In November 2014, Stuart attended a world film premiere in Leicester Square. Dressed in black tie, with medals adorning his chest, he was stopped on the red carpet for interview repeatedly. It was a surreal experience because Stuart is not an actor or film director; he’s a former paratrooper – and was undoubtedly one of the most important guests on the night.
The film Kajaki, set in Afghanistan in summer of 2006, tells the true story of 12 men who risked their lives to help each other. By the end of their ordeal, Corporal Mark Wright had died aged 27, three of the men had lost limbs – one being Stuart – and another three had been seriously injured. Their incredible bravery earned four of them medals from the Queen.
Stuart, now a property developer and casualty simulation specialist says the film’s scriptwriters did a good job. “Although I’d read the script a few times, I was still surprised when the mines went off. But I managed not to cry, and even my girlfriend, Julia, held it together. I held her hand throughout the film. It’s not too distressing for me now.”
Stuart was given the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for his actions. He now plays the role of someone wounded to train medics and other Service Personnel. “Having real amputees there for training, with realistic blood and ‘stage make up’, will mean that when a medic is faced with a real-life situation where someone has lost a limb it will be less of a visual shock and enable them to do their job better.
“It’s paid work and gives me huge job satisfaction: Recently we worked with a unit that was hopeless at the start of the week and vastly improved by the end. Working with me, looking like I’ve just lost my leg, might enable someone to save a life in the future.”
Stuart first heard about Help for Heroes when he was an in-patient in Headley Court, a year after being injured. He was asked to join the first Big Battlefield Bike Ride and said yes before he was told the distance. “Someone said it’s 350 miles and I thought, ‘what have I done’, but I couldn’t back out because I’m a para! It was very hard but I raised £6,000.”
Help for Heroes later funded Stuart’s gear for racing in KartForce, which gets injured troops into the exciting world of Motorsport through karting: “It was great to take part – racing against able-bodied people and winning was good for moral. It was also fantastic to be part of a team again with the comradery and banter you get in the Forces.”
Stuart believes Help for Heroes came at just the right time: “The public were seeing coffins coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan but nothing was being said about the injured. The statistics were something like that for every person killed there were six men wounded. Help for Heroes raised awareness and gave the public an outlet to show support without being political. Ten years on and it’s amazing what’s been achieved: So many people, and other charities, have been helped and I honestly believe If it wasn’t for Help for Heroes the public wouldn’t have clue how many injured there are.”