Abandoned Heroes


By Robert Hardman – Daily Mail Thursday 31st August.

We send them to fight our wars and are quick to celebrate their victories

So why do we so easily forget the tragic victims of battle?

JUST standing up causes Dave Corrigan much pain. Injured in Iraq, evacuated to Britain, this gallant Para was dumped at an RAF base in the middle of the night and left to hitchhike his way home. Three years. on, his leg is getting worse. And the worst part of it? Officialdom doesn’t want to know. Like numerous ex-soldiers, his only ally these days is a charity which has been quietly tending the unsung casualties of every Army deployment since World War II. But it has never faced a crisis like this. The problem is a simple one: our generosity appears to be drying up. Much as we salute the heroism of our forces when the bands strike up on the big anniversaries, we have become increas­ingly reluctant to help our service charities since the invasion of Iraq.

‘I am afraid that the sums speak for themselves,’ says Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, controller of the Army Benevolent Fund (ABF). ‘If a cause captures the public’s imagi­nation, the money follows. After the Falk­lands conflict, the public donated £11 mil­lion for the three services. ‘After the first Gulf War, which lasted 100 hours, the British people donated £3.5 mil­lion. More than three years after the inva­sion of Iraq, we have raised less than £400,000. When it’s an unpopular cause, the money does not follow.’ Iraq has already claimed the lives of 116 British troops. More than 4,000 have been airlifted home on medical grounds, some with appalling injuries. Some will return to active duty or busy lives elsewhere. Many, though, will have lasting problems. When these soldiers and their families need those things that make a real difference — the new wheelchair the new plastic limb, the therapy sessions, the stair lift, the educational grant to help that difficult teenager whose Dad is never coming home — they won’t get them from the Government. They will turn to organisations like the ABF. The Fund needs to raise £5 million a year to cope with existing demands. It is about to receive many more calls on its resources from those affected not just by Iraq but also by events in Afghanistan. But if we are not prepared to top up the pot, then that £5 million is going to have to be spread far wider. Hence the urgent need for fund-raising events such as next month’s Music On Fire!, a spectacular con­cert of music and several tons of fireworks (sponsored by the Daily Mail), which will explode above Sandhurst over three nights.

CERTAINLY, without chari­ties like the ABF, life would be very much worse for Dave Corrigan, 46, a married father-of-one. A former Lance Corporal in the Parachute Regiment, he became an ambu­lance driver in civilian life but remained a devoted member of the Paras’ Territorial Army wing. In 2003, the part-time soldier was ordered off to war with 16 Air Assault Brigade as an ambulance field commander. ‘I was very proud to go out to Iraq and do my bit. That’s what we trained for,’ he tells me at his County Durham home. In March 2003, he damaged his knee falling out of a speeding ambu­lance in a nasty battle near Adaiya. Medics diagnosed a serious trauma to the knee and ordered him back to the UK for treatment. But on arrival at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire, he was told to see a GP and sent on his way in the middle of the night without so much as a travel warrant. He hitched a lift all the way back to Darlington. Eventually, he received two botched operations in a military hospital before being medically discharged in 2004. The Army had washed its hands of Corporal Corn­gan, even though he was anything but mended. The pain in his leg was so severe he feared for his job as an ambu­lance driver. He had no joy with his local MP — a certain Tony Blair — but his case was raised in the Commons by a Tory. Eventually, a junior Defence Minister apologized for the way he had been treated. But, by now, he could barely walk. With a six-month wait for an oper­ation, Mr Corngan had no alterna­tive but to go private — except that his savings were not enough to cover the £4,000 cost of the opera­tion. In desperation, he turned to the ABE’, who investigated his case and quickly agreed to foot the bill. ‘They were fantastic — both with their advice and their funding,’ he says. When you are this low, it means a lot to have an organisation like the ABF with you.’

Darren Swift, 40, is equally indebted. In 1991, an IRA bomb in Belfast cost him both legs and two fingers. The tough Lance Corporal in the Royal Gneenjackets suddenly faced life in a wheelchair. ‘The regiment were great, but I needed a new direction,’ he says. He met Al Hodgson, another ex-soldier who had also lost his legs to terror­ists, and the pair wanted to prove themselves with a daring canoe expedition down a treacherous Canadian river. An ABF grant helped it happen and it changed their lives.

With renewed confidence, the two men took up sky­diving and ended up as national champions. Mr. Swift’s other achieve­ments include wheeling himself across Iceland for charity and a side­line in film stunts — which got him a role in Band Of Brothers. ‘We formed a group called Amputees In Action. When producers want people blown to bits on camera, they come to us,’ he chuckles. Married with a young daughter, he is irrepressible. We meet in a wind tunnel, of all places. It is called Airkix, a gravity-defying tube in Mil­ton Keynes which replicates the sen­sation of falling out of a plane. You stand in a doorway above a safety net, fall forwards and float around on a carpet of air blasting up. With the help of another ABF grant, Mr. Swift is here learning how to become a skydiving instructor. And he has also been perfecting the first snowboard for amputees. This remarkable man is eternally grateful to the ABF, as is David Lof­tus. ‘They have seen it all before,’ says the chaplain of the Royal Mili­tary School of Music as he speeds about its Twickenham HQ in his electric wheelchair. His cheerful enthusiasm makes ‘the padre’ one of the most popular figures round here but he wasn’t always so upbeat. Back in 1980, Mr. Swift was play­ing the tuba in the band of the Queen’s Own Hussars, stationed in Hong Kong. His duties extended well beyond music. He was on bor­der patrol in a remote corner of the New Territories when a typhoon struck. Sheltering beneath a groundsheet, a bolt of lightning struck his radio set and he felt a sharp tingling through his body. A quick check-up suggested that he was fine and he resumed his duties until a few weeks later when his legs gave way. The military hospital checked him out and came back with a grim diagnosis. ‘They said: “Your knee joints are cooked.” His days in the band were over. He left the Army for a job with a charity but, by 1996, he could barely walk with a stick. A knee replacement failed and, following a deep infection and a pulmonary embolism, there was no alternative to an amputation in 2000. ‘That brought a whole new set of problems. It wasn’t a life. It was an existence.’ But he didn’t give up. He and his wife, Ros, a secretary, set out to raise the £68,000 needed to alter their Middlesex home. When a council grant and their savings fell £10,000 short, he turned to the ABE ‘We were in a very vulnerable posi­tion but they knew these problems instantly and their advice and fund­ing sorted everything out.’ As a result, Mr. Loftus is now determined to ‘put something back’, working with a youth band and part-time as chaplain at the school. ‘The Army is like a family. You never really leave it and it never leaves you,’ he says. Like all families, though, it has its breaking point. Right now, it needs the rest of us. But if we are going to send it off to fight our wars, charge it with war crimes when we don’t like the results and turn our backs on it when the injured stagger home, then we should not be surprised if, one day, there is no one to protect us at all.


This is a pretty appalling state of affairs, and there is just so little comment about it, I think people have switched off now, it's just another story.
And the more injuries and deaths that are reported almost on a daily basis lately, people seem to become immune to it.

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