Two years after IED blast, Welsh Guardsman has his leg amputated

Toby Harnden

Spare a thought this evening for Guardsman Joe Penlington, 20, from Mold in North Wales. Nearly two years after an Improvised Explosive Device ripped through his Viking in Helmand, the soldier had an initial procedure to have his left leg amputated earlier today. The second, main procedure will take place tomorrow (Wednesday).

Joe, who features in my book “Dead Men Risen”, considers himself one of the lucky ones. He was sitting next to Trooper Joshua Hammond, who was blown to pieces and killed instantly. In front of him, standing in the “top cover” position, was his Welsh Guards commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe. The blast tore Thorneloe’s legs off; he was briefly conscious but died within minutes.

Luck, of course, is a relative thing in Helmand. Earlier that day, July 1st 2009, Joe had been given the chance to remain behind and not go on the convoy from FOB Shawqat up to Crossing Point 7 on the Shamalan Canal.

But rather than let Guardsman Joe Lloyd go in his place, Joe Penlington challenged him to a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide who would stay behind. Penlington chose scissors and Lloyd went for rock. So Lloyd stayed behind.

Guardsman Joe Penlington, top right, about two hours before his Viking was blown up on 1 July 2009. The other three guardsmen posing with him on an old T62 Russian tank received minor injuries but survived.

Joe Penlington has had many dark moments. When I first met him in Headley Court back in November 2009, he was lying prostrate in his hospital bed deeply frustrated that  doctors had decided he was not well enough even to be wheeled onto the parade ground to receive his campaign medal from Prince Charles the following day.

Since then, I’ve followed his progress on Facebook, where his posts display an irrepressible good humour. In January, he posted a video of himself walking for the first time in 19 months, with the aid of parallel bars. A few weeks ago, there was a video of him shuffling around with a Zimmer frame.

It was Joe’s own decision to have his left leg amputated. Last year, Lance Corporal Geraint Hillard, another Weslh Guardsman, opted to have his right leg taken off more than a year after his Jackal vehicle had been blown up. There are dozens of British servicemen facing similar dilemmas. They’re never in the headlines but their battles go on.

While it’s easy to get maudlin about the plight of wounded servicemen, I prefer to reflect instead on the incredible determination they display.

For Joe Penlington, who spent some 72 hours in surgery in the three months after he was injured, losing a leg is a stage on the way to recovery. He was already thinking about amputation when I saw him. “If it doesn’t show any signs of healing, I’ll get rid of it,” he told me. “No point in carrying dead weight.”

Joe’s spelling leaves a fair bit to be desired but there’s nothing wrong with his spirit. The information section on his Facebook page declares: “im joe. i gt blowen up nd survived!!! suck eggs!!!!!”

In his status update yesterday he thanked everyone for their good wishes, remarking matter-of-factly that he was going “2 hospital 2 gt his leg cut off 2moz!!” For those of us apt to post updates such as “looking forward to Friday” or “bad day at work”, that rather puts things in perspective.

Tags: , , , , , ,