Friday, 4 June 2010
Today, The Grand Opening by Prince William of the new Rehabilitation Complex at Headley Court for our injured Servicemen and Women built by Help for Heroes.
I found the whole occasion more moving than anything I have ever witnessed, and I felt really fortunate to have been included.
Talking to some of our young men who have experienced tremendous injury was truly humbling. Their spirit is immense and their courage and success unbelievable in the face of what would seem to be impossible odds. Hearing a triple amputee of 28 talking about his plans for the future, the work they are all doing to rebuild themselves and get back into the Army or civilian life, leaves all of the rest of us behind in terms of courage and achievement.
I listened to the physio who told me how our men are trained to care for their mates in the field, the Padre whom I questioned closely about Faith or loss of it in the theatre of war, and the soldiers about their mental attitude in battle and how you work on core muscles when you have no limbs. The sergeant with whom I walked to the complex is making and fitting these new prostheses, his every action and description imbued with the compassion and discipline and care that seems to me a hallmark of our military training. I heard about the rations in the field and the weight of equipment/body armour/weaponry and water...at least 70 pounds with which they run in 50 degrees. I've sung in that temperature in Sicily and all of the body systems change as you try to cope.
There were so many regional organising fundraisers so completely committed, all with other jobs, and I watched their eyes alight as they told me of the targets they've set themselves and how they would achieve them. There were many citations, awards and Bryn Parry's extraordinary descriptions of courage, fearlessness and superhuman effort to overcome adversity; of the donations that day...a cheque for £1 and one for a million pounds. Help for Heroes has raised £53 million in two and a half years, and beautiful little Lydia aged 9, herself without legs who was running around helping, having achieved a mile long sponsored swim in an hour. She asked for my autograph and I should have asked for hers.....The sergeant who lost his legs and is now a world champion javelin thrower.....nothing it seems stops them achieving new ambitions and getting on with life. Almost all have good, simple English names and they just look ahead, seemingly unfazed by their injuries.
Bryn and Emma Parry have created this Facility and more in support of our Heroes and Heroines. Prince William listened and talked to so many people, and gave a heartfelt speech. The Complex itself is magnificent. I had seen it unfinished and went round in wellies before the equipment was in. Now there are Nasa invented trainers that you work inside weightless, the gait assessment room full of walkways and cameras, beds with room for 10 doctors around them to assess together all of the patient's needs, two great gyms of course and the fabulous pool, immense and with an adjustable base.
All of this was recorded by the wonderful Gill Shaw...her photos of Heroes around the walls, and I returned home to restudy her book, The Hero Inside, and the new friends within it that I had made that day.
It was a most unforgettable occasion filling the heart and the spirit, putting all else into perspective and banishing any troubles to retreat into the shade, in the face of such bravery.
This is real valour.
My roses are at the entrance, my other grand piano in their mess and I've been asked out to Camp Bastion for Christmas....first stop a Chinook.