ANOTHER SOLDIERS STORY
Stuart toured in Iraq and the Falklands. He tragically lost his leg. He battles with PTSD and has been pushed to the edge. He is now a Purple Warrior and this is his story, in his own words.
Stuart. We are totally INSPIRED BY YOU
My Name is Stuart Holcroft, 39 years old and a British Army Veteran.
On 18th December 1996, I found myself in the small, cramped office room within Preston Army Careers Office, with a small book in one hand, reading from a script hanging on the wall next to a picture of our beloved Monarch. There I stood proud as punch making my first steps to becoming a Soldier.
I was enlisted into the Infantry, the local Regiment to the area. The 1st Battalion, The Queens Lancashire Regiment and very soon my regiment was moved to Omagh, Northern Ireland.
Come the end of 1999 we moved to Catterick for the first time, from there I learned about a great place in Canada that went by the name of BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) and that’s where I’ll leave it!! Then following a return visit to Northern Ireland and Pre Deployment Training at BATUS in 2002 the Regiment was deployed to Iraq in 2003.
The first time we drove through Iraq and onto Basra City, I was shocked to see locals at the markets armed with various AK weapons and 2-3 belts of ammunition over their shoulders. I don’t mind telling you I was sh*tting myself. The experience was a traumatic one! On that tour we lost a great officer from the regiment and several soldiers took injuries.
Towards the beginning of 2005 I was involved in Op FIRIC (Falkland Islands Resident Infantry Company) where we had to patrol the two Islands making our presence known to any would be ‘invaders’.
Later on in 2005 another move, this time we were off to Germany, not much happened here, well not that I remember, this period in time wasn’t a great one for me. Despite becoming a Dad twice over, everything else was a cloud. Depression had set in and all that I had seen and experienced was coming back. PTSD wasn’t an ‘officially’ recognised illness but looking back on things, it was there, for some time.
Early 2009 saw another visit to Canada, almost 6 months this time, early March unto August. It went from absolutely freezing to insanely hot with everything else chucked in-between. Upon returning I was swiftly posted out to a small fronted ACIO (Army Careers Information Office) in Kirkby, near Liverpool – as a Recruiting Sergeant. That wasn’t for me!
So, I transferred to the Gunners, 32nd Regiment, Royal Artillery as a Bombardier, a drop in rank but I was in a happier place. Going from an Infantry Section Commander/Platoon Sergeant to a UAS Operator/Pilot and Tactical Commander was both interesting and fulfilling, having to train and qualify in California was a plus point too. Towards the latter end of 2011 it had been confirmed that 22nd (Gibraltar) Battery was going to Afghanistan in 2012 for HERRICK 18 so Pre Deployment training had begun. I was actually looking forward to this, having missed out as an Infanteer many times before, I was getting the chance as a Gunner doing something completely different.
The injury that would make me an amputee
January 31st 2012, we undertook a loaded training march on Salisbury Plain. My group carried 30kgs in their day sacks whilst wearing full Combat Effective Fighting Order (CEFO). The loaded march was to give the new Gunners an idea of the weight they could carry whilst out in theatre. Everyone was in good spirits and we set off, a little slower than we hoped for mainly due to the fact it had frozen the night before and conditions were slippery under foot.
Approximately 4kms out those who were leading the group pulled off the main track and waited for the stragglers to catch up. We were then told to remove our day sacks and find a partner of equal size and weight so casualty evacuation drills could be performed, out to a point and back, and then swap over. Then we were to don our day sacks and do the same exercise just over a shorter distance, so I picked up my partner, both of us with full kit on held a combined weight close to 250kgs, I got him up on the shoulders for a fireman’s carry, as instructed. However, due to my kit I couldn’t get him in the safe position, in an attempt to avoid him sustaining an injury I shrugged him upwards to reposition the weight, as I did I lost footing on the slippery ground and fell to the floor with a crack and a crunch so loud that guys 10 meters left and right heard it go! I instantly thought, “that’s me not going on tour!” then I realised that the whole Battery had stopped and were all looking at me. I was rolling around on the floor screaming like a 7 year old. Time to man up I thought and went to stand. The instant I put weight through the left leg it felt like a sledge hammer had hit it and I fell to the floor again. Unable to walk I was assisted to the roadside and bundled onto a makeshift stretcher in the form of a poncho. The 3kms to the back gate of camp was worse that the injury itself, I felt sick, I turned as white as piece of paper, basically going into shock.
‘My wife came home to find me like an emotional train wreck’’
The following years resulted in many different medicines to calm the pain and numerous procedures to save my leg. The first 12 months no diagnosis could be made due to the amount of swelling and bruising and I was taking upward of 12 Tramadol a day to cope with the pain.
A surgical intervention in early 2013 led to nothing but a Meniscal repair and even more pain with a different cocktail of pain relief. Half way through that year the pain was so bad I sat in the kitchen at home with many different medications, alcohol, tourniquet and a saw. Yep! the pain was so intense and overpowering I was going to attempt to cut it off myself. When I got the saw out I realised that its rusty appearance with bits of old timber between its teeth wasn’t really up to the job. Shortly after this moment my wife came home to find me like an emotional train wreck. Further investigations, more rehab and physiotherapy still hadn’t helped and despite everyone’s best efforts, nothing seemed to help. Becoming more and more house bound I feared going outside as my leg had now not only become so painful, it had also started to be dysfunctional. So much so it would give way at any moment. I found myself in a heap at the bottom of stairs many times, on the floor in public places (nobody came to help!) It even came to point where my wife had to help me move around the house. Any chance of interactions with my two young children, whether it be playing in the garden, cuddling on my knee or days out, were non existent due to the level of pain.
Near the end the 2013 I was referred to a different surgeon who completed an ACL reconstruction, it turns out that the ligament was in one piece but had detached itself from the femur, which explained the instability and dysfunctional nature. That helped a little at first but things still weren’t right and the reconstruction had died in place, so it was removed and cleaned out in preparation for another go in 2 months time. Revision surgery time came along and a graft was taken from my right leg to repair the left. The procedure went as planned but the pain was still increasing and showed no sign of getting better, that said within days of getting home I felt a hot ripping like sensation in my right leg in the area where the graft was taken, within 4 days my whole leg had turned black and blue. Turns out i suffered a massive bleed and had bled out for nearly 4 days and the swelling was so much that I couldn’t bend my toes, ankle or knee and the pressure build up was so intense I wanted to cut the skin in order to ease it. As a result I now have only two properly working hamstrings in the right leg.
‘They’d be better off if I weren’t around anymore”
As time went on the pain worsened and towards the end of 2014, there was no light at the end of tunnel, I couldn’t go out and my life was being ruled by pain. My two kids wouldn’t come near me as I was always in a foul mood, I had missed out on so much of their first few years at school, taking them out on adventures, it came to point where I’d be left at home when they went to the zoo for the day. Quite often I thought they’d be better off if i weren’t around anymore. The only glimmer of hope was the chance of an elective amputation. Having ran out of options, my body had rejected two reconstructions, medication just didn’t work anymore so I stopped using them altogether, the decision was made to amputate.
Finally! On Tuesday 17th February 2015, I checked into hotel Frimley Park Hospital at about 0830 I went through for all the pre-op run ups and at 1400-ish I woke in recovery. Totally pain free. I thought it was down to the nerve block that was in place but as it wore off, no pain. Nothing!
Six weeks after surgery I found myself at DMRC Headley Court. Seven weeks after surgery I was still at Headley but I was standing bolt upright for the first time in over 4 years, without any pain. I’m not the emotional type, but those few moments of standing in a test socket on a fitting rig, I’ll remember for along time. So from that moment until February 2016 I attended Headley month on, month off, there were highs and lows and sometimes I fell over but I didn’t care because it never hurt when I stood back up.
‘Purple Warriors has given me focus and determination’
After being Medically Discharged from the Army in June 16 I have found myself going around in circles, looking for purpose, a challenge if you would. Many times I found the Purple Warriors info page in my emails and many times I dismissed it. Only after a little encouragement from the good lady wife I decided to give it a try. Becoming an amputee, has made me see things in a different light. Everything is a challenge and trying out for the Purple Warriors at the open day held at Powerhouse Dragons in Stockton-on-Tees (now my local club) in May this year, was a BIG DEAL for me! I trained on the Saturday, loved it and then was kindly volunteered by the wife to race on the Sunday and loved it even more!
‘Give Purple Warriors a try. I did and haven’t regretted any of it!’
Experiencing dragon boat racing with the Purple Warriors and understanding the opportunities this sport can provide has given me focus and determination, and it’s brought out my competitive streak again. Being part of a crew that is made up of both serving personnel and veterans makes the Purple Warriors environment one that is familiar and feels like the ‘family’ that we’ve been used to whilst serving… And you know that someone’s always got your back! The stories, the banter, the laughter, and the opportunity to forge good friendships are apparent. As is the opportunity to use our military experience to give us the edge when racing.
‘I’ve got my Dad back!’
My son is now the drummer for Purple Warriors and we train together several times a week at our local dragon boat club, Powerhouse. I may have missed out on some adventures with him previously, but now we have some wonderful new adventures to look forward to… In fact, he’ll tell you that he’s got ‘his Dad back!’
‘I’m training to represent Great Britain at the next World Championships’’
In 2017 I aspire to be competing with Team GB at the Dragon Boat World Championships in China. My journey started in May this year and with the support of Purple Warriors and the wider dragon boat community I’m determined to make my aspirations a reality.
Never be afraid of giving something different a go… If you find yourself looking for like minded, crazy, fun people with a drive to compete and be the best they can be, no matter what your impairment is, come and give the Purple Warriors a try. I did and haven’t regretted any of it!