Ben Shaw was badly injured whilst serving with British Forces in Iraq. He is one of the increasing number of British service men and women returning injured from operations and deployments around the world. This is his story....
By the start of his tour of Iraq, Ben had been in B Company 2LI (now 3 Rifles) for 4 years and this was to be his second tour of Iraq. He was enjoying his Army life and was looking forward to completing his tour before returning to the Battalion’s base in Edinburgh. He was planning to do a sniper course on his return home.
Ben had always been keen on the outdoors, an excellent snowboarder and was looking forward to getting married in August 2007. He had always been a petrol head and loved driving vehicles of all sorts. This often led to Ben driving the lead vehicle on many of his Company's patrols in Southern Iraq. When on operations Ben always took his responsibilities seriously and enjoyed doing his job.
Ben, or ‘Tiny’ as he is known to all in his Company, was driving the lead vehicle in a patrol in a rural area to the south-west of Basra on Sun 25 Feb 07. The patrol was routine but with a highly worthwhile aim – to attempt to deny insurgent forces the opportunity to launch indirect fire attacks on British bases. During his time in Iraq, Ben's company, the Patrols Company, had a great deal of success and these types of patrols were their priority. However on this day, Ben’s patrol was just incredibly unlucky; at 1745hrs the patrol turned onto a road where unbeknown to them, insurgents had placed a roadside bomb.
There was nothing the patrol could have done to prevent the attack. The Incident Investigation Team later discovered that it was a command-wire detonated Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) of approximately 45 kg. This is the very type of device that has claimed so many British lives. The main part of the projectile hit or skimmed the top of Ben’s vehicle and he was hit by the shower of shrapnel from the EFP.
Ben was severely wounded, the explosion also lightly wounded the patrol commander and the two lads on top cover. Ben desperately tried but was unable to control the vehicle, which was thrown around by the blast and hit an oncoming petrol tanker before flipping onto its side. Luckily, the soldiers that were on top cover position were only slightly injured and were able to drop inside the vehicle before it rolled onto the drivers side.
When the vehicle came to rest, the remainder of the patrol immediately rushed to get the injured soldiers out. The patrol second-in-command pulled Ben out as he started to regain his senses, with Ben helping where he could. Once out of the vehicle he tried to take command, telling the other patrol members to carry out their immediate action drills. However, once the shock of the injuries set in he collapsed. It was then that two of Ben’s comrades began emergency first aid.
The patrol destroyed the overturned vehicle with phosphorous grenades and drove straight to the Field Hospital rather than wait for an evacuation helicopter. This decision most definitely saved Ben’s life. The two soldiers who were administering first aid encouraged him to stay conscious, but Ben, who knew the area extremely well, was giving the driver directions for the shortest route to the field hospital. At this point he could still see through one eye.
Ben's Platoon in Iraq, the lads that helped to save his life
(Ben is 2nd from the right bottom row)
Once at the British Military Field Hospital at Basra, Ben was stabilised by the trauma team and then flown immediately to the US Combat Support Hospital at Balad, north of Baghdad. Here they desperately tried to save his sight.
Ben lost one eye immediately in the explosion, as three large chunks of shrapnel had hit the right side of his face. Unfortunately the surgical team were unable to save his other eye as it had been cut, the optical nerve had been severed and the eye was bleeding internally. Ben also sustained severe injuries to his right arm and had lost a substantial amount of muscle. Once the surgical team realised they couldn’t save his eye they made every effort to save his arm. Thankfully they were successful. Ben also suffered a fracture to the base of his skull, multiple fractures and breaks to the facial and nasal bones, fractured mandible, and open wounds to his buttocks and to his right knee.
The surgical team in Balad wired his jaws closed and for the next 2 months he was fed via his stomach. Once repatriated to the UK, Ben was admitted to the Military Wing at Selly Oak Hospital. He had plastic surgery to his major open wounds and underwent a surgical reconstruction of his face, an operation that lasted 6 hours. However there remained a very large open wound on his right temple where the surgeons at Selly Oak had removed one of three large pieces of shrapnel from his head, the other two pieces having been removed at Balad. This wound remained open for 6 months and was a constant cause of concern as he contracted MRSA in the temple wound.
There were some commendable decisions made by Ben's mates on the day of the incident. Firstly, the Patrol second-in-command decided not to wait for the helicopter and in doing so saved vital time in getting Ben to medical assistance. Another good decision was made by ‘Pikey' Phil and Kenty, who administered first aid to Ben, not to put a tourniquet on his arm. Ultimately the personal skills of the whole patrol helped save his life.
WHERE WE ARE NOW!
It is now 18 months since the explosion that changed Ben’s life. His wounds have finally healed as well as can be expected and he has full movement back in his arm and leg. He has had both prosthetic eyes fitted and in February 2008 he had another eye operation to further correct his right eye and a new prosthetic fitted to make his eyes look more symmetrical.
Ben has made some wonderful new friends during this time, especially at Livingston Hospital, the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Scottish Institute for the War Blinded. Ben's family are extremely grateful for the fantastic support that they have received, "They have all been exceptional and we as a family can’t thank them all enough". Ben is now undergoing mobility training with the RNIB and hopes to start IT training with the RNIB for Jaws voice software.
Ben with his mum, Jacqui meeting Prince Charles
Ben’s unit, 3rd Battalion, The Rifles has recently raised money for the Scottish Institute for the War Blinded and the RNIB by climbing Ben Nevis and walking the whole length of Hadrian’s Wall. Next year Ben is planning a canoe trip with his friends down the river Severn to raise money for other charities.
UPDATE - FEB 2008
Ben and Louise decided to get married in May 2008, the original intention was September 2008. Ben and Lou also out to France with Ben's parents and during this time he even managed to get himself back on his snowboard. He was always a keen boarder and its one of the activities, along with driving, that he has missed most. The moment was enjoyed not only by Ben but by his parents who are so proud, seeing him back in the snow again and determined to get on with life.
Ben back on his snowboard less than a year after his injuries
UPDATE - JULY 2008
Ben has made enormous progress over the past few months and finally he completed his promise to his fiancée Louise and they tied the knot on 11 May at the Dalmahoy Country House near Edinburgh. They were married by his battalion Padre who flew up from his new posting in Colchester.
Mr & Mrs Ben Shaw
As though getting ready for your wedding is not stressful enough Ben was invited to learn to drive a Ferrari F360 around the race circuit at Knockhill in Fife. This was arranged by the wonderful people at the Scottish War Blinded institute and the staff at Knockhill circuit. He completed a couple of laps of the circuit in the Ferrari in front of a substantial crowd during the Scottish motor show event held on 10 May.
Ben with his instructor Alan Brunston at Knockhill
Next plan for Ben and the staff at Knockhill is to help Ben break the world speed record for a blind person riding a motorbike. It currently stands at 167mph and Ben will hope to go on to beat that with the help of the instructors at Knockhill and support from the Scottish War Blinded Institute.
Ben Shaw is a remarkable young man who has overcome so many barriers since he sustained his terrible injuries just 18 months ago. He has achieved this with the continuous support of his new wife, his family and the financial assistance from his charities. Ben is not alone. There are so many young men and women, all remarkable in their own way, devastated by injuries sustained in these modern day conflicts. Charities such as the Royal British Legion can help these incredible young people to rebuild their lives but only through the kindness and generosity of peole like you who donate whatever you can to such a worthy cause.
The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal not only assists service personnel and their families directly, it also supports many institutes and organisations that provide assistance to our injured service men and women. Op Poppy Drop wants to raise as much money as possible to make this happen. You can make a difference. Go to our DONATIONS page right now and give what you can.