In 2006, Sergeant Martin Beaney was a Corporal. ‘When we heard we were being deployed, we were all excited to be going and many of us had watched the news with a keen interest. My personal feelings about the tour were that it would be like nothing we had done before, like Northern Ireland and we knew that people may possibly not come home.’
In November 2006, the battalion settled into Shaiba, a logistical base. To start with, everything was relatively quiet and threats from mortars were minimal. From there, they moved into Basra Palace and life changed. Mortars came in regularly with the alarms going off up to six times a day. In December, Martin was able to go home for six days to be present at the birth of his first son, Henry, but on return to Basra, though, he was straight back into work. He was section commander with their Bulldog vehicles, going on routine patrols and admin runs into the Old State Building (OSB).
On the 6th January 2007, Martin and his team were due to go out in the early morning but because of heavy fog they were delayed. ‘I remember talking to my colleagues, having the usual banter before leaving at about 1000hrs, spirits were high. I was commander in the back of the Bulldog and on one of the spots that are used to help us navigate our way around Basra we stopped to do a very usual vulnerable point check to assess the threat of IEDs’ explains Martin, ‘usually the Rifleman would debus and check the route along the road but this time I decided I would check. My 2nd in command and I got out, I went to the left side and he went to the right. In hindsight the area was quiet.’ On certain days the spot was a bustling market area with livestock and stalls.
‘I remember moving up the road, it was usual to see piles of rubble and rubbish strewn up the road. I remember approaching a particular pile’ continues Martin ‘someone must have been observing me and set off a roadside bomb. I don’t recall this but remember coming around and not being able to move. I knew that something wasn’t right and I felt a warm sensation in the groin area. I tried to call for help, apparently it was more of a whimper, but the team came rushing. I was picked up and put into a Bulldog heading to the camp which was about 500m away. What I didn’t know was that my femoral artery was severed and my friend, Cpl Mooney, had placed his hand in my groin to stem the bleeding. Everything was a confused blur but I wasn’t in pain. I do remember asking the guys who took me out of the vehicle if a certain part of my body was still there to which I got a smart remark -the banter still goes on!’
A medic gave Martin lifesaving surgery before being put on the RAF Med helicopter. Martin was flown to the hospital in Shaiba where he was put under anaesthetic. The next thing he remembers is waking up in Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham 6 days later. ‘To say I was confused is an understatement. I didn’t cope very well and suffered from paranoia and confusion. I was fortunate enough to have kept all my limbs but I had lost a lot of soft tissue on my arms and legs and my left kneecap had been shattered and removed and I lost one of my crown jewels! My initial thoughts were ‘what will happen to me now?’ will I be able to get back to my original state’ among many other things.’
After a rocky start, Martin slowly got healthier and eight weeks later, in March, he was moved straight to Headley Court. ‘I’d never even heard of the place before this but I would get to know the place very well for the next year and a half. They were instrumental in my rehab. I met a lot of soldiers who were injured from both Iraq and Afghan and was surprised at how many there were. We were all in the same boat; we had the usual rivalry and banter and sympathy for each other was minimal. Our mindset was ‘you’re here, let’s get on and get better and get out!’ If it wasn’t for the rehab, who knows what would have become of us but it really helped massively. I became really involved in Battle Back whilst there and started playing golf which I’d never done before. My real introduction to Battle Back, though, was on the Snow Warrior Expedition. It was a truly excellent opportunity and made me realise there was life to be lived in this capacity and from then on I have moved on from rehab and am fortunate enough to still be in employment.’