WOUNDED veterans who had their legs blown off while defending the nation have urged people to rally behind Britain’s military for Armed Forces Day today.
Andy Barlow, 32, and Second World War veteran Ron Rose, 97, have united in their calls for people to honour the sacrifices of those who serve.
It comes as events across Portsmouth, Gosport and Hayling Island are set to kick off today to celebrate everything military.
And now the pair of inspirational soldiers have shared their remarkable stories of survival and service – and why they are thankful to be alive.
Dad-of-two Andy, of Denmead, was just 19 when his leg was blown off by a hidden explosive, on September 6, 2006, at the Kajaki dam, in Helmand Province. It was an ordeal that eight years later would be told on the big screen in the gritty war film, Kajaki: The True Story.
He and his comrades had been on a rescue mission to save two fellow soldiers who had been seriously injured in a minefield when all hell broke loose.
While Andy was treating the wounded the unthinkable happened: a helicopter called into evacuate the casualties triggered a third mine, injuring Andy and another soldier.
‘As the helicopter flew off, another explosion went off and I flew black about six feet with shrapnel in my arm,’ Andy said.
‘I was 19, left with three injured soldiers around me, and I didn’t know what to do. I had no medical training, but luckily a medic started calling my name and my training kicked in.
‘I started to give first aid, and I noticed the guys were getting dehydrated so I asked for a bottle of water.
‘As the bottle came down the mountain it hit my hand and I looked down and thought, “I can stand there, or I can stand over there” – then bang, I went up.’
The soldier who had thrown the bottle of water to Andy had also been injured, and the medic who was in the minefield across from Andy suffered punctured lungs.
Andy lost his leg during the blast, and was in hospital for 12 days. In all, seven men were wounded at Kajaki. Three of them lost legs, while Corporal Mark Wright, of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, died.
‘I’ve got a picture of Mark on my wall at home and I still talk to him,’ he said. ‘Mark can’t live his life. He died at 33 and was due to get married. He saved my life, and if he hadn’t been there with me I wouldn’t be here today.’
Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt joined calls for people to honour Britain’s service heroes.
The Portsmouth North MP said: ‘On Armed Forces Day we celebrate the exceptional contribution service personnel, regular or reservist, veterans and their families make to our security and prosperity.
‘The armed forces protect us and defend us around the world and serve communities throughout our country.
‘With more than 300 events taking place across the UK, it’s incredible to see people coming together to show their support for the armed forces.’