A former Royal Marine who survived being blown up by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan has told of his long journey of recovery.
Alec Robotham, from Lovedean, is part of a team of injured veterans from Walking With The Wounded trekking 1,000 miles across Britain.
During a stop off at Gosport’s Institute of Naval Medicine, in Alverstoke, the 29-year-old relived the moment he was hurt in 2010.
He was on a routine patrol in Helmand province when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his chest rig of explosives just behind him.
‘The only reason I’m here today is because I was facing away from the suicide bomber,’ he said.
‘He blew himself up about a metre and a half behind me and the equipment on my back saved my life.’
However, the blast left him with multiple puncture wounds to both legs, a severed main artery in his right leg as well as injuries to his left foot and right arm, a broken collar bone and hearing damage.
‘At first I thought I was going to be able to carry on as a Marine – I didn’t know how serious my injuries were,’ he said.
‘But there was no way I could ever be a Marine again unless it was a clerk and that’s not what I wanted.
‘I felt very, very lost and scared because I didn’t have a plan B at the time. Being a Marine had been my dream since I was about 11.’
Now, after Walking With The Wounded helped him get into work and supported him with his rehabilitation, Alec wanted to give something back.
‘Over the last five years I felt frustrated, lost and depressed. I needed to feel a sense of pride,’ he said.
‘The charity came along and I jumped at the chance.
‘It is great to be part of team again. It was a challenge that I so desperately needed.’
Alec is taking part in the charity walk with five other injured war heroes, including two Marines from the United States Marine Corps.
They are on a 72-day voyage across the UK to raise awareness for the charity and to engage with communities across Britain.
Today they are on day 53 of the walk.
The walk started in Scotland in August and is due to finish at Buckingham Palace on November 1.
Alec said: ‘We started at the Glenfiddich factory in Scotland and the reaction from the public was out of this world. That carried throughout Scotland and now throughout the rest of the country.’
Each day, the veterans – some of whom have had limbs blown off – push themselves to the limit by walking upwards of 20 miles.
Former USMC Sergeant Kirstie Ennis, 24, is another one of those taking part in the challenge.
She had been a helicopter gunner with the USMC but was severely wounded when her aircraft crashed.
She suffered extensive injuries across her body, which needed 38 operations to repair, as well as countless speech therapy sessions.
Kirstie added the trek had been punishing.
‘For me it’s been very tough,’ she said.
‘I was meant to have my left leg amputated before the walk but that would have meant I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
‘In my mind there was no way that was going to happen.’
She added that 10 days after she completes the trek, next month, she will finally have the operation to amputate her damaged limb.
‘It’s going to be a relief, to be honest,’ she said.
When the veterans arrived, on Friday, they were greeted with rapturous applause from navy medical staff, visitors, firefighters from Gosport and the Gosport 7th Beaver Group, who were all waving homemade flags.
Alec said the medical institute played a crucial role in helping so many wounded veterans.
‘A place like this is incredibly important to help us recover,’ he said.
‘I was medically discharged. I have been here many times in the past.
‘So for us we can all say that it’s very important place to come on our journey through the UK.’
The group set off from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Saturday morning, waved off by gold-medal winning David Henson, from Whiteley, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2011.
The 31-year-old was GB captain at the Invictus Games last year, winning the gold in the 200m.
He said: ‘I am here to show my support for the Walk of Britain.
‘Walking With The Wounded provide an awful lot of support in many different areas.
‘One of their most recent campaigns is tackling homelessness among veterans and that’s just one of the reasons that I got involved.’
He said the charity had supported him by helping him get back into education, and helping him to secure funding for a degree.
David said he was happy to show his support for the team and he wished them luck for the rest of their walk.
As they walked through Portsmouth, many people stopped and encouraged the group.
Alec said: ‘The support has been incredible.
‘We have been very lucky and very blessed by all the support we’re given up and down the country.’
CHARITY patron Prince Harry put on his walking boots and joined the team for 17 miles of their 1,000-mile trek across Britain.
The Prince accompanied the team of six wounded service members in Shropshire.
Alec Robotham, from Lovedean, who is on the walk, said: ‘Prince Harry is our patron and he walked with us.
‘It was great to have him on board. He was a genuine guy and I think if he had it his way, he’d have joined us for the whole 1,000 miles.’
Speaking before they set off, Prince Harry told of his pride.
He said: ‘Their inspirational expeditions have already impacted so many and I hope they will continue to impact many more.’
The Walk of Britain started on August 22 and is due to end on November 1.
It will take the team a total of 72 days.
For more details, see walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/walkofbritain2015