Ellen Prockter, who wrote the original Marlborough People book to mark the millennium, hears Major Kate Philp’s own account of her life since Afghanistan – and how she’s putting down roots in Marlborough
I’ve been an army officer for thirteen years and this August I return to civvy street.
That hadn’t always been the plan. Before I was posted to Afghanistan in 2008 I resigned my commission – I thought that role would be the most challenging I’d ever done and the end of my tour would be a good time to go.
I kept my decision very quiet – I didn’t want the lads under my command thinking I wasn’t 100 per cent committed – but halfway through the tour I did tell them. The timing was good because a few days later I was seriously injured by an IED and news of my resignation was in The Sun.
I was patched up at Camp Bastion, where the team believed they had saved my leg, and then flown to Birmingham. My heel and ankle were described as ‘a jigsaw of fractures’; the likelihood was that I would be in constant pain and need to walk with a stick.
Amputation below the knee was the alternative. I asked my consultant whether I would be able to run, play tennis and ski with a prosthetic and he said, “Yes, absolutely.” And I said, “That’s fine then” – my actual words.
I still planned to leave the Army and my career manager was really supportive, but it was not meant to be. I was in and out of hospital – I can’t quite remember how many ops I have had, but, it is in double figures. I had to rethink my plans and we agreed that I would stay until I was physically ready to leave.
After the amputation my wounds weren’t healing. Initially this was thought to be because of the eighteen screws holding things together. The screws were removed and still I didn’t heal. Eventually a deep bone infection was diagnosed.
This was a moment of deep worry for me – there was a chance I could lose my knee. Having seen others at Headley Court, the rehab unit, I realised how lucky I was to have kept mine. Fortunately my knee was saved and for three months I was on intravenous antibiotics. During my rehab I have had to be really patient – not natural for me.
It was nerve racking getting back to work after such a long break. I prided myself on being a very competent, professional officer and was determined to do myself justice It wasn’t easy but it gave me a sense of perspective – trivial things no longer upset me.
However, working full out meant that I couldn’t even manage my basic rehabilitation, let alone proper physical training and so it was agreed that I should take a year’s sabbatical from May 2013 – May 2014 to fully focus on my rehab.
I applied for the South Pole expedition in aid of Walking With The Wounded because I really needed a goal to work towards and I was looking forward to being part of a team again – rehab is a solitary path, even though you are surrounded by people.
I was aware I was privileged in being able to continue my career after injury – most have to leave. Walking With The Wounded is a fantastic charity that helps injured service men and women to get back on track and pursue a second career.
The operation in July 2014 was my second involving a new technique inserting pigskin to pad out my knee to stop the daily discomfort of the prosthetic rubbing my leg. It hasn’t rubbed since – incredible.
Physical exercise makes me really happy and running was something I really wanted to try again. I have recently been fitted with a blade and it has made all the difference.
A couple of years ago I decided to buy a property in Marlborough. As I drove through on my way to the staff college at Shrivenham I thought how lovely the town was.
I fell in love with an eighteenth century cottage with beautiful outside space, exposed beams and a real fire. It sang to me! It also had the important upstairs bathroom. The big compromise was being on a busy road and no parking space, but I manage.
I can’t tell you how happy I am living here – I just love it. After a transient life I am putting down roots. I have wonderful neighbours, a good friend from the Army lives here, I’ve made new friends at the Leisure Centre and when I go to The Food Gallery they know I will want a chilli mocha. There is a real sense of community in Marlborough.
The Army has been very supportive, as have my family and friends, but I am now ready to move on. The past few months have been really exciting. I am setting up my own business and want to work in developing people – leadership training, team work, problem solving, resilience – all the skills I’ve learnt in the military.