Thursday, July 16, 2009
Trooper Anthony Matthews describes being hit and having to apply tourniquet during Afghanistan offensive.
Richard Norton-Taylor, guardian.co.uk
A British soldier injured in fierce fighting in the biggest offensive against the Taliban since the start of the conflict in 2001 has given a first-hand account of his ordeal.
Trooper Anthony Matthews, 20, of the Light Dragoons, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade during Operation Panther's Claw in Helmand province last week. He described how he managed to apply a tourniquet to his leg wound and to that of an injured comrade as he returned gunfire.
On that day, 7 July, Matthews's close friend Christopher Whiteside, 22, was killed by an improvised bomb in a separate operation in Gereshk.
The number of British soldiers seriously wounded rose significantly last month, according to figures released todayby the Ministry of Defence. A total of 13 were "very seriously" or "seriously" wounded in action, with their lives being "imminently in danger" or their injuries a cause for "immediate concern".
A further 46 soldiers were admitted to field hospitals last month. However, the figures do not reveal the total number of soldiers with injuries conventionally regarded as serious, including the loss of limbs. The figures for July are likely to be worse, defence officials acknowledge.
Matthews, nicknamed "Bulletproof Tony", has returned home to Dunston, Gateshead, with a cricket ball-sized wound after a month of fighting that has claimed the lives of 17 British soldiers.
Recovering from surgery to the blast wound on his left leg, Matthews said he had feared for his own life.
He said: "There aren't many people can tell the tale of getting hit by a grenade. I've just been very lucky. We came out of the compound we had taken over, and there was a tree line that we used as cover. My mates were beside me at either side, and then all I remember is hearing a massive bang.
"There was dirt all over their faces and they were screaming. It was like a scene out of Saving Private Ryan. My ears had gone and I looked at my friend and I could see he had been hit badly. I turned and looked down at my leg and my pants were all broken. I put a tourniquet on while I was still shooting."
The Light Dragoons were based near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. During the early hours of 7 July, his platoon stepped into an ambush. A rocket-propelled grenade seriously wounded Matthews and his friend, Trooper Aaron Bradley.
"When the bullets are whizzing past it's terrifying," said Matthews. "They sound like bees flying past your ears, and then you hear them land and it sounds like someone clapping their hands."
After being hit, he said, "it was just adrenaline. I didn't feel anything. I stabbed myself with morphine and held on until the helicopters came. They got us back to Camp Bastion in four minutes."
After treatment there he was flown to Birmingham's Selly Oak hospital, where an operation sealed a deep wound across the back of his left leg. A few days before he was hit by the grenade, Matthews had been on a foot patrol behind a Scimitar tank which was blown up by a roadside bomb. His arms were hit by shrapnel.
He said: "No one was killed or even injured badly that time, amazingly. A team came out to clear the area and make sure it wasn't a 'daisy chain', where a number of bombs are linked to a single command and control wire.
"It's proper war out there. One time it took us from first light until last light just to move 800 metres. We were in constant contact with the enemy."
His house was decked out in Union flags to welcome him home, and he is now recuperating alongside his mother, Karine, brother Kallum, 13, and girlfriend Sam, 20.