A GALASHIELS soldier who has starred in the Edinburgh Tattoo has been “extremely lucky” to survive a horror accident just two weeks into a deployment in Kenya.
Colin Dodds, 19, is recovering in the east African country after a branch smashed into his brain when the vehicle he was travelling in crashed during an exercise on February 7.
But the teenager, who serves with the 19th regiment of the Royal Artillery, is expected to make a full recovery and return to the United Kingdom for further surgery on February 21.
This week, Gunner Dodds’ father – also named Colin – spoke to TheSouthern from his Galashiels home he shares with Colin’s mother Suzie about the shock and fear which the family have experienced since hearing of their son’s injury thousands of miles away.
Mr Dodds senior, 46, said: “He was in the back of a vehicle chasing another vehicle in an exercise. A dust cloud got blown up and the driver went off the road into a wooded area.
“Colin was impaled when a branch went through the side of his head. The branch went into the right side of his brain. It was very serious and he is to get a plate put into his head.
“In the first few days after surgery he could not co-ordinate, which was a big worry. He is stuttering just now but his speech should come back. He has been extremely lucky and is expected to fully recover.
“He will need more surgery at Birmingham on his return but due to the severity of his injury he will not be allowed home for two weeks.”
Mr Dodds snr and Mrs Dodds, 42, were prepared to fly out to Africa from their Forest Hill home after being informed of the accident last Monday night.
Mr Dodds snr added: “We got a knock on the door at 11pm and it was the Ministry of Defence.
“The information was very vague. All we were told was that our son had been very seriously injured in Kenya.
“Nine hours later two soldiers came down to arrange to fly us out to Kenya but because Colin started to make a recovery it was downgraded. But we were ready to go out.”
Mr Dodds’ family, including his brother Liam, 15, and sister Coleen, 26, have been kept up to date daily about his progress by the MoD.
Despite having spent only two weeks in Kenya, where the British Army has a permanent base on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi, Mr Dodds was thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Mr Dodds snr said: “He loved it in Kenya. He spoke to his girlfriend Chamaine French [who is in same regiment but deployed at Tidworth] a couple of hours before the accident and she said he was having a whale of a time.
“She was totally crushed by the news last week, as we all were, but there is now the realisation that everything is going to be OK.”
A former pupil of Balmoral Primary School and Galashiels Academy, Colin had an interest in the military from an early age.
He applied to the army at the age of 16 and on being accepted was deployed to the Tidworth base in Wiltshire, where he became part of a five-man AS-90 tank team.
Mr Dodds snr said: “Since he was five years old, he has always wanted to join the army.
“As a young boy he would go down to Catterick to see his uncle Dougie Wilson, who served with the Kings Own Scottish Borders, and spent holidays there.”
A keen musician, Mr Dodds plays the bugle and appeared in the Edinburgh Tattoo last year as a drummer after graduating from the Army School of Pipes and Drums.
“We were all very proud of him at the tattoo. I could not hold back my emotions,” said Mr Dodds snr, a general services supervisor at Borders General Hospital. Mrs Dodds is an assistant cook at Galashiels Academy.
Asked whether his son will return to serve in the Royal Artillery, Mr Dodds snr said: “Definitely, although it is to early to say when.
“He is a fighter. Even the army said you have some boy there. Despite the severity of the injury, he is determined to get himself better.
“When we spoke to him on Sunday he was getting his sense of humour back.
“He once sneaked into the house with one of his army mates. I was on nightshift and didn’t know he was coming home.
“He crept into my room and played the bulge call. I nearly had a heart attack. I jumped up and ran into a wall.”
He added: “We just want to get him home. Someone telling you how your child is doing is not the same as seeing him yourself.”
Mr Dodds snr expects the MoD to carry out an inquiry into the incident.