Friday, 7 January 2011
I don't know about you, but I find something slightly uncomfortable about women serving in the front line. It's possibly to do with my generation who never experienced women in combat roles. Traditionally they were the nurses - the mothering arm of the military - and for many a male they provided a fond memory of home. Nurses were kept away as far away from the front line as possible by their male colleagues.
The Army has changed though and women are deployed in today's wars. They struggled to be accepted alongside their male colleagues and now they are they deserve respect for entering a profession in which, during these years of warmongering politicians, they know there's a good possibility they will be sent to war.
Hannah Campbell (pictured) decided to join the Army in 2002 to do a nursing degree. She admits to being naive but says nine years ago there were no conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan, where figures show that, regardless of the military surge in the past year, the situation has not improved.
She married a colleague in 2004 and had her daughter in 2005. Her husband was scheduled to go to Afghanistan in 2007 and at the same time Hannah was offered the opportunity to go on her first tour to Iraq alongside the Royal Artillery.
"Because of Milly, only one of us would have to be away. I was worried about Jamie going to Afghanistan where the conflict seemed to be escalating. It felt safer for me to go."
Her welcome was a mortar alarm which warns of indirect shellfire. The welcome never ceased. She hadn't been prepared for the physical ache which accompanied missing her daughter dreadfully.
The day before her flight home disaster struck. She was on guard duty when the attack came and the last thing she remembers is hearing shots fired. A bomb hit the building burying Hannah inside. The American Special Forces helped pull her free and she woke up in hospital with serious injuries. One of them was a smashed foot. Her heel bone and the joints around it had shattered. Back home, after being stabilised for the journey, she spent a considerable time in Selly Oak, Birmingham. The medics had done their best to patch up her foot but she just couldn't escape the pain, which eventually drove her to using a wheelchair. Her weight doubled and, combined with the pain medication, she felt no one understood her.
It was her GP who suggested she consider amputation late in 2009 and her surgeon, Professor Keith Porter, who was knighted last week for his services to the military, agreed it might be best. To help with her decision she visited he military rehabilitation centre at Headley Court to meet amputees and she talked with Kate Philp, the only other woman who had lost a leg in active service. Image played a big part because she says the men she met wore their war wounds with pride, but it's different for a woman. She wanted to know if she would be able to wear high heels.
The pain made up her mind though and she had her operation last May. "Waking up in hospital without my leg was wonderful. The pain went instantly. I felt like the girl I was before."
Does she have any regrets? "I wouldn't change anything. I'm a stronger person for it." Hannah hopes to run the London Marathon one day and has a skiing holiday and scuba-diving trip planned through Forces rehabilitation charity Battle Back. She can wear high heels. I wish her all the best for the future.
However, Hannah is one of many and the appalling loss of young limbs continues unabated. Military charities have become increasingly concerned that the NHS is not adequately equipped to support amputee veterans to the same outstanding standards provided by Headley Court. The government have announced a review into the care of former personnel who have lost limbs serving their country. Another review, perhaps to gather dust on a shelf, who knows.
Like me, John Nicol, a former RAF officer and now writer, has also found statistics difficult to come by and the Ministry of Defence has been reluctant to offer exact figures about the numbers and types of battle injuries sustained. I've been trying to gain information for a few months now but my efforts are in vain. BLESMA (The British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association) estimates that there have been more than 200 amputees of which some 50 have been double amputees and there are now around 15 servicemen who have lost three limbs. As Mr Nicol states, there is no self-pity amid those with these terrible injuries and each and every one of them that he spoke to said they were 'lucky' and that many of their colleagues' situations were far worse.
He acknowledges the Armed Forces have made great changes in the care provided for injured veterans but his concern - and mine - is that with the reduction in funding the burden will fall on military charities. I know the military charities picked up the pieces of lives from the Falklands War. They had no option as the MoD provided little or nothing.
A modern prosthetic limb can cost £15,000 plus and may need to be replaced or refurbished regularly. Our wounded veterans are the nation's responsibility and the nation should be paying out of central funds. Charities should be there to provide the 'added extras' to make life easier and not to fund the basic priorities of our wounded and compensate for care which the NHS cannot provide.
I finish with a quote from Mr Nicol's article:
Our servicemen and women have always been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. In return, they should expect their country to look after them in their hour of need, however long it takes, and whatever the cost. They deserve nothing less.