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Those who serve in the British military do so knowing one day they could be injured. For it to actually happen to someone twice seems unimaginable. This was the case for Carl Shadrake.
During his first tour of Afghanistan in 2007 he was in his armoured vehicle on patrol when, metres away, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing the driver and seriously injuring Carl: “The vehicle flipped over on to its side and our spare fuel caught fire. It was carnage and then we got engaged by the Taliban. We were only in a two vehicle convoy so the front one had to pull over and give us a bit of covering fire while we managed to get over to it. My neck was punctured and I lost eight units of blood. It was just a complete daze really.”
After a long recovery in hospital, Carl returned to his unit: “I was promoted, got married and started to get my life back on track.” Five years after his injury, he was told he would be returning to Afghanistan. Understandably he was extremely nervous about what lay ahead: “I had to fight my demons to go back the second time after being injured. I dug pretty deep to get on that flight back to Afghanistan.”
Nearly four months into his second tour in 2012, disaster struck again, this time on a foot patrol: “We were chasing the Taliban to steal information off them. We got to a rough compound and unfortunately one of the guys stood on an Improvised Explosive Device and lost both of his legs. The blast blew me backwards and shrapnel entered my stomach and I damaged my shoulder. Luckily I was wearing my eye protection so although the IED took a few layers of skin off my face I kept my eyes.”
Carl knew he was hurt but all he was concerned about was getting his wounded comrade to safety. He was able to radio one of the helicopters overhead and asked for an emergency evacuation: “We were in the helicopter going back to Bastion but there were no doctors on board, so it was just me holding his hand trying to tell him that everything was going to be alright.”
It wasn’t until they landed that Carl realised how much pain he himself was in: “I was put in a wheelchair and vaguely remembered the doctor telling me I might wake up in hospital in Birmingham before he injected me. Sure enough, I did. When I woke up I found out my wounded friend had survived, so it was all worth it.”
A month after his injury, Carl was told his brother, also serving in Afghanistan, had been shot and killed. He was devastated and, combined with everything that had already happened, his life began taking a downward spiral: “I started to really struggle psychologically due to my injury, losing my Army career and my brother dying. He joined my unit and I kept having the thought ‘was he there because of me?’”
Together, Carl and his wife Angie tried to carry on with life as best they could but it was clear they needed help. His injuries and experiences had changed him and were affecting both of their lives.
Carl had heard about Help for Heroes from his wounded Army friends who had joined its fellowship group the Band of Brothers. He became a member and has seen his life turn around for the better: “Being a Band of Brother and spending time at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centres have been a real boost for my recovery. I’ve been on courses, including one on nutrition because I’m training for an Ironman, relaxed in the beautiful gardens and got away from it all. The staff there have a buzz about them, there is just a great atmosphere around the Recovery Centres, which makes you instantly chill out.”
Angie is now a member of the Band of Sisters and like Carl is feeling optimistic about the future: “Help for Heroes offers so much support, from having someone I can speak with to helping me with Carl. It’s lovely to see the good people in the world that are prepared to offer up their services. The respite I also get means the world to me. It makes me feel normal again.”
For Carl, being with his family is the most important thing so he’s delighted they’re getting the help they need too: “Any support for the family is always good but knowing that support from the public is a result of me being in the Armed Forces, well, it means a lot. It’s great to know that people are supporting not just Service Personnel and Veterans but their families too – they play such a crucial part. It’s a really warm feeling knowing that the public are willing to dedicate their time to help people like myself and my family. Thank you.”