“It was surreal, just crazy,” recalls Nick Gibbons, now 21 and back home in Fulwood.
He was posted to Helmand in 2008, as the Taliban insurgency against British forces was hotting up. The next 18 months saw the highest number of British casualties since deployment in the province in 2006.
Nick’s tour came to an abrupt end after just two months, when he lost his lower right leg in a bomb blast.
He was at the back of his section of eight men on patrol when he triggered a potentially-deadly improvised explosive device.
Nick, who was a member of 45 Commando Royal Marines, said: “It felt as if someone had grabbed my foot and ripped it off. I fell to the ground in a lot of pain. Luckily, no-one else was hurt. I realised how bad my injury was straight away.”
He was taken by stretcher to his base and transferred to the field hospital at Camp Bastion, British headquarters in Helmand Province, before being flown back to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.
But after several operations, the former High Storrs pupil was walking again with a prosthetic leg within weeks. Encouraged by the speed of his recovery, medical staff organised for him to join other recovering troops on a range of adventurous activities.
He took part in a sailing race on the Isle of Wight, learned to scuba dive in Cyprus, went hiking in the Alps, and has been white water rafting in Bavaria.
His biggest challenge involved being among four 20-man teams from the Navy and Marines climbing in the foothills of Mount Everest.
Nick, who is now fully recovered, has left the Royal Marines and is studying a course in sport at Norton College. He wants to learn how to rehabilitate people from injuries ‘to give something back’.
Nick had been inspired to join up as a 16-year-old because his uncle, who was also a Marine, had fought in the Falklands.
He said of his early days in Afghanistan: “We had done a lot of predeployment training so we knew what we had to do in different situations but you can’t really prepare for the situation on the ground.”
From the very first patrol, Nick said he became used to coming under enemy fire. The troops had to be on their guard because the enemy in Helmand Province can come from any direction – Taliban members melting away again just as quickly to blend into the civilian population.
Nick said: “There were some situations when we came under fire and I thought ‘this is a bit sticky’ but we all just reacted as we were trained in the heat of the moment and managed to get through.”
Nick, was based at a forward operating base in the Lashkar Gah area of Helmand.
He said: “We had only two phones, one internet connection and were allowed just half an hour a week to phone home. We used solar showers, with water heated by the sun.
“Although I was deployed in September, it was still pretty warm, up to 45C.”