Bomb left me ‘sitting in a crater with both my legs missing’: Brave soldier’s heartbreaking tale of devastating war injuries
- Credit: DAVID ARCHER, KINGSIZE PHOTOGRAP
“Imagine going from peak physical fitness, doing the most dangerous job in the world, to relying on your mum to do things for you at 20 years old.” If ever there were words that summed up how Ash Hall felt about losing both his legs and parts of his left hand in an explosion while bravely serving in Afghanistan, these are it.
The former serviceman, of Colchester, admitted that he got an "adrenaline rush" from his job checking for improved explosive devices (IEDs) during regular tours of the war torn country.
"Searching for bombs was like living on the edge," he said.
But one day in 2010, aged just 20 and with his whole life ahead of him, everything changed.
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While attempting to isolate a building for his colleagues, the Royal Engineer came across a random IED which exploded underneath him.
"I ended up sitting in a crater in my own blood, with both my legs missing," said Mr Hall, now aged 28.
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Even though he remembers a Chinook helicopter quickly arriving to fly him back to Camp Bastion and army medics from Denmark desperately trying to stem his blood loss, he soon passed out.
"I was losing blood faster than they were putting it in," he said.
"If the helicopter flight had taken place a few minutes later, I would've been dead."
'Realisation you won't be able to do everything you used to'
He woke up nine days later in a UK hospital.
Even though he already knew he had lost his legs, as he had been conscious throughout the explosion, it was only then that he realised his left hand had been severely damaged.
He lost his ring finger to his first knuckle, his index finger to his second knuckle and completely lost his thumb, as well as part of the skin on his hand.
"At first there was the initial shock, which was quite easy to get over," he said.
"Afterwards though, it is the realisation that you won't be able to do everything you used to be able to."
For Mr Hall, that realisation came when he instinctively tried to do things as simple as sit up in bed or hold a dinner tray - and realised it was no longer possible in the way it had been before.
"Even simple movements were quite a big thing," he said.
The physical injuries of servicemen injured in combat are well documented - but what many people do not see is the psychological pain behind such trauma.
Mr Hall admitted, quite understandably, that: "I wasn't exactly a pleasant person at times," as he struggled to deal with feelings of anger that came from his situation.
"A lot of it was frustration," he said.
"I couldn't do simple tasks myself, even something like trying to carry a dinner plate in a wheelchair.
"Even rolling onto my side so the nurse could change my bedding was a massive task.
"Imagine going from peak physical fitness, doing the most dangerous job in the world, to relying on your mum to do things for you at 20 years old.
"It's pretty frustrating and a lot of that frustration came out as anger.
"I was quite lucky that a lot of people did stand by me."
Mr Hall later began physiotherapy at the Headley Court medical facility for wounded soldiers.
He would spend much of the next seven years at Headley Court, often staying for weeks at a time.
He began with "small tasks that were quite big for me", which "progressed to more and more difficult tasks".
Mr Hall said the rehabilitation "was quite frustrating at times", adding: "All I wanted to do was get up and walk.
"There were a few setbacks that made it more difficult and longer than it should have been.
"I would achieve something, then I would have operations and have to start from the beginning and have to work to build my strength back up."
He also took up jujitsu, saying that it helped deal with his psychological problems because: "I was able to take my anger out on people in a sporting a fashion."
The years of persistence eventually paid off and Mr Hall says: "There isn't anything I can't do. I just do it in a different way."
He walks with two prosthetic legs and has adapted to the loss of his fingers on his left hand, meaning he can now do everything an able-bodied person can.
He is even a member of the Team BRIT motorsport racers targeting the famous Le Mans 24 hours.
"One of the things my therapist said is that I quite like dangerous sports," he said.
"Part of that is the adrenaline rush. Searching for bombs gave me that and it was about trying to find something to replace that.
"Motorsport helps - driving around with 20 other cars is quite an adrenalin rush."
'Don't give up'
Mr Hall's inspiring words to anyone struggle to overcome difficulties and hardship in life is: "Just carry on trying. Don't give up and try different things.
"There is more than one way to solve a problem. If you give up at the first attempt, you're never going to achieve anything.
"I've had to think outside of the box to overcome quite a few of my problems. You're not going to know what you're capable of unless you're willing to try."
His goal for the future now is "making disability normal, adding: "It would be a big thing in the future for people to not be seen as disabled but just as another person.
"Just because you don't do things in the same way doesn't mean it's the wrong way.
"To normalise disability would be a massive achievement."
And he also said that fateful day nearly 10 years ago has changed his outlook on life.
"With everything that's happened to me, I'm quite lucky to be in the position I'm in," he said.
"I suppose I'm probably a lot more grateful for the little things."