my back pack, and they all followed suit afterwards. The reason I lost my left leg so high up is because burning paint cooked my left leg all the way down to the bone. But if I hadn't set myself on fire, I would have bled out and died-as a result of it, all the arteries became cauterised.... The main thing I was thinking about was the girls. I had to make sure that I got back because I didn't want them growing up without a dad... I was in a medically induced coma for six days. My left leg was amputated when I got back to Birmingham. I lost my right leg below the knee in the field... I wasn't a very nice person, I was pretty self-centred, and it has changed me. I'm lucky, because I have a very strong wife. Danielle is a lot more in touch with her emotional side than I am, so it's affected her a little bit more. In that way, it's been harder for her than it has for me.
It's the lads who have enabled me to survive this as a soldier. The way I justify my injury is that the mates I was out there with are fine, and nothing happened to them. I would rather that this happened to me than one of them having to deal with it.
The boys getting back to the UK was a big relief for me. It was great to see them and know that everything is all right. Nothing is going to happen to them now, they're back home and safe. I'm leaving the Army this year. I'm obviously upset that I can't carry on with my career in the Army, but I'd rather leave and go into employment so I can get back to normal life. I want to put what's happened behind me and move on.... I don't have any fears, because there's no point really. If you start to worry about things, that's when you stop doing things. You just have to crack on.”
Tributes to those who have given their lives or been wounded in the service of their country
Colonel Richard Kemp. Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said:“Today we remember above all the Great Fallen, those who have given all fighting for our country. But we must never forget our valiant fighting men and women who have been severely wounded in action. Whether their wounds are physical or psychological, they have made sacrifices that few of us will ever be called upon to make. Limbs blown off, blinded, deafened, severely burnt or traumatised into the shadows, in many cases their lives, and their families' lives, have been shattered forever.
They receive little public attention, but we must never ever forget what they have given in order to defend us. And more than that, we must ensure that the government does everything possible to look after them for as long as necessary. Charity organizations are important in looking after our wounded, but the government that sent them into battle retains the ultimate responsibility for their welfare. ”
Former veterans minister, Lord Touhig, said: “We also have to be concerned about those who are wounded in the service of our country and face a life of pain, suffering and misery. I saw this to a great degree when I was a veterans minister. We owe them a care of duty for the rest of their lives.
I think as a country we simply do not do enough for our veterans. I felt this when I was veterans minister and feel it now. We just do not do enough for those who serve, and I think particularly for those who end up with a mental illness....There is a view that people who have served in the armed forces are supposed to get priority in the health service. Well, I never found that, I didn't find it when I was minister and I don't think it happens now. We owe a debt to make sure that they are cared for and are given a degree of priority in healthcare - they are bearing wounds that they got as a result of serving this country... I do feel we should have done more...compared to what the US does for its ex-servicemen and women we don't even begin to scratch the surface I'm afraid.”
Lord West, former First Sea Lord, said: “For every one killed there are more who are damaged physically and mentally - to them this goes on forever...this is for the rest of their lives and it's something that we have a responsibility for. We really mustn't forget them, they have really got to be looked after because we have in the past I'm afraid as a nation after small wars, forgotten our people....we are far better than we ever were but it has got to be a combination of government and charity. And on the charitable side it has been very good but we all know this is likely to fade away and we must not let it fade away.”
Colonel Stuart Tootal, awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for leading the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan in 2006, said: “It is of course right that we remember our war dead, but after a decade of recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is also important to not only remember, but actively support the thousands of Service personnel who have suffered as a result of their service. Whether they bear the physical or psychological scars of war, many will need the support of the public when they leave the military long after the fighting is over.”
Lt General Sir Graeme Lamb, former director of UK Special Forces, said: “'In a year or two Parliament and to a large extent the People will have forgotten or would wish to forget the last 12 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan - the importance of continuing to maintain the level of support and care to our wounded and the families of those we lost will test the true character of this Nation. Words are and will be of little value deeds are what matter. So, the commitment by Government to the Defence National Rehabilitation Centre and the promises by the responsible Departments of State to look after our people for the next 60 years will be the measure by which we should judge our Political leaders in the next 10 - 20 turns of the political cycle time will be the test of their and our commitment. For the time being all is well enough'.”
James Arbuthnot MP, chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said: “As Chair of the Defence Committee, I pay tribute to all British personnel who have died in the service of their country. In particular our thoughts are with those who have been killed or wounded in recent conflicts. We also express our deep gratitude for the vital contribution made by the families of Armed Forces personnel. I consider it one of the Committee's most important roles to ensure that the government of the day looks after those men and women who will bear the wounds of battle for the rest of their lives."
A spokesperson for The Royal British Legion said: "Remembrance is not just about those who fought and died in the two World Wars of the last century, but also about those involved in the many other conflicts worldwide since 1945, those still fighting for peace and freedom now and those who have been injured or wounded while Serving with the Armed Forces. It is also about learning from the past and resolving to make the world a better place to live in the future."
Lt Col (Retd) Jerome Church, chief executive of Blesma (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association) says: "Blesma always parades at the Cenotaph. Our Members suffer the consequences of war. Though out the year we work to improve the lives of those who have survived and we - who have come close to paying the final price are conscious on Remembrance Sunday only of those who did - many were our friends.“
The five charities who will share the proceeds
Blesma is a national charity that supports servicemen and servicewomen who have lost limbs or eyesight during combat. Blesma services include helping the wounded get access to prosthetics, counselling, grants, and advice on going back into employment after injury.
Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan's) is a national charity that provides blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women with lifelong support including welfare support, rehabilitation, training, residential and respite care.
Combat Stress counsels soldiers with psychological wounds for example: depression, phobias, anxiety, relationship problems and, in some cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
SSAFA offer help to members of the UK armed forces and also to their families and those dependent on them. SSAFA offer accommodation, advice and company in times of need and upheaval.
War Child is a small international charity that protects children from the brutal effects of war and its consequences, currently working in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Uganda. They support vulnerable children by convincing government officials to spend more money on child protection and advising governments on how to achieve this.
'Wounded: The Legacy of War', photography by Bryan Adams, edited by Caroline Froggatt. Published by Steidl; £50
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