A SCOTS soldier who is battling back from horrific injuries suffered in an attack in Afghanistan told today how he woke up to the realisation two of his comrades were dead.
John-James Chalmers – known as ‘JJ’ – was left with injuries to his arms, legs and face after the explosion but did not realise his friends were dead.
The 23-year-old said: “I woke up confused, but I knew I’d been blown up. I never had a point where I thought ‘this is terrible’, it was always ‘let’s get on with it’, but then I don’t think I really realised how bad the injuries were.”
JJ said of his friends: “I thought they had to be there. Eventually I asked and was told they’d died.
“I realised how incredibly lucky I was to be there at all. There is so much chance and luck involved.”
Sam Alexander, 28, from London and 23-year-old Ollie Augustin, from Kent, died in Helmand in May.
JJ, from Fife, added: “When I met Ollie’s family I didn’t know what to say.”
The soldier and high school teacher, whose father Reverend John Chalmers is Principal Clerk in the Church of Scotland, is recovering at Headley Court rehabilitation centre near Surrey.
Today (Fri) JJ was due to get into uniform for the first time since the blast and receive his Afghanistan campaign medal in a ceremony in Plymouth.
And on Sunday he will read the Call to Remembrance on national radio.
He said: “The mind is an amazing thing, that even though I was conscious for the whole time after the bomb exploded, I can’t really remember much. When I see the lads again it might come flooding back.
“I knew when it happened that I would be put to sleep and shipped back to the UK, so I knew just to grit my teeth and it would soon be blocked out and that my family would be there when I woke up.
“It was seven days before I did, but seeing them all was a huge relief.”
His injuries were so bad the right side of his face had almost collapsed.
His hands and arms had suffered the worst of the blast and he lost two fingers, with another two having to be wired in place.
His elbow was shattered and he had to endure his arm being grafted to his stomach to keep the blood flowing while they tried to repair it with titanium.
He may never recover full use of his arms and it is not clear whether he will return to his teaching job in Edinburgh.
Despite his long struggle back to health JJ describes the Marines as “the best job in the world” and says you have to “take the good with the bad”.
“You’re doing it for each other, for the guy next to you. When you’re in the thick of it that’s what matters.”
He also praised the medical staff who treated him.
He said: “The doctors and nurses are just amazing, what they’ve done for me is astonishing. I can put a suit on and have a couple of fingers missing and some stitches in my face and I look alright. I have half my stomach missing but I never think about it.”