ON the eve of Armistice Day, a Galashiels soldier horrifically injured in Afghanistan this year has reminded Borders schoolchildren why ‘We must never forget’.
Sapper Ali Munro of the Royal Engineers lost the lower part of his leg and was blinded in one eye after stepping on a Taleban bomb in July.
The 22-year-old former footballer has since learned to walk again and spoke to primary and secondary pupils at Galashiels Academy yesterday to reinforce the November 11 message, when Commonwealth countries across the world remember those who died during and since the First World War.
Sapper Munro suffered his life-changing injuries four months into his second deployment to Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province, as part of a Counter Improvised Device (ID) Force search for a bomb known to be in the local area.
He told us: “I was in a fast- flowing river with a high banking and had to remove all my gear to get up the banking.
“I got on the banking and tried to push my body up off my right foot. That is when the ID exploded.
“Because I was on my knees I did not get the full force of the blast. If I had stood over it, I would have been killed instantly.
“Thankfully for me, the field which had the ID in it had been irrigated days before, and the water had soaked up 80 per cent of the explosives, meaning I only got 20 per cent of the blast.
“I was blind straight after it. The shockwave pushed up my goggles and I got stones, mud and tiny bits of metal in my face before the blast reached me.
“I was blown back in the river and all I could see was the blue of the sky and blood pouring out of me.”
After emergency surgery at Camp Bastion, he was flown back to a Birmingham hospital but doctors were unable to save his right leg.
Sapper Munro, who lives with his mum Rosemary Graham and younger siblings Hailey and Jason Graham, regained sight in one eye 72 hours after the blast, but has no vision in his left.
He added: “My mum took it really badly. After the incident, she got a knock at the door and all the army told her was that I had been in a serious incident. Her initial reaction must have been that I had died.
“Straight after surgery I demanded a phone to contact my mum to tell her I was ok.”
Following a month in hospital, Sapper Munro began six weeks of intensive rehabilitation at Headley Court near London, which is supported by the charity Help For Heroes.
“I was only there for six weeks and I am walking now,” said Sapper Munro, who raised more than £1,000 for Help For Heroes with a Halloween party.
“Headley Court is for any kind of injury. There are triple amputee guys there who go swimming.
“I do not like swimming after my incident but seeing them in the water made me have a go. It was inspirational.”
He returns to Headley Court today until next summer when he will be discharged from the armed forces. Sapper Munro then intends to travel across the world.
But the Galashiels man, who hopes to witness the London Olympics as part of Help For Heroes support scheme, says tomorrow’s Armistice Day will be especially emotional.
He added: “It will definitely be more poignant for me. I have lost four mates from the Marines this year.
“The first death was the worst. It was Marine Nigel Mead, he was only 19 and walked across an ID when it exploded. We knew he had died straight away.”
Sapper Munro’s visit to his former school yesterday also involved reading poignant poem Sunset Vigil, written by a soldier who served in Afghanistan.
Also in attendance was Colin Dodds, another Galashiels soldier who was injured in Kenya while training, before a wreath was laid and a two-minute silence observed.
Depute rector Iain Anderson said: “It was very moving and I think the children will appreciate Remembrance Day much more after the soldiers’ visit.”