Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2019 - a Veteran's perspective

Tuesday 11 June 2019

As a 16-year-old in a small town in Northumberland, Richard seemed to have three choices - the dole, the local chicken factory or the Forces. After two years at the chicken factory he realised he was wasting his life and joined the Royal Engineers in October 1999. He says it was the ‘best decision I ever made’. Over the next thirteen years Richard served his country in Northern Ireland, Germany, the Falklands, Canada, and two tours of Iraq before being posted to Afghanistan.

In January 2013 his unit was preparing to hand over a patrol base to the Afghan National Army (ANA). On the night before they were due to draw back to Camp Bastion, a rogue ANA soldier opened fire onto their position. Richard was shot six times, in both arms, chest and stomach. Seven soldiers were shot in total. “I remember the whole incident from lying on the ground having battlefield first aid treatment, and hearing my comrades screaming that they had been shot. All I was thinking was to stay awake and alert as a high percentage of casualties that make it back to Camp Bastion Hospital alive, survive. When drifting into unconsciousness I thought it's 50/50 now.”

 

Richard woke in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham with his wife by his side. He spent four and a half weeks in Intensive Care, where it was touch and go, before being moved up onto the ward for the next five weeks. He then spent two years at Headley Court undergoing intensive rehabilitation.

 

Richard outlines his injuries: “I have limited movement in my right arm where a round went through my elbow, I lost a kidney, some of my intestines were removed, a round skimmed my spine which is where the nerve damage to my legs occurred, a round was deemed safer to be left in my liver than to remove it, I have fragments of rounds all over the place and I had a colostomy bag for a year before it was successfully reversed.

 

“The reason I am mentioning my injuries is that when I first went up onto the ward, I was telling everyone how I was pleased I was the worst injured and everyone else was okay.”

 

His Regimental Sergeant Major and Staff Sergeant Major decided it was time to explain there was a fatality during the incident. Sapper Richie Walker had been shot and the round caused internal bleeding. Richard says, “There was nothing the lads on the ground could have done for him. All the injuries I had sustained and the pain I deal with every day is a blessing compared to the alternative. Richie was a young man with a young daughter.

 

“I remember Richie every day and he was, as always, in my thoughts, as well as the other young men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as I attended the ceremonies on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride in 2018 and will be again on this ride.”

 

“Help for Heroes has helped me in many ways since my new life with these injuries started. The experience of last year’s ride was phenomenal. The ride was a mixture of emotions ranging from jubilation and pride to be cycling alongside fellow Band of Brothers/Sisters and fundraisers alike, to sombre reflection at the memorials and Battlefield Guide stops along the way.

 

“The main thing Help for Heroes has done for me is to bring back the sense of camaraderie that I miss from my time in the Forces - meeting others like the Band of Brothers and Sisters from last year’s ride and this year, who all have their own stories and recovery journey; sharing stories and reminiscing. I have seen how Help for Heroes has helped me and others in more ways than I can mention. It's only possible that me and other Veterans get the help and support because people have taken time off work and sacrificed their own time to fundraise.

 

“I feel privileged and humbled by it and it’s an honour to cycle alongside every one of them in the coming week.” 

If Richard's story has inspired you - sign up today for the Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2020, commemorating 80 years since Dunkirk.

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