Under marble shields

Today marks the anniversary of the start of one of the most bloody battles of World War One. The Battle of the Somme. The battle took place between the 1st of July and the 18 November in 1916 and which by the end of the battle the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone and the French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000.

The vast majority of those Commonwealth soldiers who were killed were buried either where they fell or in hastily prepared graves nearby. The practice of non-repatriation of the dead was established during the First World War and meant that servicemen and women who died on active service abroad, were buried abroad. The countryside of France and Belgium is peppered with the immaculately maintained cemeteries that are looked after by the CWGC – The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

But closer to home there are many headstones from soldiers of the First World War that are scattered in cemeteries all over the country. The majority of those buried in the United Kingdom are predominantly the men and women who died at home in military hospitals after evacuation from the front. Others may have died in training accidents, some were killed in action in the air or at sea in our coastal waters.

I’ve photographed the headstones of a number of World War One soldiers who have graves marked in cemeteries near where I live. I visited Saltburn, Brotton, Skelton and Guisborough and through the project I made a record of a number of graves of those killed during or soon after the end of WW1.

 

The headstones of all British and Commonwealth are maintained and funded by the CWGC – The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Facts about the Battle of the Somme:

  1. The Battle of the Somme was originally meant to be a French led offensive with the British in support. It was also initially planned for August 1916
  2. When the German army attacked Verdun in February 1916 it was clear that France would not be able to lead any major offensive in 1916, indeed a British diversionary attack was needed fast to take the pressure of the French and divert German resources away from Verdun. That diversionary attack turned out to be the Battle of the Somme
  3. The preliminary bombardment lasted eight days and saw over 1,600 pieces of British artillery fire 1.73 million shells on to the German lines.
  4. The first infantry attack took place in the early morning of 1st July 1916 – the battle continued until the 18th November
  5. Many of the shells that were fired in that preliminary bombardment were duds and failed to explode. Those that did explode tended to be shrapnel shells which had little effect on barbed wire defences, dugouts and enemy strong points
  6. The average British infantryman carried 30kg of equipment as he went over the top during the first phase of the battle
  7. Britain lost 57,470 casualties (killed and wounded) on the first day of the Battle of the Somme
  8. 19,240 British soldiers were killed on the first day of the battle
  9. The oldest British soldier to die during the battle was Lt Henry Webber, 7th South Lancashire Regiment. He was 68 when he died on 27th July 1916
  10. On 15 September 1916 at Flers-Courcelette the tank made its operational debut. Although they scared many of the German soldiers in the front line, a mixture of poor tactics and unreliability meant that overall they failed to make a great impact
  11. During the Battle of the Somme 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 17 of them were awarded posthumously
  12. During the battle between July and November 1916, the French and British armies suffered around 625,000 casualties
  13. Germany casualty figures for the battle are estimated at 500,000
  14. The furthest advance of any allied force during the battle was five miles

 

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See more of my work on my website and blogs… HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth

All rights reserved.

No usage without arrangement.

Trust, Courage and Team Spirit

The Army Foundation College in Harrogate in North Yorkshire trains the soldiers of the future. School-leavers aged between 16 and 17 years and five months of age are eligible to attend the AFC which offers young men and women the opportunity to continue learning as they build their military skills and experience more of the Army life they have chosen.

Today saw over 600 of the Junior Soldiers graduate from the Army Foundation College following a year of undergoing military skills training, vocational qualifications and City and Guilds apprenticeships. Following the parade which, other than Trooping of the Colour in London, is the largest in Europe the Junior Soldiers will go on to complete their ‘phase two’ special-to-arm training for their respective regiments or corps before then joining their units to continue with their military careers.

From drawing their weapons out of the armoury first thing in the morning to the final tweaks to their uniforms ensuring that everything is perfect. To a final bit of packing as they head off on leave after the parade. To farewell hugs with strangers who became friends who they now know better than their own family and finally to a proud march onto the Regimental Square…today I went ‘behind the scenes’ with 19 (Kohima) Platoon as they carried out last minute preparations on their kit and uniform ahead of the parade in front of parents and family members and readied themselves for the most important parade and one of the most important miles stones of their career to date…

 

Trust, Courage and Team Spirit‘ – Motto of AFC Harrogate

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See more of my work on my website and blogs….. HERE

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Medal parade in Richmond

Soldiers from K (Hondeghem) Battery 5th Regiment Royal Artillery paraded through the grounds of Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire today during a ceremony to present them with Afghanistan operational medals. The Battery held the parade to mark the end of the Regiment’s period of operations in Afghanistan and their deployment on Herrick 20.

It was the final Herrick medal parade from Regiment’s that are based in Catterick Garrison. Colonel Mike Kelly was the Inspecting Officer on the day and the musical accompaniment came from the Royal Armoured Corps band.

 

5th Regiment medal parade

5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade

5th Regiment medal parade

5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade 5th Regiment medal parade5th Regiment medal parade

 

 

See more of my work on my website and blogs…. HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

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An honourable thing

On Friday 13th March, 2015 a National Service of Commemoration is due to be held in the UK to mark the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. The event is an opportunity for the country to collectively pay tribute to the contribution made by all those who served in Afghanistan and who worked in the county from 2001 to 2014.

The conflict came at a heavy toll with the number of deaths in Afghanistan standing at 453 British service personnel and MOD civilians. It was a controversial and incredibly complex conflict with the situation in the country changing so often it was almost impossible to keep track of what was going on at times.

Despite the higher-level political situation that caused the governments of countries involved in Afghanistan headaches over the years during the conflict and despite what opinions you may have on Afghanistan and the part our country played in it one thing that I believe needs to be acknowledged is the commitment and sacrifice made by all those personnel who served there.

 

During 2010 in my role at that time as an Army photographer I was sent over to Afghanistan on a short but very busy trip. The outline brief was to cover a range of stories to document various aspects of military life. I covered subjects such as the initial refresher training that all military personnel that regardless of their job must go through when they arrive ‘in theatre’. I covered some of the important and life saving work conducted by medical personnel and RAF crews. I photographed a visit by the Prime Minister, David Cameron as he met and spoke with some of the troops in Camp Bastion. Along with this I also looked at the training and mentoring of Afghan Army soldiers who were key in the longer term plan for them to eventually take over all military operations in the country.

I then headed to the ‘Green Zone’ and covered Royal Engineers who were clearing main routes of Improvised Explosive Device’s that would allow safe passage along the roads for the military and the local civilian population.

For the final stages of the trip I joined patrols into the ‘Green Zone’ with soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles based in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand Province and soldiers from 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who patrolled daily from patrol bases in the Shah Zad area.

The ‘Green Zone’ is a narrow strip of lush vegetation which cuts through the desert province of Helmand along the Helmand river. The nature of the ground had provided ideal fighting ground for the Taliban, offering a degree of cover unavailable in the surrounding desert. It was in this area that British Troops saw some of the most intense fighting during their deployment.

 

Below are some of the photographs that I shot during that trip to Afghanistan and I will go on to discuss the part that Royal Wootton Bassett had in commemorating those troops killed in Afghanistan and before that Iraq. Then I’ve included a couple of photofilm pieces that I produced after I returned from the deployment. You’ll find the links to them below the pictures…

 

LAND-2010-070 C17 Crews 0016The view from a C17 transport aircraft as it flies over Afghanistan before landing at Camp Bastion loaded with troops and equipment.

LAND-2010-070 C17 Crews 0021The pilot of a C17 transport aircraft checks the cockpit instruments before landing at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

Reception, Staging and Onward IntegrationAfter arriving in Afghanistan British soldiers march through a dust storm on their way to rifle ranges to continue their mandatory

Reception, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) training before deploying from Camp Bastion to their final locations.

Reception, Staging and Onward IntegrationBritish soldiers sit in on a briefing as a heavy dust storm blows over the desert as they conduct their mandatory

Reception, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) training at Camp Bastion.

Counter Improvised Explosive Task Force.A soldier from the Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force briefs newly arrived soldiers

on the methods of finding and clearing Improvised Explosive devices as a Blackhawk helicopter flies past.

British soldiers undergoing RSOI - Reception Staging and Onward Integration - training in Camp Bastion in Helmand province prior to deploying to their units in various areas around Helmand province.

British soldiers practice and refresh their patrolling skills as they undergo RSOI – Reception Staging and Onward Integration – training in Camp Bastion.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron visits British Troops based in Afghanistan.The British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to British Troops in Camp Bastion.

Hospital staff at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Corporal Samantha Wadelik lives in Glasgow and worked in Wishaw General Hospital as a Reservist.

She was serving in Camp Bastion Hospital as a Radiologist.

Soldiers from Burma Company The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment are currently based in Patrol Base Shah Zad in the Green Zone in Helmand Province and along with Somme Company who are based at Check Point Taalanda are providing security for the clearance of Route Dorset.

Royal Engineers destroy an Improvised Explosive Device during the clearance of ‘Route Dorset’ in the Green Zone.

Afghanistan National Army soldiers graduate from training

An Afghan Army officer speaks to his troops during a graduation ceremony for around 100 Afghan Army soldiers at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. The camp, situated next to Camp Bastion is the base for 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, United States Marine Corps who at that time played the lead role in the training of new soldiers in the Afghan Army.

Gurkhas on patrol in Helmand

Gurkhas from C Company 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles cross a stream as they patrol from Patrol Base 2 in the

Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province in a joint patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Army.

Gurkhas on patrol in Helmand

Gurkhas from C Company 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles discover a field of cannabis plants in a compound in the Green Zone.

Gurkhas on patrol in Helmand

A radio operator from C Company 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles patrols through long grass in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province

  during a joint patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Army.

Gurkhas on patrol in Helmand

A Gurkha soldier from C Company 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles sits in a field in the Nahr-e Saraj region of

Helmand province as the patrol pauses.

A shura or meeting is held near to the base of B Company 1 Royal Gurkha Rilfes to discuss amendments to the route of Route Trident, a new road currently being built eventually reaching across 1 Royal Gurkha Riles area of operations with the intent being able to allow greater freedom of movement for the local Afghan population.

A shura, or meeting is held with local elders in the ‘Green Zone’ to discuss the building of a new road that would allow greater freedom of movement for the local Afghan population.

Gurkhas on patrol in Helmand

An Afghan man sits on the outskirts of a village in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province.

The mortar line fires from Patrol Base 4 in Helmand Province to support ground troops as they return to the base following an operation.

The mortar line fires from inside Patrol Base 4 in Helmand Province in support of ground troops.

The mortar line fires from Patrol Base 4 in Helmand Province to support ground troops as they return to the base following an operation.

A vehicle is illuminated with the red glow of its interior lights at dusk at a Patrol Base in Helmand Province.

The mortar line fires from Patrol Base 4 in Helmand Province to support ground troops as they return to the base following an operation.

A soldiers travels to Patrol Base 4 in Helmand Province in the back of an armoured vehicle.

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A soldier from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment poses for a picture holding his GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun).

Soldiers from Burma Company The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment are currently based in Patrol Base Shah Zad in the Green Zone in Helmand Province and along with Somme Company who are based at Check Point Taalanda are providing security for the clearance of Route Dorset.

A machine-gunner from Burma Company, The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment waves through his fellow soldiers during a firefight

in the Green Zone in Helmand Province.

Soldiers from Burma Company The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment are currently based in Patrol Base Shah Zad in the Green Zone in Helmand Province and along with Somme Company who are based at Check Point Taalanda are providing security for the clearance of Route Dorset.A Section Commander from Burma Company The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment moves, under fire, along a ditch giving

orders to his men as a machine gun fires in support behind him during a patrol in the Green Zone in Helmand Province.

Remembrance DaysA young soldier sits and rests in a compound immediately after a heavy firefight in the Green Zone.

As the commemoration service is due to take place it might also be fitting to mention the town of Royal Wootton Bassett. A small town in northern Wiltshire. It became known throughout the country and the world as a town that honours the servicemen and women killed on operations both in Iraq and then Afghanistan. Starting off with a small number of people who noticed that the funeral cars were passing through the town some members of the British Legion then stopped and acknowledged the passing vehicle. In a short space of time this show of respect grew until it was not just the people of Wootton Bassett who attended but people from all over the area and indeed the country made the trip there.

Each and every time, regardless of weather or time of day the road through the centre of town was lined with people who all fell silent as the cortege approached. Family members standing with quiet dignity in their grief moved forward with flowers and placed them on the passing car. Current and former servicemen and women standing in uniform saluted. The Standards held proudly by members of the Royal British Legion were lowered. Young people looked on and a wave quiet respect passed across the gathering crowd which had come to represent the collective grief and sadness of a country.

Remembrance DaysFamily members of a soldier killed in Afghanistan hold yellow roses as they wait the arrival of the cortege in Royal Wootton Bassett.

Remembrance DaysThe body of a soldier killed during operations in Afghanistan is repatriated back to the UK.

Remembrance Days

The cortege for two soldiers killed in Afghanistan passes through Royal Wootton Bassett. The town became renowned across the world

for the way it became the focus for the grief of the public and for the country and also for the way

it honoured those killed during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq with the dignified way they greeted the cortege as it passed.

Remembrance DaysAn image I shot on a small grassy hill outside the RAF Brize Norton base. After the repatriation ceremonies for troops killed in Afghanistan were

moved here from RAF Lyneham. It shows the diversity of people from all backgrounds and all ages who all felt an obligation

to attend a repatriation and show their respect to a soldier killed during operations.

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The following are a couple of multimedia pieces that I put together on my return. Some of the pictures appear in both films but hopefully they give an idea on the conditions, the environment and the people in Afghanistan.

The Poem

In one of the patrol bases I visited I was shown a poem written by a British Army officer, Lieutenant Ryan Davies. After chatting with another officer, Lt Jennifer Macmaster who served with the same unit I asked her if she would read out the poem as I recorded her voice. I then used some of my photographs from the trip to accompany the eloquently read poem and produced this piece:

 

Courageous Restraint

Several months later I was photographing the Saltburn Folk Festival. During the course of the weekend I ran into one of the musician’s called Bob Fortune . Bob is a very accomplished Folk musician and after chatting to him he kindly gave me one of his CD’s. One of the songs on the CD was called ‘Afghanistan‘. He had written the song for his daughter who at that time was a soldier serving in Afghanistan with the British military.

I knew that the song would make a good soundtrack to a multimedia piece so after asking Bob for his permission to use the track to accompany some of my pictures I laid the track over some of the pictures to produce the following:

 

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As for me this trip was a fitting conclusion to my military career and was my final trip to a conflict zone. A couple of years later and following a career that had spanned 22-years including nine operational deployments to areas of conflict around the world I finished my Army service. From a young soldier patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland, through Bosnia and then Kosovo and to the Iraq war in 2003 and finally to Afghanistan. I have visited some of these places on more than one occasion and each time it is a challenging, demanding and dangerous environment. An environment that unless you have been there it is difficult to comprehend.

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Over those years, in my previous job before becoming an Army photographer, I’ve lived for days at a time in a hole in the ground. Heard my belly rumbling as I’ve needed a good meal. Gone weeks at a time without the means to have a good shower. Had rats crawl over me. Seen extremes of heat, cold and wet. I’ve seen and smelled the mass graves of those poor souls murdered by Serbs. I’ve called in artillery fire several times onto Iraqi positions. I’ve been spat at and called some very imaginative names and I’ve had bricks and stones thrown at me. I’ve seen senseless and cruel acts. I’ve been shot at numerous times – occasionally coming closer than one might particularly want! I’ve had RPG’s fired at my vehicle and I’ve been on the receiving end of many mortar and rocket fire attacks but you know something…none of that matters. Not really. As it all comes with the job. It’s all part of the game and it was something you accept without moaning and thankfully I was able to end my career without injury.

Far more importantly however, during all those mad and chaotic moments I’ve also met some of the bravest, skilled and most dedicated people there are. From all branches of military service and civilian agencies whose commitment, fortitude and sense of humour in the face of complete madness continues to inspire and offers a reality check to draw on when I’m faced with some of the problems that we all face in the course of our regular daily lives. Then there are the civilians. Caught up in situations that nobody wants to be in. Often without any fault of their own and yet despite horrific circumstances still retain, in some cases at least, a sense of hospitality and decency. So for me on what was my final trip in my career, Afghanistan was another opportunity to once again see all of those things and to see the honour and dedication with which people continue to do the things they are asked.

There were however some real issues and problems with our involvement in Afghanistan. Many of these problems will continue to plague the country and will continue to do so for years to come. Some may never be resolved. Hanging over all of this was of course the increasing British fatalities that was gradually wearing away at the resolve of the country to continue with involvement in a conflict thousands of miles away and as an Army Photographer I photographed, as was part of our role, far too many repatriation ceremonies to be under any illusion that it was all going to come for free.

There is always going to be a cost. Both in terms of economics and far more importantly and tragically a human cost. On all sides. But despite the opinions people may have about our involvement in Afghanistan and whatever political views may be held, to which people are absolutely entitled, I also believe that for those men and women who were willing to meet that cost and who put themselves in the places where the danger was very real, some of whom you see in the photographs, then a small acknowledgment of that by the country is the honourable thing to do.

 

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Images copyright Ian Forsyth / Crown Copyright

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Afghanistan

After eight years of front line operations in Afghanistan the UK’s military headquarters in Helmand Province were disbanded yesterday in the latest stage of the draw-down of UK military operations in Afghanistan. The role played by the Headquarters Task Force in Helmand has now been integrated into the wider US-led Regional Command (South West).

This milestone marks the end of the 16th Task Force Helmand operation for the British-led coalition task force, which has comprised soldiers from the Danish, Estonian, Tongan, Jordanian and Bosnian armed forces.

British troops will however remain in Camp Bastion throughout the rest of this year and will be employed to either work within the coalition force under the US-led Regional Command or by supporting the redeployment of equipment back to the UK.

The number of British service personnel in Afghanistan will continue to drop as the operation draws to a close and the Afghan National Security Forces prepare to stand alone without ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) support.

 

In 2010, as I was approaching the end of my 22-year military service I spent a short time in the country.

 

Afghanistan

Afghanistan – through the window of a C-17 aircraft

Afghanistan

A dust storm rages as a briefing is given to troops

Afghanistan

British soldiers take part in further training given to them on arrival

AfghanistanAn explosion during a route clearance operation in Helmand Province

Afghanistan

Young boy in an Afghan village

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Soldiers from 1 Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles patrol through a village in the Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand Province

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Afghan National Army soldiers

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A marihuana crop grows within a compound in the Green Zone

Afghanistan

Patrolling through the Green Zone

Afghanistan

A village elder enters a building to attend a Shura

Afghanistan

Village elders attend a Shura

Afghanistan

A mortar line fires in support of ground troops

Afghanistan

A command vehicle sits at the entrance to a patrol base in Helmand Provine

Afghanistan

A soldier from 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in a troop house in Helmand Province

Afghanistan

A soldier shouts directions to fellow troops as they come under fire whilst on patrol in the Green Zone

Afghanistan

During a firefight in the Green Zone a soldier runs along the edge of a track to give directions to his men as a machine gun provides covering fire behind him

AfghanistanNight patrol

Ian Forsyth Photography

Images remain (c) Ian Forsyth/Crown copyright

Strength of Mind

Serjeant* George Norton, 31, joined the Infantry in 1999 and served with 5 Battalion The Rifles. During his 15 year career he deployed to Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and completed three tours of Iraq.  (*Traditionally in Rifles Battalions the spelling of Serjeant is with a ‘j’ rather than ‘g’ – a historical legacy from the Napoleonic wars.)

Originally from Somerset George now lives in Sunderland with his wife Deena, son Jack, 6, and his stepson Liam, 16. In December 2011 he was deployed on Operation Herrick to Helmand Province in Afghanistan and was employed as a Platoon Serjeant. It was during this deployment when he was taking part in a route clearance operation and providing flank protection to the Engineers who were carrying out the clearance that he was injured.

As his patrol was crossing an irrigation ditch they were fired upon by a single insurgent. During this ‘contact‘ one of the enemy bullets ricocheted off the ground and struck Serjeant Norton in the side of the head. Knocking him to the ground instantly where he lay severely injured.

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickSerjeant George Norton sits waiting for a briefing to start at the Personnel Recovery Centre in Catterick

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickSerjeant George Norton rides in a lift to his room as climbing the stairs can sometimes cause him pain

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickAccommodation in the PRC

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickHome from home – all the needs of the soldier are catered for in the single rooms that they use.

 

From here the details of what followed next remain somewhat of a blur for George. He vaguely remembers the initial treatment administered to him by the members of his patrol, actions that went a long way to ensure that he didn’t die from his injuries there and then as he lay there in the dirt. But from that point the only real memory he can be sure of is waking up in the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham with his mother standing at the end of his bed.

As a result of that single bullet striking him he was now left with brain damage. With complete deafness in his right ear. With weakness down the full left hand side of his body and with a mammoth recovery task in front of him that would test the strength, resilience and the bravery of George and his family.

From the moment that George was shot a fast, efficient and well rehearsed process that includes some of the highest levels of medical treatment in the world began. All with the aim of taking him as safely as possible from lying near some drainage ditch in Afghanistan to ultimately a life back in the UK. Firstly the rest of his patrol, his mates, soldiers he had trained with, deployed with, lived with and crossed drainage ditches with were the first to start this process of treatment. Applying the immediate first aid training that they had all rehearsed so many times before during training exercises and which some had already had to use for real during other situations that had happened during their tour so far.

This first key treatment kept him alive until the helicopter came to evacuate him back to the hospital in Camp Bastion. Treated by the helicopter medical staff as they flew. The surgeons then at Camp Bastion working constantly to keep him alive. Nurses and staff all doing what they could. Once he was stable enough to fly he was then moved back to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he remained for 3-4 months undergoing further intensive treatment and rehabilitation. From here he moved again this time to spend seven months at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Unit at Headley Court in Surrey. Before finally arriving in Catterick Garrison and the Personnel Recovery Centre.

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickAs George’s anxiety levels rise so he feels the need to try and control each element of his environment

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickTime for reflection. George takes some time in his room

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickAfter the injury George had a cochlear implant fitted into his right side ear

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickWalking to his room at the PRC in Catterick after a briefing

 

The Personnel Recovery Centres, or PRC’s, there are five of them around the country form part of the Defence Recovery Capability which is an MoD led initiative and delivered in partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the forces charity organisations the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes along with support from other Service charities and organisations.

Each of the centres is designed to help and offer assistance to wounded, injured and sick Service personnel so that they can either recover and return to duty or alternatively if their injuries are more serious or life changing then move into civilian life.

Through his journey so far George has been through a huge amount of treatment and rehabilitation already to get to this point. He had gone through the process of trying to relearn cognitive skills. To learn again visual and auditory processing. He’d undergone speech therapy to allow him to talk again. His right ear had been fitted with a cochlear implant. He had had to learn to live with a blind spot in the top left of his vision. He had suffered memory loss and found it hard to remember not only details of the events surrounding his injury but other unrelated events through his life.

He had worked on his physical fitness and struggled through the pain and mental walls that blocked his way to try and keep his body as active as possible to aid his recovery. He had been forced to deal with the lack of independence. To use a walking stick to assist him when out in unfamiliar environments. He had struggled to come to terms with the psychological effects of his injury. He had fought the frustration and anger that comes from being injured and the associated difficulties with learning to rely on others after coming from such an active and physically challenging role as a fully healthy man and soldier.

He found that his anxiety levels, and the means to deal with them in a rational way, had been affected and at times he had struggled with this. He also had concerns about how he might be ‘seen’ or treated by people once he entered civilian life when there are other injured service personnel who might have more obvious injuries as a result of losing limbs and he wondered how people he came across each day might deal with him and his injury when it isn’t as obvious.

 

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickLunch time self-service

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickGeorge sits in one of the rooms at the PRC

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickMaking notes during one of the resettlement briefings

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickClass rules

 

The PRC had been preparing him for leaving the military and going out in to the wider civilian world. His medical rehabilitation will continue as and when required through appointments at civilian hospitals but every day he gets better. Stronger. Better adapted to his own unique and hugely different situation. As George makes the move into civilian life he hopes to work as a volunteer with BIRT the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust so that he can pass on his own very, very first hand experiences and knowledge to those who for one reason or another are undergoing treatment for various brain injuries themselves.

Sometime this month George is expecting to end his service in the military and part of the time that he has spent at the PRC in Catterick over the last year or so will give him some of the skills and knowledge to assist with a successful transition into civilian life. These course are available to all military personnel when they leave the service and they undergo resettlement training but of course George has additional worries that most do not. The idea behind these courses being that he and others are given the best opportunity to deal with that major life and career changing event.

 

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickGeorge attends briefings at the PRC in Catterick that will help prepare him for a move into civilian life in March this year.

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickThere are a number of ‘quiet’ rooms in the PRC that give people a place to get away from things for a while if they need some space

Personnel Recovery Centre in CatterickWritten on a wall at the entrance to the Personnel Recovery Centre in Catterick

As I met George over a few days at Catterick and chatted to him about his military career, about the events leading up to what had happened to him and what he hoped would be ahead for him it was indeed a testament to the medical skill of all those involved that today George is able to have a chance at doing some of the things he is now trying to achieve – From the staff at the PRC in Catterick for their dedication and commitment to their work to help him make as near full recovery as is possible and enter civilian life. To the specialist doctors and nurses who took care of him through each stage of this journey through the QE and at Headley Court. To the physiotherapists who constantly worked with him to try and improve his physical strength. To the medical personnel at Camp Bastion – the doctors, nurses and the RAF helicopter crew from the MERT – the Medical Emergency Response Teams – who flew in to evacuate him and of course to his mates.

Those same mates who were on that patrol with him in Afghanistan. Because without their initial response in dealing with his injuries at the time that he was shot then this might have been a different story completely.

Finally it is a real testament to George himself and his family. Suffering an injury like this must have destroyed his world and the journey he has been on to get where he is today, to put that world back together again must have been a roller-coaster of emotions and challenges. A journey with more highs and lows on so many levels that we can only imagine.

To have the determination – the strength of mind – to keep going through that rehabilitation process must have been an incredible challenge and ultimately for George the greatest of personal achievements.

           ‘Celer et Audax’           

Rifles motto: ‘Swift and Bold’

Personnel Recovery Centre in Catterick

Serjeant George Norton

With thanks to the MoD and Catterick PRC for their help and assistance with this story,

…and of course to George himself for letting me take some pictures and chat to him.

Good Luck mate and I wish you well.

All images copyright Ian Forsyth

Ian Forsyth Photography

Iraq – Pictures from a troubled country

My previous blog post which can be seen here looks back at some of my thoughts and experiences from my time in Iraq in 2003 as one of the soldiers fighting into Basrah. This post shows a selection of images I shot on my second tour there in 2006 as an army photographer. I deployed with 19 Light Brigade and spent seven months photographing various aspects of Brigade life during their deployment.

 

Images remain crown copyright