Reality check

Sergeant Ian Forsyth – an Army Photographer with the Royal Logistic Corps – looks back at a visit to Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey, and recalls meeting a number of troops as they recover from their injuries. Contains strong language. 

I attended a media event on 26 May at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey. The event was to highlight a new project that has begun at the centre. Traditionally, the centre at Headley Court has taken the lead in the rehabilitation and recovery process for troops injured, primarily during operations, but also as a result of other injuries sustained through sports or other military activities.

Guardsman Lamin Manneh from Windsor and originally from the Gambia serves with Number 2 Company Irish Guards

Guardsman Lamin Manneh from Windsor and originally from the Gambia serves with Number 2 Company Irish Guards

This particular event saw the launch of a newly-refurbished greenhouse and allotment area within the grounds of Headley Court that will challenge patients with complex injuries and hopefully try and encourage them to overcome the challenges of working at different heights, standing on varying slopes and surfaces, as well as lifting and moving objects.

Guardsman Lamin Manneh

Guardsman Lamin Manneh

The gardening tasks also provide cognitive therapy for troops, with some evidence to suggest that being in an outdoor environment reduces stress which can lead to improved concentration and encourage people to think through their problems or concerns.

Much has already been written about the fortitude and strength of character of injured troops as they make their long and challenging journey back to some kind of ‘normal’ life, as far as their injuries will allow, and after meeting with some of the soldiers and marines and chatting to them yesterday, I can only reinforce that here.

Private Scott Meenagh, 21, was serving with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment when he was injured in Afghanistan

Private Scott Meenagh, 21, was serving with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment when he was injured in Afghanistan

Chatting to some it was obvious that they had been through the worst of times – and then some – but they were, generally, very positive about their progress and remained upbeat about their situation. All were very positive about their treatment at the centre and considering some of the time-frames between being injured and walking, albeit tentatively on prosthetic limbs, it was remarkable. In one case it was only a matter of weeks!

Royal Marines Aaron Moon from Wigan and Tristan Sykes from Norwich at work in the greenhouse of the new project at Headley Court

Royal Marines Aaron Moon from Wigan and Tristan Sykes from Norwich at work in the greenhouse of the new project at Headley Court

As one of the injured servicemen, speaking about the moment he was caught in the IED blast said to me,”It happened on the battlefield, that was always going to be a risk, but you have to accept that risk. What you going to do? Fuck it, you just have to get on with it.”

One of the soldiers, Guardsman Lamin Manneh from Windsor, was caught in an IED blast in Afghanistan. He now has a home in Windsor where he lives with his wife and young son. Originally from the Gambia he lost his left arm and both of his legs during a patrol in Helmand Province. One would think that this kind of injury would be enough to leave anyone broken and yet, despite the injuries, I’ve not met a more upbeat and cheerful bloke in a long time – injured or otherwise.

Royal Marine Aaron Moon from Wigan

Royal Marine Aaron Moon from Wigan

He told me how the rehabilitation process he has gone through is very demanding and challenging, frequently leaving him completely knackered, exhausted and at times frustrated. He spoke of the great work the nurses and physiotherapists do with them and how they push them, in a controlled way, to allow them to reach their full potential on their own journeys to recovery. Showing with some pride the pictures on his phone of him taking part in some of the physio sessions to help improve his ‘core’ body strength.

An injured soldier cuts turf in preparation for a garden in the grounds of Headley Court.

An injured soldier cuts turf in preparation for a garden in the grounds of Headley Court.

Some spoke with candour about how their injuries were sustained. How they were tossed in the air as the IED detonated, literally, under their feet, how they remembered somersaulting several times before landing heavily on their back and looking down at their missing legs. With dry humour they remembered reaching down and feeling for their balls to see if they were still there – and relief that they were!

Others spoke of how they were looking forward to leaving Headley Court and finishing their course of treatment, rehab and physio appointments and beginning the next chapter of their lives. Some had definite and firm ideas of what they wanted to do when they leave and begin life in the civilian world. Others were not too certain as to what they would eventually end up doing but none of them, at any time, mentioned that the injuries they have would be a reason not to do what they wanted.

Marine Tristan Sykes, 30 from Norwich in Norfolk sits outside the new greenhouse at Headley Court

Marine Tristan Sykes, 30 from Norwich in Norfolk sits outside the new greenhouse at Headley Court

I have no doubt that at times these and other personnel with injuries sustained in the most violent of situations feel at the lowest a person can feeltheir own ‘darkest hour’but you can’t help but feel that because they have experienced the worst that can be thrown at them nothing will phase them in the future and they seem stronger for that.

You leave the place after meeting these blokes with a feeling of humility and more than a little embarrassment when you think about something that had recently pissed you off or about something that wound you up – in the greater scheme of things, most of these issues pale into insignificance by comparison.

Guardsman Colum McGeown, 27, serves with 1st Battalion Irish Guards and is undergoing physiotherapy treatment at Headley Court after a severe injury following an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan.

Guardsman Colum McGeown, 27, serves with 1st Battalion Irish Guards and is undergoing physiotherapy treatment at Headley Court after a severe injury following an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan.

All personnel featured in this post kindly gave their consent for pictures to be used in support of this article. Sergeant Forsyth’s personal blog can be viewed here.

35 thoughts on “Reality check

  1. Eileen says:

    All these guys are amazing, such courage, it’s high time the Government treated them the way they deserve to be treated and stopped all the cuts> Bring them home before any more are injured or killed!!
    Total Respect guys, you deserve so much more !

    Like

  2. andy fenner says:

    There are very few times when I read something and it makes me stop and think and have no words. This as one of them. I would just like to say thank you to the guys for all they have done, for their bravery in the first place and their bravery now. I wish you all the very best.

    Like

  3. ElaineS says:

    The bravest of brave! So grateful for all our troops for their bravery and putting their lives on the line to make the UK/Afghanistan a safer place. My son came home from tour in April but my thoughts and prayers continue daily for all of you and our wonderful troops out in Afghanistan. Thank you.

    Like

  4. fran luxton says:

    I struggle to find the words that describes these guys, amazing,brave courageous….. don’t seem to be enough .We have the best Armed Forces in the world and what these guys have been through and are still going through proves it .
    Love and respect for each and every one of you x

    Like

  5. sarah burgess says:

    My utmost respect goes out to all these guys at Hedley Court, their bravery and courage facing such adversity is extremely humbling to say the least and i wish them the best of luck and goodwill for their futures.

    Like

  6. Chrissy says:

    Proper help and support from our Government is long overdue. Ultimate Respect for each and every one of you Guys, you are all such an inspiration to us all. Wishing every one of you all the best for your Future, Keep Fighting, Keep the Faith, THANK YOU for your Service, for ensuring those left behind continue to live in the Freedom we can all take for granted, we all owe you a debt we can repay. Proud of each and every one of you xxx

    Like

  7. jenny says:

    you are all an inspiration. to do what you have done, and get through what has happened is truly amazing good luck to you all for the future.xx

    Like

  8. Mike Turner says:

    We have the pleasure of meeting many of these Injured Service Personnel and their families. They make our jobs a dream. Total respect to all the Injured and their fantastic families and friends. Regards from All at SSAFA Norton House – Headley

    Like

  9. Jak Hodgson says:

    All these servicemen men and women deserve the utmost respect. Their bravery and courage is truly amazing and inspirational to us all. The way they are is treated is a National digrace and they do NOT deserve any cuts, especially in safety equipment, benefits, compensation or aftercare. Each and every one of our Service Men and Women AND animals fight for us and many give their lives, so they must all have our Respect, love, prayers and help. God Bless you all. xxx

    Like

  10. benjonlambert says:

    Reading about these guys just blows me away. The determination & courage to battle through the aftermath of war is truly incredible.

    It definitely makes you realise how lucky we are to have such amazing people as part of the British Armed Forces. Big respect to you all!

    Like

  11. neil says:

    You boys and girls are the very best.Thank you all for all you have/will do.I hope you all get the treatment you need.brave be to all who know’s you.Always thankfull……

    Like

  12. Frank H. Warwick says:

    Sometimes its difficult to find words, seeing them smileing after the hell that they have gone through. How proad i am of these BRAVE men and women of which we are all part of, in one way or another. Britain is part of them and them of Britain and its our nations duty to serve them now like they served the nation. God bless you all.

    Like

  13. sally says:

    You guys are a true inspiration to everyone, I have struggled with ill health and continue to do so, during my darker times I reflect on the hardships of others and consider myself to be lucky in comparison to what you all go through both physically, emotionally, financially, in relationships, etc.
    I salute you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you are and all that you do.
    Much Love Sally XXXX

    Like

  14. Nicky Hatton says:

    Hi there, big respect, much love and never ending support to all these guys, they are the real heroes and role models in this world, and I hope that they continue to recover and re-invent their lives. Its a new page boys, use all your brightest colours!!!!

    Nik x

    Like

  15. steve walters says:

    These guys have shown courage and strengh with their dedication to their duty and have suffered greatly with the appaling injuries they have sustained and have then showed further courage strenght and resilience in their determination to overcome their difficulties
    No doubt they have many many trying times ahead, they deserve the support and admiration of each and every one of us and this and any government need to show their appreciation and grattitude for the sacrifices made by all our service personel and support them NO MATTER WHAT THE COST

    Like

  16. lola coleridge says:

    god bless all our armed forces they are a special breed so brave and total dedication to regiment, and country, my g/son is in headly court and he says its a fantastic place we are hoping for great things for him , we would like to say a huge thank you for keeping our country safe, you will never know how much we appreciate all you do ,
    GOD BLESS YOU ALL X X X MR & MRS C.

    Like

  17. pamela gorrill says:

    Each and every one of them are hero,s,, their bravery is amazing,bless them all,,Pam x x x x x ( in Canada )

    Like

  18. sylvia georgina newnham says:

    The strength of character and bravery of these young men is breathtaking and inspirational. Good luck with all you do in the future and I hope this country does the very best by you, the very least we can do. x

    Like

  19. Suzyboo says:

    Just want to say what a brilliant article, moved me to tears to read, these guys are such an inspiration to everyone, and so deserve much more respect than is given to them,they are all true heroes, and i would just like to say a big thank you to them for all they have done, very best wishes for there continuede recovery

    Like

  20. kev Mitchell says:

    Having had the privalage to see first hand what they do at Headley Court all I can say is a Big Thank you to all the staff for helping our lads and lasses to try to lead a normal life good luck and god bless you all

    Like

  21. Kerry Maria Lawson says:

    Most inspiring & such heroism. These guys & girls know life goes on, they show no bitterness. Proud I’v met many @Marathon. X

    Like

  22. Terry Bolton says:

    These guys are a true inspiration, not only to me, but to many others around the world.
    To push on in life as they do is a credit to them and their regiments, they truely are Heroes.
    Let it be known that we as a nation are very grateful and extremley proud of all of our Armed Services, and the support teams that care for our wounded and their families …
    Best Wishes to All, and THANK YOU… x

    Like

  23. Nigel Cory says:

    As an old soldier who had it easy in earlier times, I am humbled by the wonderful people who are serving now. Your courage, determination and good humour under the most difficult and painful circumstances is beyond belief.

    Thank you and God Bless

    Like

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