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Inspirational veteran tells pupils about realities of war

October 16th, 2015

kajaki 1Sixth formers learnt about the harsh realities of war when they got the chance to meet a veteran whose horrific experience has become the subject of a film.

Members of the CCF from Monmouth School and its sibling, Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls, gathered to watch war film Kajaki: The True Story on Wednesday afternoon.

The harrowing scenes tell the story of seven paratroopers, including Corporal Stuart Hale, who found themselves seriously wounded and marooned in the middle of a minefield, fighting for their lives in September, 2006.

Cpl Hale and two of his comrades lost legs, while Cpl Mark Wright of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, died from his injuries.

Following the film screening at Monmouth School’s Blake Theatre, pupils were given the opportunity to ask Cpl Hale all about the traumatic event, and hear his inspirational story of survival and eventual return to Afghanistan.

“I wouldn’t want any of you to think going into the Army is a bad career choice – don’t let the film put you off,” Cpl Hale told the teenagers, many from forces families.

“Those were unique circumstances.

“We were short of equipment and we were the first troops down there, paving the way.

“Everything has improved since then, lessons have been learnt.”

The father-of-two, who was 24 at the time of his injury, now lives in Monmouth and runs the Pegasus Hobbies & Games shop in Thomas Square.

Kajaki portrays the unflinching loyalty and extraordinary bravery shown by Cpl Hale and his fellow servicemen that day.

They had gone on patrol to observe and possibly attack a Taliban checkpoint.

As one soldier after another was hit by explosions, their colleagues braved the lethal carpet of mines to treat them and waited under the blistering sun for more than four hours to be rescued by helicopters in a near impossible mission.

“I hope the film shows the strength of character in the Army,” added Cpl Hale.

“It’s very much a story of the guys on the ground.

“You always hear about these things happening to your friends, but when it’s happening to you, and you’re staring at this bloody mess, it’s hard to believe.

“But everyone from the story has gone on to do something good since that day.”

One pupil asked Cpl Hale what it was like to go through losing his leg.

“The fear of the pain was worse than the actual pain itself,” he told them.

“I was taken to Bastion where they did the operation and woke up eight days later in Selly Oak hospital, Birmingham.

“That’s when the hallucinations started – I was living in a nightmare.

“The doctor told me I had been in Iraq.

“I don’t blame him because there were a lot of soldiers there from Iraq – but the last time I’d been there was 2004, so it really threw me.

“I thought I’d been in a coma for years and just woken up.”

The dark sense of humour shared by soldiers helped Cpl Hale and his comrades to get through the hellish experience.

“When the guys came to see me in hospital, they tossed me a copy of Runner’s Weekly,” he said.

“That was what I needed in that situation.

“We take the Mickey out of everything, nothing’s off limits.”

The pupils, some of whom have been studying war and conflict in art classes, were fascinated by Cpl Hale’s brave decision to return to Kajaki two years later to help with a voluntary operation.

“When I went back to Afghanistan I got a lot of suspicious looks from people,” he told them.

“I wanted to be an example to say ‘look, if the worse should happen, you can still come back and do this’.

“It was very scary and it was hard to sleep at night because of panic attacks.

“It was difficult and frustrating getting around out there too – Afghanistan doesn’t cater well for disabled people.

“There were good days and bad days.

“But I was always one blister on the end of my stump away from being in a wheelchair.

“I went back to put some demons to rest.

“In a way, come to peace with what happened and what happened to Mark, but all I felt was nothing.

“I think it helped me to cope a lot better in the end though.”

Ian Lawrence, chemistry teacher and CCF officer at Monmouth School, was an infantry officer serving with the Royal Welsh Regiment and left as a major.

He served in Kabul twice, where he was a mentor responsible for developing an Afghan brigadier and more recently the spokesman for 10,000 British troops deployed in Task Force Helmand.

“It’s important for the pupils to understand the realities of war,” he said.

“We have recently pulled out of Afghanistan but it may not be long before British troops are deployed elsewhere around the world.

“I think the film stressed the importance of teamwork, comradery, professionalism and Stuart is an inspiration in that he has survived a horrendous event and is able to talk about it.”

A cheque for £80 was presented to Cpl Hale from the Schools’ CCF to go towards the Afghanistan Trust which helps servicemen rehabilitate themselves.

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