Reality Check

I attended a media event yesterday at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey. The event was to highlight a new project that has begun at the centre. Traditionally, the centre at Headley Court has taken the lead in the rehabilitation and recovery process for troops injured, primarily during operations, but also as a result of other injuries sustained through sports or other military activities.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Guardsman Lamin Manneh from Windsor and originally from the Gambia serves with Number 2 Company Irish Guards

This particular event saw the launch of a newly-refurbished greenhouse and allotment area within the grounds of Headley Court that will challenge patients with complex injuries and hopefully try and encourage them to overcome the challenges of working at different heights, standing on varying slopes and surfaces, as well as lifting and moving objects.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
The gardening tasks also provide cognitive therapy for troops, with some evidence to suggest that being in an outdoor environment reduces stress which can lead to improved concentration and encourage people to think through their problems or concerns.

Much has already been written about the fortitude and strength of character of injured troops as they make their long and challenging journey back to some kind of ‘normal’ life, as far as their injuries will allow, and after meeting with some of the soldiers and marines and chatting to them yesterday, I can only reinforce that here.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Private Scott Meenagh from Glasgow was serving with 2 Battalion The Parachute Regiment when he was injured in Afghanistan

Chatting to some it was obvious that they had been through the worst of times – and then some – but they were, generally, very positive about their progress and remained upbeat about their situation. All were very positive about their treatment at the centre and considering some of the time-frames between being injured and walking, albeit tentatively on prosthetic limbs, it was remarkable. In one case it was only a matter of weeks!

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Royal Marines Aaron Moon from Wigan and Tristan Sykes from Norwich at work in the greenhouse of the new project at Headley Court

As one of the injured servicemen, speaking about the moment he was caught in the IED blast said to me,”It happened on the battlefield, that was always going to be a risk, but you have to accept that risk. What you going to do? Fuck it, you just have to get on with it.”

One of the soldiers, Guardsman Lamin Manneh from Windsor, was caught in an IED blast in Afghanistan. He now has a home in Windsor where he lives with his wife and young son. Originally from the Gambia he lost his left arm and both of his legs during a patrol in Helmand Province. One would think that this kind of injury would be enough to leave anyone broken and yet, despite the injuries, I’ve not met a more upbeat and cheerful bloke in a long time – injured or otherwise.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Royal Marine Aaron Moon from Wigan

He told me how the rehabilitation process he has gone through is very demanding and challenging, frequently leaving him completely knackered, exhausted and at times frustrated. He spoke of the great work the nurses and physiotherapists do with them and how they push them, in a controlled way, to allow them to reach their full potential on their own journeys to recovery. Showing with some pride the pictures on his phone of him taking part in some of the physio sessions to help improve his ‘core’ body strength.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Some spoke with candor about how their injuries were sustained. How they were tossed in the air as the IED detonated, literally, under their feet, how they remembered somersaulting several times before landing heavily on their back and looking down at their missing legs. With dry humour they remembered reaching down and feeling for their balls to see if they were still there – and relief that they were!

Others spoke of how they were looking forward to leaving Headley Court and finishing their course of treatment, rehab and physio appointments and beginning the next chapter of their lives. Some had definite and firm ideas of what they wanted to do when they leave and begin life in the civilian world. Others were not too certain as to what they would eventually end up doing but none of them, at any time, mentioned that the injuries they have would be a reason not to do what they wanted.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Marine Tristan Sykes, 30 from Norwich in Norfolk sits outside the new greenhouse at Headley Court

I have no doubt that at times these and other personnel with injuries sustained in the most violent of situations feel at the lowest a person can feel, their own ‘darkest hour’, but you can’t help but feel that because they have experienced the worst that can be thrown at them nothing will phase them in the future and they seem stronger for that.

You leave the place after meeting these blokes with a feeling of humility and more than a little embarrassment when you think about something that had recently pissed you off or about something that wound you upin the greater scheme of things, most of these issues pale into insignificance by comparison.

Injured soldiers get green fingers at Headley Court.
Guardsman Colum McGeown, 27 from Belfast serves with 1 Battalion Irish Guards and is undergoing physio treatment at Headley Court after a severe injury following an Improvised Explosive Device blast in Afghanistan


Note: All personnel featured in this post kindly gave their consent for pictures to be used in support of this article.

Pictures (c) Ian Forsyth/MOD/Crown Copyright

Published by ian forsyth photography

Press and Documentary photographer covering the North of England. Stringer & contributor for Getty Images News. Prints are available to buy on my website.

15 thoughts on “Reality Check

  1. Well done Ian – subject matter as strong as this needs strong and dignified photography like this.


  2. Great images mate, good to see they all look so upbeat and ‘cracking on’ with life, these guys are the real heroes of the British Army in my book. I’ll fire it on my site and twitter also to give you more exposure if you dont mind. Cheers.

    (former Army photographer)


  3. Shared on Facebook (as no doubt many others have and will) to reach a wider audience and, as you say, a “reality check” to all those of us who whine about minor stresses and problems. BRAVE, BRAVE men!


  4. Utter respect.
    Ian – these photographs capture the dignity and positivity of the human spirit that is inspirational.
    And absolutely humbling.



  5. Thank You Ruth,
    Their dignity and positivity made my job so much easier I think.
    Thanks for your comment.


  6. Have pushed this on Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and Blog. Your mesmerising photographs ask us to stop thinking in such a selfish manner and question whether our daily irritations are as serious as we think they are…

    Dan Gaskin


    1. Thanks for your comments Dan. Appreciate your help with getting this out to a wider audience to show what these guys are all about.



  7. I really appreciate the work done at the Center for the brave forces that are serving all of us. I also appreciate the publicity for the Center and hope that it will generate more efforts to reabilitate in mind and body those who have been injured. Thank you. God’s blessings be with you, your work and on your patients and their families.


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